American Society of Plastic Surgeons
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Remembering The PSF past President Donald Laub Sr., MD, 1935-2024

Donald Laub

The PSF past President Donald Laub Sr., MD, passed away on April 26. He was 89.

"Dr. Laub was a true pioneer for our specialty – not only in terms of the advancements he made in the O.R., but also his groundbreaking work in humanitarian international surgical missions," says ASPS President Steven Williams, MD. "He was a trailblazer who set a standard that plastic surgeons will aspire to for years to come."

Growing up in Milwaukee, Dr. Laub said his family instilled in him early the importance of helping other people. He attended Marquette University with a goal of following his father's footsteps in the insurance industry, but he liked to point out that the sum total of his time in business school amounted to 24 hours. He felt the path to success involved cheating others to bolster his own bottom line and he instead wanted to be measured for the amount of good he did for others. His father recommended medical school – and Dr. Laub never looked back.

After earning his MD from Marquette's School of Medicine in 1960, Dr. Laub began an internship at Yale School of Medicine with Robert Chase, MD, who became an important mentor. When Dr. Chase was offered a job at Stanford, Dr. Laub followed him to California.

At Stanford, Dr. Laub said he found himself in a "sea of Nobel Prize winners" who would give him projects to work on, but it was a 13-year-old boy named Antonio who came from Mexico for help with a cleft lip that would prove foundational to Dr. Laub's career.

"This boy's life was transformed from a pariah on society to a productive citizen in two operations," Dr. Laub told PSN in 2018. "It was a good feeling you get – not in income, but in patients being grateful. That became my driving force, and I had the opportunity to go to Mexico where there are many cleft-lip cases and patients who didn't have access to medical care."

Dr. Laub began making multiple trips to Mexico and other Latin American countries to provide that care, ultimately resulting in the foundation of Interplast (now known as ReSurge International) in 1969. Over its history, the organization provided tens of thousands of life-altering operations at no cost, fortifying long-term international professional relationships and providing a template for international humanitarian work the continues to resonate to this day. Dr. Laub personally took part in more than 150 surgical missions.

Dr. Laub served as chief of plastic surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine from 1968-1980, during which time he co-founded a six-year integrated surgical residency program, the first of its kind. He also helped forge a partnership between ABPS and a national Residency Review Committee, allowing residents in training to assume graduated surgery responsibilities.

He also pushed the specialty forward in the O.R., making one of the first academic investigations into the efficacy of treating gender dysphoria with surgery – and he pioneered the rectosigmoid vaginoplasty.

"To be a person who didn't know what sex they belong to is a very severe problem," Dr. Laub told PSN. "When the first case came in, I mistook the sex of the patient. It was a man dressed as a woman, in a very attractive fashion, and I didn't discover it was a man until the physical examination... I eventually operated on about 1,500 patients and learned how to take care of them in a fashion that's high quality, does not produce problems and is very sympathetic to the patients who demand surgery."

Dr. Laub served as president of The PSF in 1980 and remained an active member of organized medicine and a proponent for patients and the specialty for the rest of his life. From 1981 to 1983, he served as the second president of HBIGDA, now known as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. In 2017, he received the ASPS Honorary Citation for his incalculable work advancing the specialty. The award was presented to him by one of his former trainees, ASPS past President Debra Johnson, MD, who says history has demonstrated that her mentor was ahead of his time.

"Many of Dr. Laub's ideas are now standard – the integrated training programs, transgender care, the acceptance and promotion of women in plastic surgery and international service," she says. "He changed the face of plastic surgery for the better."

In 2019, Dr. Laub published Second Lives, Second Chances, which recounted several of his experiences in international work and how that shaped his approach to plastic surgery. He hesitated to call it a "memoir," insisting that it was an educational book about the specialty. The core message was the same guiding principle that he learned as a young boy in Milwaukee.

"Helping other people is the key to life because that provides happiness," he said.