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Kenneth Fan, MD, recalls when Plastic Surgery’s ability to make a difference in a patient’s life truly hit home. On a medical mission to Haiti, while attending the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, he treated a 35-year-old man who, shamed by a severe cleft lip, had been relegated to life as a recluse. On a subsequent visit to Haiti two years after the procedure, the patient was, figuratively speaking, a new man.
“From the moment I met him again, he had gone through a complete transformation,” Dr. Fan says. He had gone to college to become an English translator, volunteering time for the program. He had gotten married and was getting ready to start a family. It was evidence of how plastic surgery can bring patients a new sense of wholeness.”
Advancing Plastic Surgery Research
Since coming to Washington, D.C., for his residency at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, the southern California native has pursued an active research agenda, to identify and build upon innovative ways to effect similar transformative results in other patients, particularly those facing post-cancer breast reconstruction procedures.
“A plastic surgeon is the ‘finisher,’ the last stop on a patient’s sometimes difficult route to recovery,” says Dr. Fan, who now practices at Medstar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. He adds that while he was drawn to plastic surgery in part for the high level of technical expertise required, “there’s no one set answer to achieve a solution. And I get to stay engaged with the patient afterward, something I really enjoy.”
Benefits of Enhanced Recovery After Surgery
Dr. Fan’s recent work with Enhanced Recovery After Surgery and Anesthesia (ERAS) protocols has focused on minimizing and even eliminating the use of narcotics following breast reconstruction procedures, speeding patients’ recovery and with substantially less post-op “grogginess.” For example, microsurgical breast reconstruction with abdominally-based free flaps typically requires week-long hospital stays, sometimes in the ICU. Using the ERAS multimodal, multidisciplinary approach to pain management, the use of narcotics has been significantly reduced.
"Patients are walking by post-op day one or two, and going home by post-op day three,” says Dr. Fan, who considers ERAS “a real game-changer,” for improving patients’ recovery from procedures that can be both physically and emotionally challenging.
“To be able to take the fear out of the postoperative recovery, and to assure patients we are able to manage pain effectively, is by far the most rewarding aspect of this project,” he says. “We are changing the culture of microsurgical breast reconstruction, from a historically challenging recovery, to one of ease and comfort. We hope patients are going to be able to select the right reconstruction for them, without having to consider severe pain and discomfort in their difficult time.”
Outside of Work
Given his many other research pursuits—improving health literacy to improve post-op breast reconstruction, reducing barriers to reconstructive surgery among underserved communities, microsurgical correction of lymphedema and other topics that have led to over 140 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and presentations at scientific meetings —it’s a wonder Dr. Fan finds time for himself.
“Early mornings in the gym are my favorite time, because it’s usually just me,” he says. Dr. Fan also enjoys reading, traveling, and playing with his German Shepherd, Flora. He is also a self-described “foodie,” and enjoys trying different cuisines and restaurants.