Meet longtime Holladay resident Dr. Wirt (Andy) Hines, retired plastic surgeon
Sep 05, 2019 12:37PM
By Sona Schmidt-Harris
Dr. Wirt (Andy) Hines at his home in Holladay. (Kim Hines/Holladay)
By Sona Schmidt-Harris | [email protected]
It is clear when speaking with Dr. Wirt (Andy) Hines that he sees surgery, whether reconstructive or cosmetic, as very serious business.
“At Duke, you’re told this from day one: You should be within one arm’s length from the patient’s bed. You don't leave the room. You go with that patient all the way to the recovery room. I always was with that patient until they were stabilized in recovery. Those are things that aren't done.”
Born in Parris Island, South Carolina, to a Methodist minister’s daughter, Hines began life at the biggest marine base in the US. His father, a dentist, had been drafted in World War II to practice dentistry.
His family later moved to Starkville, Mississippi, a small town with a population of around 6,000. Hines knew he wanted to become a doctor when he was a junior in high school.
“My father’s best friends were a general practitioner and a general surgeon in that town. We socialized with them. I got to know them. They were such great people. It was something I admired a lot, and so that sort of tended me toward medical school.”
Though Starkville was small, it was a university town and had an excellent school system. Hines obtained his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Mississippi State in Starkville.
He attended medical school at the University of Miami where he had a wealth of experience including working for a plastic surgeon who was doing research regarding the treatment of snake bites. Snake bites in the South were a big problem.
“I was guided a little bit by a general surgeon at Jackson Memorial Hospital by the University of Miami, and at that time, it was the center of Central and South American serious problems. Anybody that could afford it didn’t want their family member being operated on in Brazil or Guatemala, so the hospital’s size was thousands of beds. They had more beds than they probably have in the Salt Lake Valley. It was huge. That’s where you really learn. There’s a lot of different cases. There’s a rare disease. It runs in Jewish families. It’s called Tay-Sachs, and I probably saw 10 cases there where people other places may never see one. There’s a lot of disease — a lot of experience.”
After medical school at the University of Miami, Hines applied for an internship at Duke University.
“There were 750 applicants for that one plastic surgery internship, and I got it,” he said.
He was also accepted to John Hopkins. Because he had such a strict science curriculum, John Hopkins wanted him to study there an extra year.
“‘We want you to have humanities. You’ve got too much science and chemistry.’ I was 21-22 — a lifetime was a year. I didn’t want to go up there and take humanities for a year.”
There were offers elsewhere as well.
Hines also spent a summer at the Mayo Clinic doing research in physiology, which he said enhanced his knowledge for his practice.
During his time at Duke, Hines, along with nearly every eligible medical student in the country, received a draft notice to serve in the Vietnam War. According to Hines, more doctors were killed in Vietnam than any other war.
He was able to obtain stateside service in the Marine Corp at an Air Station in Yuma, Arizona.
After Hines had been discharged from the Marines, the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Duke Kenneth Pickerel told Hines the best plastic surgeons he ever trained were in Salt Lake City, Ray Broadbent and Bob Wolfe. It was the decisive factor in Hines coming to Utah.
Broadbent was instrumental in finding a better way of reconstructing the nipple by taking skin from the upper, inner thigh.
Hines set up his practice in 1978 when Dr. Arthur Benson was tragically killed in a skiing accident. Benson’s wife asked Hines if he would take over the practice, which he did. Thereafter, Hines set up his own practice, which he worked at until 2013.
Hines did both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. The most requested cosmetic procedure was breast enhancement. The bulk of his reconstructive work was on children with birth defects. He told a story about a child who had webbed feet and hands. A little boy wanted to play “This Little Piggy” but couldn’t because of his webbed feet.
Fixing webbed hands and feet in children is a very difficult and delicate procedure, in part because of the size of children’s hands. After the surgery when the child no longer had webbed feet, the first thing he wanted to do was play “This Little Piggy.”
Hines said the surgeries that brought him the most satisfaction were reconstructive. Some of his other cases included a woman who had been shot in the face by her husband on Christmas Day. One of her ears was badly damaged. “I used to joke with her that most people can’t look at both ears at the same time” he said.
There was a man who had a draining wound on his leg for 15 years, which Hines cured. There was also the tragic case of a man who tried to commit suicide who had no face left after he pulled the trigger. Hines reconstructed his face.
“You would not believe how good you can make a nose look that's basically gone,” he said. “But it's still got its blood supplies. You can’t just take tissue off and just stick it somewhere. It’s not going to survive. You have to leave it either connected, or you have to figure out a way to attach the blood supply from what you're transferring to the new location.
“You have to dissect the arteries and veins. Veins are harder to deal with because they're very fragile.
“It's a challenge, but you forget about the gross part of it. I mean, can you imagine working on a perirectal abscess and stuff like this?
“Dr. Broadbent, who was working at LDS Hospital when I came out here and who was world-renowned said, ‘You should never leave the operating room until you’re convinced that you could not have done better.’”
Hines once worked on a man who had been in a terrible head-on crash with a semi. His bone was poking through his nose, and he was leaking cerebral spinal fluid. “It's probably six hours of surgery, but he would become a friend. He would remember me wherever his travels were. He would send me little notes any time he came near Salt Lake.”
He also felt satisfaction when he dramatically changed some people with facelifts.
“I would never leave town right after any of my surgeries. Nobody's going to take care of these patients like the original doctor.”
When choosing a plastic surgeon, Hines believes the most important factor is making sure the doctor is a board-certified plastic surgeon. “In the state of Utah and most states in the US, your medical license says you're licensed to do medicine and surgery in all of its branches.” Some doctors have not gone through additional, specialized training to be a plastic surgeon. “It’s very difficult to find out if a doctor is board certified,” he said.
Hines spent quite a bit of time fixing other plastic surgeons’ mistakes. “Because you know you talk to different plastic surgeons socially, and you get to feel that they're not on a mission to do the best job they can possibly do.”
Though there were rewarding times, Hines said there were drawbacks. “You’ve got 50-year-old women who won't take their hands off their cell phone. They come in and they'll put it between their legs, and they start looking at it when I'm trying to tell them that you know, you can have nerve injury here. You can have a paralyzed face. You can get infections. These are very, very important things you’re telling people, and they're not paying any attention. And their phone will go off, and I said if you answer that I'm gone.
“I think if you were good at your job, you cared a lot about the patient you're working on, you get a lot of feedback. You can't hide it. That's part of the specialty, and I think is the best part is being able to make someone really happy whether it's an injury or it's cosmetic.”
Hines received a plaque from a grateful patient quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Success,” which says in part, “To know even one life has breathed | Easier because you have lived. | That is to have succeeded.”
This, Dr. Hines has done.