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Iranian-American Surgeon Travels World Doing Charity Cases

05/01/11 By Grace Nasri, Iran Times

Kaveh Alizadeh
An Iranian-American plastic surgeon who immigrated to the US following the 1979 revolution has traveled back to his native country for more than a decade to perform volunteer surgeries on Iranian patients living in remote villages.

Kaveh Alizadeh, the president of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group—the largest and oldest plastic surgical group in North America—was born in Tehran in August of 1966.  On August 22, 1979, Alizadeh left Iran for Istanbul, Turkey, as part of one of the last groups allowed to leave the country before the November 4 hostage crisis.  He moved to the United States in October 22, 1979—two weeks before the hostage crisis—and eventually settled in Manhattan.

Despite having left his native land at an early age, Alizadeh has traveled back to Iran every other year for more than a decade to do volunteer work.  The last time he was in Iran was in 2008.

But Alizadeh, who also directs the Clinical Research Division of the of the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group’s Plastic Surgery Residency Program, also spreads his time and talents in other areas of the world—from South America and the Middle East to Asia—helping patents in need of post reconstructive and plastic surgery.  Alizadeh has operated on more than 1,000 charity patients and has worked with organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Doctors Without Borders.

In an interview with the Iran Times, Alizadeh explained how he became interested in his line of surgery and how his Iranian background has helped shape him into the person he is today.

“Initially, I had a scholarship to study psychiatry at Cornell,” Alizadeh told the Iran Times.  “While I was there, I did a public health project looking into organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross.  There, I connected with a plastic surgeon who became my mentor and turned me onto post reconstructive surgery.  From there, I began doing my surgical related field work.  I started at the Burn Center at New York hospital doing post burn reconstructive surgery when I finished medical school.”

Alizadeh added that part of his passion to help people was largely derived from his background as an Iranian immigrant.

“My Iranian background has really provided me with a strong frame of reference for what I do today,” Alizadeh told the Iran Times.  A big part is just the influence of the family given the fact that we were uprooted like many others within the Iranian Diaspora.  So I have a sense of connection to back home.  It also has taught me about the fragility of life.  Things can change and it’s important to be involved in the lives of those that don’t have the same opportunities that we do have here in the United States.  For me, when I go back to Iran to do volunteer work, it’s more interesting to go to the provinces, not necessarily to Tehran, because Tehran has a lot of medial amenities that the provinces and other remote villages don’t have access to.”

Late last month, Alizadeh was featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes for his successful volunteer reconstruction work on a 9-year-old Iraqi boy named Wa’ad, who had lost this right arm, left leg and right eye—and had his face shattered—after kicking around a bottle that ended up being a bomb.  The boy had been brought to the US by the Global Medical Relief Fund, a non-profit organization that brings crippled children from various parts of the world to the US for surgery.

But Alizadeh doesn’t only operate on children. “It depends,” he explained to the Iran Times.  “When I go to remote areas I operate on all-comers, including adults with terrible burn injuries or tumors that need to be removed before reconstruction.  I do try to focus on children though, because if a child gets a surgery that doesn’t go well initially, it can affect the child for years to come.”

In addition to working as a surgeon, engaging in volunteer work internationally, and giving talks around the world, Alizadeh has founded an organization aimed at helping young Iranian women who are the victims of self-mutilation in addition to other patients around the world.

“Over the past 18 years that I’ve been doing volunteer work, I’ve been interested in sustainable projects.  So we established Mission: Restore to provide clinical care, education and research to change the lives of a lot of people in war torn areas and to trauma victims in remote villages in Iran—many of whom are female subjects of self mutilation and trauma.  Some women are forced into marriage at a young age and engage in self-mutilation by burning.  Mission: Restore hopes to gather volunteers to help do post reconstructive work on these women,” Alizadeh explained to the Iran Times, adding, “The program will act as an early mentor program for those who are interested in volunteer work in general; it is open to students in high school, in college or in medical school who are interested in volunteering in Iran.”

According to the Mission: Restore website, the group organizes and funds volunteer medical missions to deliver expert plastic and reconstructive surgery to patients in need who are suffering from conditions such as cleft lip and palates, congenital deformities and facial and body trauma. The Foundation mobilizes teams of doctors through travel scholarships so that doctors can donate their time and expertise to provide care within the United States and around the world.  But people of all backgrounds and ages are welcome to volunteer.

He pointed out that after the earthquake in Haiti, volunteer students were crucial in helping connect the doctors with patients in need.

“When I worked in Haiti after the earthquake, volunteer students were a big help with organizing our efforts, matching up patients with doctors.”

Alizadeh said that the opportunity is open to everyone, but guesses that Mission: Restore will attract many Iranians, as it will offer a way for young adults who were born in the US but whose parents were born in Iran, to see their motherland and to connect what they do in the US to what people in Iran need.  But Mission: Restore’s reach extends far beyond Iran, to patients in need both locally and globally.

Alizadeh received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University and earned his Master’s Degree from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. After graduating, he pursued an MD from Cornell University Medical College having received commendation from the Dean.  He then attended Harvard Business school’s Executive Program, where he won the Owners and Presidents Management (OPM) Program Plan Award.  Alizadeh told the Iran Times that he thought it was important to learn about business given his medical training so that he could run such a large organization as the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group—which has more than 125 members.

Alizadeh completed his General Surgery and Plastic Surgery training at the University of Chicago Hospitals then pursued an additional year of subspecialty training in Cosmetic Surgery, Microsurgery and Breast Reconstruction at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.  The Iranian-born surgeon has received numerous teaching and training grants for treating patients in Central and South America, the Middle East, and Asia.  He has authored numerous publications and has given extensive presentations both nationally and internationally.  In 2009, he received the prestigious National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO) Award for his contributions to volunteer surgery over the past decade.

Alizadeh is married to an Iranian woman whom he met in New York at a mutual friend’s wedding.  He is the proud father of two children, Noor, who’s two years old, and Ariana, who is just four weeks old.

When asked why he does the work he does, Alizadeh said, “I do this probably for the most selfish reason, which is that it feels good.”

To donate or get involved with Mission Restore, visit:

About the author: Grace Nasri is the Assistant Editor at Iran Times International, a blogger on Huffington Post and an Editor at the comparison engine

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