Pioneers In Plastic Surgery – Johannes “Jan” Fredericus Samuel Esser


If you’ve never heard of Johannes “Jan” Fredericus Samuel Esser, you’re not alone.

There’s the off-chance that you know him as the man who coined the term “stent” for the dental impression compound created by English dentist Charles Stent for facial reconstruction. It would later be used to expand constricted tubes of body tissue.

In the plastic surgery world though, he’s better known as a Dutch plastic surgeon who pioneered innovative methods of reconstructive surgery during World War I.

Early Life

Born in 1877 in Leiden, Netherlands, Esser suffered an attack of acute rheumatism in his youth. When he was thirteen, he lost his father and his grandfather followed shortly after. His mother, overcome with grief, became a recluse and couldn’t care for her children any longer. He and his siblings were placed with foster families.

Even at his young age, Esser was able to successfully sell the family home and buy new property. With such business acumen, it seemed for a while that Esser was heading into the business world. He was also a distinguished chess player and quickly defeated all the best players in Leiden.

Entry Into Medicine

Esser was such an excellent student that he gained entrance at Leiden – the oldest university in Holland – to study medicine. He demonstrated a profound interest in anatomy and assembled a collection of malformed skulls.

He continued to play in chess tournaments and wrote a column for the daily paper. His income from these ventures enabled him to finish his medical studies and graduate in 1903. He was also crowned Dutch National Chess Champion in the same year.

He practiced throughout the Netherlands and Europe. When the First World War struck, he became known for the treatment of frostbite, the improvement of various arterial lobes and pre-prosthetic–kineplastic amputation–stump formation, and cheek rotation flaps to address facial defects. He also performed breast reconstruction, facelifts, and hand and foot operations that included transplantation of toes.

Position of Prestige

His revolutionary work drew the attention of three university professors in Berlin who offered him a position in 1917 as head physician for plastic surgery. He eventually settled there.

A year later in 1918, he was awarded a medical license by the Ministry of Science, Art, and National Education. August Karl Gustav Bier, a famous general surgeon, emphatically recommended him.

In terms of his contribution to the proliferation and establishment of plastic surgery, his years in Berlin (1917-1925) were his most productive. He developed innovative surgical techniques, operated in 23 different hospitals, published groundbreaking articles, had connections with colleagues at specialist society meetings, and had a bevy of skilled assistants.

Esser would go on to operate on request as a consultant for Berlin’s most well-known surgeons. His main focus was plastic and reconstructive surgery of the face.

Johannes “Jan” Fredericus Samuel Esser Paved the Way

Without pioneers like Johannes “Jan” Fredericus Samuel Esser, plastic surgery as it exists today would never have come to fruition.

Fortunately, plastic surgery has come a long way since the early 20th century. So if you’re considering a procedure today, contact us.

You’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ll be under the best and most advanced medical care today.