Dr. Lars Vistnes, founding director of ReSurge International, dies at 88
April 13, 2016
Dr. Lars Vistnes, a pioneer in oculoplastic surgery and a founding director of ReSurge International (formerly Interplast)—the first group to bring advanced reconstructive surgery to children and adults in the developing world—died on Mar. 28 in San Francisco.
According to a press release from Stanford Medicine (Apr. 7, 2016), Dr. Vistnes, emeritus professor of plastic surgery, died of an abdominal aneurysm at 88 years of age.
“[Dr.] Vistnes’ professional colleagues remembered him for his surgical skills, teaching ability, and organizational leadership; his family knew him as patient, gentle and good-natured, despite a years-long struggle against failing eyesight caused by glaucoma,” stated the release. “By the time he died . . . [he] was almost completely blind.”
He was born June 22, 1927, in Stavanger, Norway. Dr. Vistnes earned a medical degree in 1957 from the University of Manitoba College of Medicine; he met his wife, Carol, while on summer break. After his medical school graduation, he served for three years as a captain in the Canadian Armed Forces.
He arrived at Stanford in 1971, shortly after finishing a six-year residency in general and plastic surgery. Dr. Vistnes was appointed acting assistant professor of surgery at the School of Medicine and chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at what was then called the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif. By 1980, he had become chief and program director of plastic surgery at Stanford; he later served as acting chair of the Department of Surgery. He was co-director of the faculty mentoring program from 1994 until his death.
Fitted veterans for aesthetic prosthetic eyes
“Year after year, Dr. Vistnes accepted new leadership challenges and responsibilities,” said Dr. Vincent Hentz, professor emeritus of surgery, another former chief of the plastic surgery division, in the release. “He was instrumental in the development of the Stanford plastic surgery board review course and in the department’s evolution to include functional restoration in its mission. There were many retirement parties for him, but he remained a valued mentor at Stanford.”
Dr. Vistnes was especially known for a treatment he first created for veterans of the Vietnam War. “He found a way to reconstruct eye orbits and eyelids so veterans who had lost an eye in combat could be fitted with an aesthetic prosthetic eye instead of a patch or other poor disguise,” Dr. Hentz said.
Worked with Interplast in Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, and Samoa
Dr. Vistnes was a co-founder of ReSurge International in 1969. According to their website, the organization has built surgical capacity and provided more than 105,000 surgeries in 13 different developing countries.
"It was hard work, but he was part of a great team that accomplished rewarding results," said his son, Richard. "The trips were a central part of his life's mission as a doctor." Dr. Vistnes made many Interplast trips to Gautemala, Honduras, Peru, and Samoa.