Dr. Bradford Cannon was one of the early plastic surgeons recognized as such to practice in Boston. Dr. Cannon is well known for his important contributions toward the advancement of the treatment of burns; he also worked hard to ensure that plastic surgery would become an established and respected specialty in Boston. As a protégé of Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian and a mentor and friend to Dr. Joseph Murray, Bradford Cannon has been a vital link in the history of plastic surgery in this city.
Bradford Cannon was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1907. He graduated from Harvard College in 1929, and Harvard Medical School, in 1933. After graduation from medical school he took his general surgical residency at the Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. It was at the Barnes Hospital that he came in contact with Dr. Vilray P. Blair (1871-1955) and his associate, Dr. James Barrett Brown (1899-1971). At the time St. Louis was a major center of plastic surgery in the United States. Dr. Cannon's exposure to Drs. Blair and Brown motivated him to become a plastic surgeon. After spending seven years at the Barnes Hospital Dr. Cannon returned to Boston in 1940. Cannon's experience in St. Louis was critical in the development of plastic surgery in Boston.
Upon his return to Boston, Dr. Cannon became an assistant surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He joined Dr. Kazanjian in the plastic clinic, where he applied for the assignment on burns. In 1941, Drs. Cannon and Kazanjian, at the request of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, started an autonomous clinic at the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge under the Crippled Children's Program. This program, which treated children with congenital conditions such as cleft lips, lasted until 1974.
In 1943, Dr. Cannon assumed active duty in the Medical Corps of the United States Army and established the plastic unit at the Valley Forge General Hospital. In 1947, Dr. Cannon returned to Boston and resumed his practice, which he continued until his retirement in 1989. During the post-World War II years, Dr. Cannon was a major influence in the establishment of plastic surgery as a recognized specialty in Boston. The clinic at the Mount Auburn Hospital was re-established. Dr. Cannon was called on as a surgical consultant throughout Eastern Massachusetts, showing some of the finer points of technique in treating wounds. He also served as an advisor in the fracture clinic at the Massachusetts General Hospital, on the management of associated soft tissue damage.
Dr. Cannon served on the faculty at the Harvard Medical School, where he retired as Clinical Professor of Surgery emeritus in 1974. In 1991, he was named Honorary Surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Cannon also served as president of the New England Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Association of Plastic Surgeons. As a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a leader in the professional organizations of plastic surgeons, Dr. Cannon was able to bring legitimacy into the specialty. Dr. Cannon's hard work was finally realized when the Massachusetts General Hospital established its first residency for plastic surgery in 1970.