a history of changing futures

In the 1960s, one man believed plastic surgery could transform the world. One patient at a time…

That man, Dr Donald R Laub of Stanford University, pioneered the idea that reconstructive plastic surgery could rehabilitate, reintegrate and transform lives. In 1969, his vision led to the creation of Interplast (USA), now Resurge International. Thousands of medical volunteers extended a helping hand by travelling overseas and assisting those in need. Mr Leo Rozner, an Australian plastic surgeon, was one of those volunteers.

Returning to Melbourne from South America, Mr Rozner’s promotion of the Interplast experience to the Rotary Club of Cheltenham intrigued Dr Gerald Duff, a general practitioner and Rotarian who instigated discussion regarding transplanting the Interplast concept in Australia with Rotary District 980 (now 9800). Back and forth, the conversational tennis match between Doug Mills and Keith Walter of 980, Interplast in the United States of America and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, through Professor Donald Marshall, the then Chairman of the Plastic and Reconstructive Division, eventuated in the birth of Interplast Australia in 1983. Dubbed a joint project between Rotary District 980 and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Interplast Australia was established to provide voluntary medical teams to carry out plastic and reconstructive surgery in developing countries.

Evolving Intentions

Interplast Australia’s very first program was conducted in Samoa in 1983 and was fully funded by Rotarians. The second program to Fiji, also funded by Rotarians, garnered interest from the Australian Government, who recognised the importance of such foreign aid, and allocated partial funding for Interplast Australia programs through the Pacific Islands. With further assistance from Rotarians in clubs and districts throughout Australia and New Zealand, along with growing corporate support and generous public donations, Interplast Australia’s focus area branched out to service a variety of regions including China, the Cook Islands, Pakistan, the Marshall Islands and Tanzania.

Along with the expansion of our programs, Interplast Australia’s primary intentions also began to evolve. Volunteers began to perform more surgeries than just cleft lip and palate. This adaptation, in response to the needs and requests of the communities we visited, also overlapped with an increased focus on providing training and mentoring.

In 2007, Interplast Australia changed its name to Interplast Australia & New Zealand in order to recognise the collaboration with our New Zealand supporters, volunteers and contributors. The introduction of an appropriately symbolic tagline, ‘Repairing bodies. Rebuilding lives,’ cemented our focus on transforming lives and capacity building.

Our Former Patron

Professor Donald R Marshall AM
August 1934 – December 2018

Involved with Interplast since its establishment in 1983, Professor Donald R Marshall AM was Interplast’s past president of 16 years and former patron.

Professor Marshall’s reputable clout in the industry was celebrated through the awarding of the distinguished Prince Henry’s medal for his outstanding contribution to the field of plastic surgery. He was also awarded the Medal and International Medal of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and, in 1999, was made a Member of the Order of Australia. His contribution to head and neck cancer surgery repair and breast reconstruction following mastectomy, in particular, has seen him widely cited, published and respected.

Professor Marshall’s approach to development and purpose for Interplast remains true today. “The key to Interplast’s success is respect for our in-country partners…offering to help, but only when invited,” he once said.

Professor Marshall sadly passed away in December 2018, but his legacy will continue not only in every program that Interplast delivers, but also through the annual Marshall International Scholarship.

The Future

From its humble beginnings as one man’s idea, Interplast is now a thriving not-for-profit organisation with a solid reputation for excellence in the care and training we provide, and in the relationships we build with our partners.

Looking to the future, our hope is to help our partner countries build health systems that meet their communities’ needs so well, there is no longer any need for Interplast.

Until that time, we will continue to seek support from donors, fundraisers and volunteers to change futures through surgery and training across the Asia Pacific region.