Thomas J. Krizek, MD, MA, FACS, died on August 5 at his home in Whittier, NC, at age 83. A renowned plastic surgeon, teacher, friend, and leader, he was distinguished for his unmatched ability to stimulate intellectual curiosity and creative thinking in his students and colleagues. Playing a major role in the development of American plastic surgery, he left an indelible mark on the specialty and endures in the lives of those touched by his presence.
Tom Krizek was born in Milwaukee, WI, in 1932 to Elizabeth and Chester Krizek and graduated from Marquette University and Marquette Medical School (now the Medical College of Wisconsin), Milwaukee. He entered residency in general surgery at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, OH, served two years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, and completed training in 1964.
Inspired by plastic surgeons at Case Western, particularly Clifford L. Kiehn, MD, FACS, he then completed training in plastic surgery and entered practice as chief of plastic surgery at the Baltimore General Hospital in the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, program. In 1968, he was recruited to Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, to develop a section of plastic surgery in the department of surgery. He also served as associate dean of the Yale School of Medicine after establishing the plastic surgery program in 1971.
After a decade at Yale, he was recruited to serve as professor and chief of plastic surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY; the University of Southern California, Los Angeles; and then the University of Chicago, IL, where he subsequently served for four years as chairman of the department of surgery, as well as interim dean of the School of Medicine. Prior to his retirement, he made a final move to the University of South Florida, Tampa, where he was chief of plastic surgery and vice-chair, department of surgery.
Leading burn surgeon
Working with severely burned patients and with funding from several National Institutes of Health grants, Dr. Krizek contributed to the understanding of thermal and radiation burns, biologic dressings and topical agents, diagnosis and treatment of sepsis, and, together with Martin Robson, MD, FACS, established the concept of confirming surgical wound infections with quantitative bacterial counts. He was chairman of the Plastic Surgery Research Council in 1974 and national plastic surgery consultant for the Shriners Hospitals and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Krizek was an influential leader in plastic surgery education, serving on the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Plastic Surgery Residency Review Committee and as director of both the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Surgery. A Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) since 1968, he was deeply involved in this organization and sat on the Board of Regents (1988–1997), was Vice-Chair of the Board of Regents (1996–1997), and served as First Vice-President (1999–2000). He chaired the Central Judiciary Committee and was on the ACS Ethics Committee for 10 years, at which time he helped to write the College’s Code of Ethics.
His plastic surgery colleagues recognized his leadership, and he was elected president of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, president of the American Association for Hand Surgery, and chairman of the Plastic Surgery Program Directors.
Ethicist and humanitarian
Dr. Krizek had an abiding interest in the experience of the surgical resident and the life of the practicing surgeon, and he thought and wrote about surgical error, reporting adverse events, the surgeon’s role in palliative care, and the impaired physician. He relished challenging dogma, thinking beyond the surface, and stimulating others with provocative questions. He was a master teacher who engaged his students, brought vitality to the learning experience, and created an atmosphere of remarkable productivity.
His humor was clever and dry, and he delighted in the absurd. He was an eloquent speaker and left his audiences optimistic and brimming with ideas. He was the commencement speaker at eight medical school graduations and gave numerous keynote addresses, including the Ethics and Philosophy Lecture at the 2001 ACS Clinical Congress.
After retiring from the practice of surgery, Dr. Krizek continued his study of the human condition and earned a master’s degree in religious studies. He taught sports ethics and religious studies to a new generation of students who crowded into his classrooms, captivated by his style and humor. His intellectual energy and evident joy when engaging with others were legendary.
Dr. Krizek was a man of faith who widened the world of those around him; he was a dominant figure in plastic surgery who inspired intellectual integrity, responsibility, and joy in everyday practice.
He is survived by his wife Claudette Reid Krizek; three children: Thomas, Jr., Kelly Ann Criscuolo, and Mary Ellen Burgard; two step-children: Clifton Cannon and Timothy Cannon; and six grandchildren: Emily, Isaac, Lucas, Ethan, Dima, and Valentina. He is mourned by them and the numerous plastic surgeons whom he trained and celebrated.
Dr. Krizek: A remembrance
“Tom Krizek was a wonderful human, great leader, and surgeon. He characterized the very best of Fellowship in American College of Surgeons. He publicly acknowledged his own alcoholism, and we both served on the Board of Governors’ Committee on Physicians’ Health. We worked together to produce a wonderful training video titled Out of Control, which the ACS offered to educate our colleagues about alcoholism and drug addiction. He helped hundreds of our colleagues find and maintain sobriety and serve very happy and productive careers.”
—Gordon L. Hyde, MD, FACS, professor emeritus surgery, University of Kentucky, Lexington. Dr. Hyde is a retired vascular surgeon and lives in Naples, FL.