Remembering M. Samuel Noordhoff, MD, 1927-2018, whose impact was felt worldwide
ASPS Lifetime Member M. Samuel Noordhoff, MD, Grand Rapids, Mich., passed away Monday, Dec. 3, at age 91.
Born in Orange, Iowa, in 1927, Dr. Noordhoff learned of an opportunity to serve as a missionary doctor in Taiwan early in his career at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. After consulting his wife, Lucille, about the possibility, the couple "decided there was no good reason for saying no," Dr. Noordhoff told the Grand Rapids Business Journal in 2012 – so he, Lucille and their three young children crossed the ocean to begin a journey that would define his career.
Upon his arrival at Taipei's Mackay Memorial Hospital, Dr. Noordhoff found an institution in poor financial condition and with many members of staff lacking adequate training. In addition to performing the most-demanding surgical work, Dr. Noordhoff was also tasked with overseeing the hospital's budget. Eventually, he would become the hospital's president.
During his time at the hospital, Dr. Noordhoff met Kimma Chang, a man who came from a family of fisherman and had received a degree in business administration. Although the hospital's Board of Directors wouldn't allow Dr. Noordhoff to hire Chang, he brought him on as a personal secretary, and paid Chang out of his own pocket.
In the mid-1960s, Dr. Noordhoff sent Chang to the University of Michigan, where he received a degree in hospital administration, while Dr. Noordhoff returned to Butterworth to complete his training in plastic surgery. The pair's careers would remain connected, however, as Chang established the now-legendary Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taiwan; he named Dr. Noordhoff its first superintendent.
At Chang Gung Memorial, Dr. Noordhoff developed and launched the hospital's plastic surgery division.
Over the course of his career, Dr. Noordhoff would also help develop Taiwan's first polio rehabilitation center, first suicide prevention center, first burn center, first intensive care unit and first craniofacial treatment center.
Throughout his time in Taiwan, Dr. Noordhoff maintained a special concern for treating children with craniofacial deformities. In 1989, he donated $100,000 to establish the Noordhoff Craniofacial Foundation, a nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to helping patients with cleft lip and palate and craniofacial deformity receive holistic care. The organization also provided a wide range of social, financial and psychological services to patients, such as psych-social adjustment and interpersonal skills development.
In 1998, the foundation began undertaking international medical mission programs, training programs and financial support projects with the goal of developing craniofacial centers throughout developing Asian countries. More than 1,600 patients have received free surgery and related medical care in the years since.
Dr. Noordhoff was known in Taiwan by his Chinese name, Luo Huei-fu, which translates to "man of wisdom." He was the Maliniac Lecturer during the ASPS annual meeting in 1994, and he was Visiting Professor for The PSF in 2009-10. Dr. Noordhoff received the Outstanding Medical Contribution Award by the Department of Health in Taiwan in 1996, as well as the Sir Harold Gillies Lecture Award in 2012 from the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons. In 2017, Dr. Noordhoff received the Presidential Cultural Award from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in recognition of his humanitarian work.
Parkinson's disease limited Dr. Noordhoff's ability to travel later in life, so in response to the Presidential Cultural Award, he sent a written note crediting everyone in Taiwan's medical field for the honor.
"You cannot accomplish anything by yourself," he wrote. "Many hard-working and wonderful people helped me through the years... and worked hard to develop Taiwan's medical community into the world-renowned community it is today."
A memorial service for Dr. Noordhoff is being planned in Taipei in the near future.