American Surgical Association Transactions

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1945 - 2019

Joseph S. Gruss, M.D., 1945-2019

When I first arrived in Toronto as a fellow in 1983 there was a young plastic surgeon in Sunnybrook hospital, the city’s level 1 trauma center, who was treating facial fractures with open reduction, fixation with multiple wires and primary bone grafting. His approach was regarded by many as excessive. His surgeries took hours and the idea of primary bone grafting for facial fractures was considered unnecessary and contra-indicated at the time. He used wire fixation because there were no plates suitable for the facial skeleton then. He was instrumental in developing craniofacial plating systems. That surgeon was Joe Gruss and his techniques, independently fostered also by Paul Manson, another young plastic surgeon at Johns Hopkins, have become the standard of care for facial fracture management. Incidentally Gruss and Manson became lifelong friends.

Dr. Gruss grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he attended medical school and began his early plastic surgery training – which he continued in London and ultimately completed in Toronto. He ultimately became Chief of Plastic Surgery at Sunnybrook. Joe left Toronto in 1990 was recruited to the University of Washington in Seattle where I moved in 2007. Though we had seen each other at meetings over the years, we resumed our friendship as if there had been no interruption. Joe was an amazingly skilled surgeon and a true original thinker. Like his idea of rigid fixation and primary bone grafting for facial fractures, many of his ideas went against the surgical tenets of the day and were greeted with skepticism and dismissal, ultimately proving to be true. His emphasis on the differential diagnosis separating craniosynostosis from positional deformities and normal variants led to the abandonment of unnecessary surgery for patients with lambdoid synostosis, again an idea that was sharply contested initially.

Joe loved what he did. In the operating room he would often walk from room to room to check out what was going on and chat with his colleagues. He was an accomplished teacher and lecturer and visited hospitals and universities around the world as a visiting professor, always ensuring that a round of golf was part of his itinerary. Dr. Gruss trained 52 craniofacial Fellows who practice around the world. In 1998, he became the first holder of the Marlys C. Larson Chair in Craniofacial Surgery at the University of Washington. During his lifetime he received many honors. These include the AAPS Distinguished Fellow Award; the ASMS Lifetime Achievement Award; and an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Despite his numerous accomplishments and his recognition as a craniofacial giant, Joe was unassuming and humble. He loved his work, his golf and his family. It is common practice to say that someone will be missed but in Joe’s case this is especially true. He truly is irreplaceable and will leave a lasting impression on those of us lucky enough to have known him.