BIOGRAPHY OF RENOWNED SURGEON FULFILLS DESTINY
By Pamela H. Sacks Telegram & Gazette Staff
Worcester Telegram, MA
May 29 2007
Doctor aided soldiers disfigured during World War I
Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian says he was destined to write a biography
of the man who pioneered the specialty of plastic and reconstructive
Certainly the fact that Dr. Varaztad H. Kazanjian was a fellow Armenian
created a bond between the two men. And having Worcester in common
could only have strengthened the ties. After escaping oppression
in Ottoman Armenia, Dr. Kazanjian, who was 16 at the time, came to
Worcester and worked in the wire mills. Dr. Deranian is a Worcester
But there’s little question that, as a dentist, Dr. Deranian has a
special appreciation for Dr. Kazanjian’s extraordinary, far-reaching
Dr. Kazanjian became a dentist and then gained widespread renown
for his innovative methods of repairing severe facial wounds on the
battlefields of northern France during World War I. He then returned
home and earned a degree from Harvard Medical School. He went on to
become a world-famous plastic surgeon.
In 1931, Dr. Kazanjian was called to Vienna to make an appliance for
Sigmund Freud, who had lost a large section of his jaw to cancer. The
hand-made appliance was so much lighter and more comfortable than
previous models that Freud was prompted to call Dr. Kazanjian
Dr. Deranian started working on his biography of Dr. Kazanjian 30 years
ago. Last month, "Miracle Man of the Western Front" was published
by Chandler House Press of Worcester. The book is filled with rare
old photographs, as well as illustrations of medical procedures. It
is a profile that combines the personal and professional lives of
the kindly and unassuming surgeon, who, in Dr. Deranian’s view,
experienced the ultimate fulfillment of the American dream.
"It’s a passion I just had to do in life," Dr. Deranian, 84, said of
his book. "It’s like a fulfillment of my life."
During a recent interview in his dental office on Main Street,
Dr. Deranian proudly handed over a framed photograph of himself with
Dr. Kazanjian. The picture was shot 40 years ago at the centennial
of the American Academy of Dental Science, and both men are clad
The two had first met years earlier. Dr. Deranian, a graduate of Clark
University, was in his final year at the University of Pennsylvania
School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Kazanjian was in Philadelphia lecturing
on oral surgery to graduate students. Dr. Deranian enthusiastically
introduced himself, having, as a child, heard stories about
Dr. Kazanjian’s years in Worcester.
"Meeting him was almost anticlimactic," Dr. Deranian remembered. "He
was a hero to the immigrant."
Later, Dr. Deranian practiced dentistry in Boston, just a few doors
down from Dr. Kazanjian. Dr. Deranian had an interest in complex
dental repairs using custom appliances. On several occasions, he
scrubbed in with Dr. Kazanjian on cleft-palate surgeries.
After serving in the Navy, Dr. Deranian returned to Worcester
and set up his practice. He would see Dr. Kazanjian from time to
time. "He was very interested in keeping abreast of Worcester news,"
Dr. Deranian said.
Even as a young man, Dr. Deranian had it in mind to write a book on
Dr. Kazanjian. After Dr. Kazanjian’s death in 1974, his widow wrote
to Dr. Deranian, saying, "Dr. Kazanjian always felt very close to
you and spoke of you often."
Dr. Deranian dug in. To tell the story of Dr. Kazanjian’s early life,
Dr. Deranian read correspondence and articles in Armenian and searched
for pictures of the town where he grew up. He tracked down people who
knew Dr. Kazanjian in different phases of his life and spent hour upon
hour poring over a wide range of material, including the classic text
"The Surgical Treatment of Facial Injuries," written by Dr. Kazanjian
and Dr. John M. Converse.
Dr. Kazanjian’s World War I experiences, starting in 1915, are
particularly fascinating. As a member of a unit sent by Harvard to
help the British medical team, Dr. Kazanjian began by treating British
soldiers for a host of dental problems. The British were astounded at
the American "dentist-doctors," whose treatments cleared up a range
of related health issues.
As the war progressed, increasing numbers of soldiers were engaged
in trench warfare and suffering from horrendous facial wounds. The
injuries often were so disfiguring and the methods of repair were
so elementary that some victims wore tin masks for the rest of
Dr. Kazanjian was eager to help; he was ambidextrous and worked very
fast. His techniques were brilliantly creative. His three-month stay
was extended to three years.
Dr. Deranian quotes from a letter that Dr. Ferdinand Brigham, an
American dentist serving with Dr. Kazanjian, wrote to his father:
"We naturally call our cases ‘fractured jaws’ but … there usually
goes with this condition a mutilation of the face, nose, head, throat,
etc. which can easily result in a bad deformity for life." A high
ranking British medical officer "was very insistent that we remain,"
realizing "that if Dr. Kazanjian will stay, countless men can be
saved from mutilation and even death."
The British expressed their gratitude to Dr. Kazanjian by bestowing
on him in 1919 the highest honor given a foreigner, investiture into
the Order of St. Michael and St. George.
Yet, as an immigrant, Dr. Kazanjian had to prove himself over
and over. Dr. Deranian noted that even after returning to the
U.S. following World War I, Harvard Medical School did him no
favors. Dr. Kazanjian had to follow the same curriculum as students
20 years his junior.
"I wanted to make sure it would be a realistic biography, but there
also had to be an appreciation of his clinical accomplishments,"
Dr. Deranian said.
What set Dr. Kazanjian apart was his ability to perform surgery
and make innovative oral appliances. "He rose and crossed borders,"
Dr. Deranian said. "It’s that link between two specialties."
Dr. Deranian spent seven years writing "Miracle Man of the Western
Front" and then turned the manuscript over to Worcester lawyer Edward
Simsarian for editing. Dr. Robert M. Goldwyn checked the text for
medical accuracy, and Nobel laureate Dr. Joseph E. Murray wrote the
foreword. Dr. Deranian had the book and its jacket designed and then
approached Lawrence Abramoff, who owns Chandler House Press.
The book costs $39.95. The Worcester District Medical Society has
provided a grant for distribution of copies to Central Massachusetts
As Dr. Deranian held a copy of his book, he smiled and said, "I wanted
it to be first quality. The man and the occasion deserved it.
I keep thinking of the word ‘dignity.’ He gave the profession dignity,
and he represented the American dream."