Upon arriving in the United States in 1968, Harry, a Chilean native, answered that voice in his head and his heart and decided to just “go for it.” Dr. Harry Schanzer is one of those early adopters of phlebology. Initially trained in transplantation, his path seemed to springboard from cutting edge to cutting edge, providing an excellent education in technique, research, and invention. Inspired first by the kindness of another and then through the expertise acquired from a truly impressive list of scientific and medical minds, Harry always knew he would be a doctor. He listened intently to those who shared their skills and knowledge, impressing upon him everything he needed to know in order to succeed in his work. And succeed he did.
After more than 40 years of vein work, we thought it wastime to catch up with Harry to find out more about his earlyhistory, his mentors, and his motivation.
VM: What made you decide to go into medical schooland, more specifically, into vascular surgery? When andwhat made you decide to take on vein work?
HS: As a sick young boy, I got to know my doctor whocame to visit me and made me well. I admired him forwhat he could do. I looked at him as supreme and beganto aspire to emulate him when grown up. In high school,I became a lover of the biological sciences and there wasno doubt in my mind that I wanted to become a physician.By the time I finished medical school, transplantation wasin the forefront of advanced medicine, and as an ambitiousyoung man, I decided that I should go for it. From thereto vascular surgery was a natural transition. Why veins? Forty years ago, the venous field was the ugly duckling of vascular surgery. Nobody wanted to treat these patients. Again, wanting to make a dent in a field that I saw as important and undeserved, I jumped into it. I spent innumerable hours studying the pathophysiology of patients with advanced chronic venous stasis and tried new surgical techniques intended at improving their condition. This was the beginning of my research career in venous diseases.
VM: Who were your mentors in Chile and here in the United States? What did they teach you that has made you most successful?
HS: In Chile, I had two mentors, Dr. Arturo Jiron in surgery and Dr. Pablo Rubinstein in transplantation research. Dr. Jiron was an amazing man, idealistic, and a superb surgeon. He treated the poor with compassion and devotion. He became health minister during the Allende government and, as such, suffered deeply in the aftermath. Dr. Rubinstein was a young and energetic researcher, completely devoted and devoid of any materialistic ambitions. At that early time of his career, he was already well recognized internationally. He had the connections in the U.S. that allowed me to move here. In the United States, I have had two mentors, Dr. Converse Peirce and Dr. Leonel Villavicencio. Dr. Peirce was a privileged mind—a superb researcher, a good surgeon, and a wonderful human being. I learned from him how to do clinical research and the importance of integrity and honesty. Dr. Villavicencio impressed me with his love for veins, his devotion for teaching, and his big heart. He was instrumental in developing the interest for venous pathology in this country, and I feel he has not been properly recognized for it. I deeply sympathize and identify with him.
VM: Arguably, one of the hottest topics in our community right now is about who is best qualified to do vein work. Who do you think is best qualified to do vein work and why? How do you think that will change in the next few years?
HS: This is something that worries me greatly. I have seen lately, because of financial reasons, the appearance of innumerable “phlebologists” who do not have the knowledge and integrity to treat patients with venous problems. Venous diseases have to be treated with different techniques depending on the specific condition. Some patients need laser ablation, others need surgery, while others need sclerotherapy. It is not easy to become expert in all these therapies, and in order to learn them, intensive efforts and dedication are required. The radiologist who only does an endovenous ablation or places a stent, the dermatologist who is experienced only in injection sclerotherapy, the cardiac surgeon who is inexperienced in everything, the surgeon who knows only how to do stripping—they do not provide good service. An intensive effort directed at developing teaching paradigms for anybody who is interested
in treating venous patients and a system that prevents the inept of becoming involved in this field, only to make a buck, are urgently needed.
VM: As a doctor active within the international scene, how do you think we measure up against the efforts being made in phlebology worldwide?
HS: We came late in the development of phlebology worldwide. But we have caught up, and nowadays, we are on par with our European colleagues.
VM: You’ve been an inventor and researcher as well as a day-to-day practitioner. What motivates you each day?
HS: There is something in me that makes me vibrate. It is a combination of spiritual restlessness—a need to attack the unknown and to make a contribution—in short, being relevant in this world.