Laser Surgery Pioneer Prof. Isaac Kaplan, 1919-2012

In 1972, together with Uzi Sharon, he developed a tool for laser surgery, the Sharplan, named after the two of them.

Isaac (Yitzhak ) Kaplan was born in the small town of Kroonstad, and was only 11 years old when Zeev Jabotinsky came to Johannesburg. But like many other South African Jews, thanks to this visit he became an ardent Zionist and Revisionist.

Before he turned 20, he set out for Civitavecchia in Italy, where he learned seamanship on the ship Sarah A at the school established by Jeremiah (Yermi ) Halpern for the smuggling of illegal immigrants into Palestine. But his voyage with Halpern ended in a navigational error and a mutiny by the crew, at the end of which Kaplan was locked up at gunpoint.

He came to the land of Israel and spent some time in Rosh Pina, where he was active in a local cell of the Irgun, the prestate Revisionist underground. With the outbreak of World War II, he volunteered for the South African army, and because of his fluency in Italian, he was assigned to be an interpreter in the communications corps.

In the Western Desert campaign, he participated in the retreat from Gazala to Tobruk in the face of an attack by the Africa Corps, led by Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox." During one heavy bombardment, he found himself in a trench next to a South African sergeant, who told him, "We are here in danger of our lives while the Jews are sitting safely in South Africa and making money."

As a demobilized soldier, he was accepted to medical school at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, but he cut short his fourth year of studies in March 1948 in order to help the escape of a group of prestate underground members whom the British had deported to Kenya.

His role was to organize forged passports and means of transportation for the group, headed by Irgun commander Yaakov Meridor. But when the small plane was about to take off from the airport at Goma in the Congo, the pilot announced that the runway was too short for a plane with so many passengers. Having no alternative, the group crossed Lake Kivu by boat to reach a longer runway - just as the nearby volcano erupted and spewed burning lava into the lake. From there, however, the flight to Brussels proceeded without incident.

In 1952, Kaplan immigrated to Israel and was hired by Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. He related with restraint and humor to complaints from fellow Anglo-Saxon immigrants about the difficulties of absorption, Israeli rudeness and more, suggesting to one complainer that she move to India - where not only would she not have language difficulties, but she would also be considered sacred.

In 1954, he completed his residency in plastic surgery at Hadassah University Hospital and then trained in England with Sir Harold Gillies, the father of British plastic surgery. When one of his colleagues there, a British doctor, heard that he had come from Israel, he inquired politely, "Do you still have problems there with the Jews?"

In 1958, he established the reconstructive plastic surgery department at Beilinson Hospital, which he headed until 1989. In 1967, he founded the first burn unit in Israel, and a year later he was sent to Saigon, in the midst of the Vietnam War, to establish a large hospital there. "He won the deep affection of the Vietnamese people," wrote Health Minister Tran Lu Yeh to Foreign Minister Abba Eban.

Kaplan was appointed a professor of medicine at Tel Aviv University, and in 1972, together with Uzi Sharon, he developed a tool for laser surgery, the Sharplan, named after the two of them.

Prof. Abraham Baruchin, president of the International Society for Laser Surgery and Medicine, has written in his blog that aside from his international degrees, the awards he received and his many publications (among them the first book on plastic surgery in Hebrew ), Kaplan instructed more than 600 doctors in various fields of surgery on working with lasers, all without pay.

Kaplan also enjoyed writing poems that were characterized by humor and Anglo-Saxon understatement. He titled his book "The Wondering Jew," a play, of course, on "the wandering Jew," and wrote that he wondered if his grandchildren would read what he wrote, and whether they would be impressed or bored.

He is survived by two children, Gila and Karen, from his first wife Charlotte, of blessed memory, as well as his wife Masha, their daughter Dr. Carmi Harel, and five grandchildren.