Berish Strauch, a plastic surgeon whose pioneering procedures and devices for reattaching or replacing vital body parts included one of the first toe-to-thumb transplants, a device for reversing vasectomies and, perhaps most notably, first inflatable penis prosthesis, died on December 1st. .24 in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was 90 years old.
His daughter, Laurie Strauch Weiss, said the cause of his death, which occurred at the hospital, was respiratory failure.
Beginning in the late 1960s, Dr. Strauch pioneered a revolution in plastic surgery, particularly microsurgery, in which doctors used microscopes and precision instruments to stitch together tiny blood vessels, nerves and ligaments, some thinner than a human hair. said Dr. June K. Wu, associate professor of surgery at Columbia University who completed her residency under Dr. Strauch.
As longtime chief of reconstructive surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, Dr. Strauch designed many surgical procedures and technologies that are now considered mainstream. Among other achievements, he developed techniques for removing excess skin from patients who had lost significant weight following bariatric surgery – a type of extreme abdominoplasty.
After a New York City firefighter lost his thumb in 1976, Dr. Strauch attempted to reattach it. When that proved impossible, he suggested something more radical: taking one of the man’s big toes and sewing it back together in place of the severed finger.
Not only did the operation work, but a few months later the firefighter was back on the job.
“I do not recommend a transplant to a person who has lost a finger,” he told the Midnight newspaper in 1976. “A thumb, yes, because the opposable thumb is what differentiates us from animals.”
Dr. Strauch was among the first modern surgeons to use leeches to control blood flow after surgery and remove necrotic tissue – a seemingly medieval technique that he believed could not be improved upon by human innovation.
“If you were to design an instrument for drawing blood,” he told the New York Times in 1987, “you couldn’t design one that was more suitable than the biblical leech.”
He left a particularly deep mark in the field of urology. He created something called the Strauch forceps, a device used to help reverse vasectomies. And in perhaps his most notable but no less important innovation, he invented the first inflatable penile prosthesis.
Artificial penises have been used for centuries, either to replace detached limbs, to treat erectile dysfunction, or for use in sex reassignment operations. But in most cases, they were either permanently flaccid or permanently erect – neither of which was a particularly satisfying arrangement for anyone involved.
Dr. Strauch designed a prosthetic penis attached by a tube to a reservoir of fluid implanted inside the body. When the patient wanted an erection, they could activate a pump to fill the prosthesis (although to reverse it, they would have to manually return the liquid to the reservoir).
I have received a patent for his invention in 1973, after which he sold it to a company called American Medical Systems. One of the company’s founders, F. Brantley Scott, later developed the product and, in the annals of medical history, has since received most of the credit.
Berish Strauch was born in September. Born December 19, 1933, in the Bronx, son of Herman and Anna (Weiss) Strauch. His father cut men’s suits in Manhattan’s garment district; her mother was a milliner.
As a child, Berish, nicknamed Bob in informal situations, accompanied his parents to work. He later said that watching them wield scissors and knives for hours inspired his interest in surgery.
He attended the Bronx High School of Science and graduated from Columbia, where he studied pre-medicine, in 1955 and from its medical school in 1959. After fellowships at New York’s Roosevelt Hospital and the Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., he returned to the Bronx to join the staff at Montefiore. He became head of the plastic surgery department there in 1978.
Dr. Strauch married Rena Feuerstein in 1955. She died just eight weeks before his death. Along with their daughter, he is survived by their son, Robert, himself a noted hand surgeon; seven grandchildren; and his sister, Renée Freed. The Strauchs lived in Rye, New York
Although he never gained attention, Dr. Strauch played a small but important role in one of the biggest sensational stories of the 1990s.
In 1992, Amy Fisher, a Long Island teenager, shot a woman named Mary Jo Buttafuoco in the head after confronting her about Ms. Fisher’s affair with Ms. Buttafuoco’s husband, Joey.
Ms. Buttafuoco survived, but suffered significant facial damage, including partial paralysis. Having heard about his case, Dr. Strauch contacted his attorney and offered to help.
“It’s one of the most successful areas of medicine,” he told Newsday in 1992. “In the last 20 years, a whole new level of knowledge has been reached.”
He performed extensive surgery on Ms Buttafuoco in early 1993, returning most of her face to normal – although it was too late to repair significant nerve damage.
“She will still have some elements of paralysis, mainly in the lower lip,” he told Newsday after the operation. “But she’s a beautiful lady and she’s going to look great.”