By Raffi Elliott
The Invention: As a young man, Varaztad Kazanjian fled the Ottoman Empire, where he worked in a local post-office due to the anti-Armenian pogroms known as the Hamidian Massacre. Settling in Boston to start a new life, Varaztad started working at a local wiring factory, where his extraordinary dexterity with tools led him to study dentistry at Harvard. During the Great War, Kazanjian was sent on a medical mission to the battlefields of France. Despite being trained as a dentist, his compassion for the sheer number of soldiers with horrific facial wounds he met lead him to experiment with various treatments. The innovative procedures he worked with were often accomplished in primitive conditions, in field hospitals near the front lines.
Why it’s important:
Dr. Kazanjian’s pioneering procedures directly lead to establishing the medical field of plastic surgery, earning him the prestigious position of first ever Professor of Plastic Surgery at Harvard. His efforts didn’t go unrecognised by others either. He was awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George by HM King George V of Great Britain, as well as the Honorary Award of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons.
His work helped propel battlefield medicine into the 20th century, allowing many wounded soldiers to recover from some of the most horrific wounds brought by modern warfare. These techniques eventually became commonplace in the civilian world as well. Victims of crashes, burns, and other accidents now had access to some of the most cutting-edge facial reconstruction technology in human history.
The importance of Dr.Kazanjian’s efforts may go unnoticed for today’s casual consumers of cosmetic plastic surgery, but it’s worth remembering that the history of perfect noses and perfect breasts starts with an Armenian dentist’s struggle to stitch up wounded soldiers of World War One.