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Biographical entry Kaplan, Isidore (1927 - 1977)

MRCS and FRCS 1958; MB ChB Cape Town 1951; FRCS Ed 1957.

25 February 1927
Balfour, Transvaal, South Africa
25 February 1977
New York, USA
Hand surgeon and Plastic surgeon


Isidore Kaplan was born in Balfour, Transvaal, on 25 February 1927, and was educated at Jeppe High School, Johannesburg, and at the University of Cape Town, where he graduated MB ChB in 1951. At UCT he captained the Cricket First XI for three successive years and received the Jameson Award for services to sport. At this time too, he was one of the founders of the annual university cricket week.

After three years at Addington Hospital in Durban, he proceeded to the United Kingdom, where he worked at Birmingham Accident Hospital and at the Postgraduate Medical School, London. He obtained the FRCS Ed in 1957 and the FRCS in 1958. After a residency in plastic surgery at Edinburgh University, he spent 1960-62 in Pittsburgh, USA, as resident and teaching fellow under Dr William L White. His research there on circumferential burns earned him an honourable mention from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

On returning to South Africa in September 1962, he rapidly built up a very extensive practice as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. It was in the field of hand surgery that Kaplan became an internationally renowned figure, publishing extensively in the world literature and contributing chapters to several textbooks. He was a prime mover in the formation of the South Africa Society for Surgery of the Hand, of which he became President in 1970. In addition to prominence in the hand surgery and plastic surgery societies of many lands, he was President of the Association of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons of South Africa from 1972 to 1974.

In 1967 and 1973, Kaplan was one of the first South African doctors to go to Israel to give freely of his skills in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli conflicts. As founder of the Israel Hand Society, he enjoyed a particularly high reputation in that country, and subsequently organized the visit of Israeli experts to the conference on military medicine held at UNISA in 1975.

In his chosen fields, Kaplan displayed all the hallmarks of a great surgeon, a meticulous attention to detail in history-taking and clinical notation; preparation for and carrying out of an operation that never allowed for short-cuts or lapses from his strict self-imposed discipline, and a superb operative technique. Inside the theatre and out, his relationships with colleagues, nurses and especially his patients were exemplary.

Latterly Isidore Kaplan pioneered in South Africa the operation of total submaxillary salivary gland excision and posterior relocation of the parotid ducts. The dramatic conversion of 'drooling' spastic patients with their bibs permanently sodden with saliva to an almost overnight dry state was tremendously rewarding emotionally to all associated with the procedure and this was perhaps the most satisfying achievement of his later career. He was married and had a young family. He died in New York on 25 February 1977 on his fiftieth birthday.

Sources used to compile this entry: [S Afr med J 1977, 51, 519].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England