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The official torch of the Rio Olympics

The official torch of the Rio Olympics (Click picture for a close-up.)

All eyes are on Rio de Janeiro this week. Most of us are celebrating the spirit of competition during the XXXI Olympiad. But for Plastic Surgeons, despite the amazing achievements of our athletes, it may be remembered more for the passing of a single Brazilian Plastic Surgeon.

The Olympics and Northern California

Northern California in particular has a lot to celebrate. Eighty-Four of the five-hundred-fifty athletes representing the United States have Northern California ties, with seventy-six US olympians coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. An additional thirty-one former Cal (UC Berkeley) or Stanford athletes will compete for other countries.

Passing the Olympic Torch

The prelude to the Olympics is the passing of the Olympic Torch. The flame originates from Greece and is nurtured along on its trek to the current Olympic city. About twelve thousand torchbearers carried the Olympic flame across Brazil between May 3rd and August 5th, 2016.

The Olympic cauldron was lit at the Maracana Stadium on August 5, 2016. One of the torch bearers on this the final day was Brazilian Plastic Surgeon, Ivo Pitanguy. Dr. Pitanguy was as much a national symbol of Brazil’s excellence in Plastic Surgery as he was a hero for his care of many of the victims of the Niterói Circus Fire; 70% of the approximately 3000 in the audience were children. He credits this experience with teaching him that for many, physical appearance was critical to living. The day after helping light the Olympic Torch, his own light extinguished. At the age of 93, he suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Rio de Janeiro.

At Palácio da Cidade, plastic surgeon Ivo Pitanguy hands over the Olympic torch to Gyleno dos Santos, waiter at Mayor Eduardo Paes's Office / Photo Credit: Ricardo Cassiano

At Palácio da Cidade, plastic surgeon Ivo Pitanguy hands over the Olympic torch to Gyleno dos Santos, waiter at Mayor Eduardo Paes’s Office / Photo Credit: Ricardo Cassiano

Dr. Ivo Pitanguy Philanthropist

Dr. Pitanguy was as much philanthropist as celebrity in his home country. He renovated a ward at the public Santa Casa da Misericórdia Hospital in Rio where, for four decades, he offered free treatment. He also founded the Clinica Ivo Pitanguy in Rio de Janeiro, which provides members of underprivileged communities, carriers of congenital or traumatic deformities, with opportunities for psycho-social assistance and physical repair. Since its opening, more than 50 thousand surgical interventions have been performed, as many as 1,800 operations per year, in the three surgical theaters that make up the surgical center at the hospital.

Dr. Ivo Pitanguy Celebrity

There is no doubt that Dr. Pitanguy was famous among Plastic Surgeons, but he was known for his famous friends and life away from the practice of medicine, too. He provided many a column inch for the gossip magazines. Early in my practice, I took a Breast Reduction course from Dr. Pitanguy at an American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons meeting (now the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or ASPS). I was privileged to learn from the best.

Shortly after returning back to my San Francisco Bay Area Plastic Surgery practice, I read an article about the near death experience of Rolling Stones Guitarist Ron Wood. From the European Rolling Stone Fan Club’s web site, It’s Only Rock’n’Roll web site:

On An Approachable Pedestal

Ivo Pitanguy  - as he still appears on his web site.

Ivo Pitanguy – as he still appears on his web site.

While always in demand, my personal experience with Dr. Pitanguy at our professional meetings was that he was always ready to offer advice and share a joke. Although we met only at professional meetings, and the sum of our interactions can be measured in days, he was a great influence on my chosen profession. I thank him, and I am humbled that he so easily shared his time.

At one meeting he tells me, “You American’s are screwing everything up.” I pondered the meaning of his words, and considered the possible target of his criticism. Was it politics, finances, the ASPS? No. He spent the next fifteen minutes expressing his concern that MTV was changing the Brazilian woman’s ideal of the perfect female form. Apparently, his patients were asking for larger and larger breast implants, like the women on MTV.

Beauty ideals are cultural. They change by geography and they change over time. There is a reason that fat grafting to the buttocks is called a Brazilian Butt Lift. It originated in Brazil, and Dr. Pitanguy is credited with its invention. Perhaps, he has turned the tide back on America. Maybe, I should be concerned that he has changed the American woman’s ideal of the perfect female form. I will miss you Ivo. In your lifetime, you have passed thousand of torches and provided an abundance of light for those that will follow in your footsteps.

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