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Thomas J. Brobyn, decorated Vietnam War veteran and Philly-area plastic surgeon, dies at 79

Dr. Brobyn commanded an Army Hospital in Saigon during the Vietnam War and then was deployed to the Valley Forge Military Hospital in 1972 and 1973. He performed reconstructive surgery on some of the war's most seriously wounded.

Thomas J. Brobyn
Thomas J. BrobynRead moreCourtesy of Laura Brobyn

Thomas J. Brobyn, 79, of Fort Washington, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a plastic surgeon in the Philadelphia area for many years, died Oct. 9 at Crozer-Chester Medical Center of complications from a fall caused by an earlier back injury.

Born in Grinnell, Iowa, Dr. Brobyn graduated from the Shattuck School, a boarding school in Faribault, Minn., where he was captain of the precision drill team. He graduated from Grinnell College with a bachelors’ degree in biology and earned a medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine in 1966.

After completing an internship and general surgery residency at Temple, he served in the Army Medical Corps in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Starting in July 1971, he was the commanding officer and a general surgeon with the Army’s 229th Medical Detachment. He was later a staff surgeon with the Third Field Army Hospital.

He was decorated with the Army Commendation Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.

His final deployment in 1972 and 1973 was to the Valley Forge Army Hospital in Phoenixville, where some of the war’s most severely wounded were flown after being stabilized in Germany. His role there was to perform general surgery. He was honorably discharged on July 22, 1973, with the rank of major.

“He was proud to have been a part of it,” said his wife, Laura Brobyn.

After his military service, Dr. Brobyn returned to Temple and completed a plastic surgery residency in 1977. He established a practice in Chestnut Hill, with Lester Cramer. When Dr. Cramer stepped down, Dr. Brobyn replaced him as the chief of plastic surgery at Chestnut Hill Hospital.

Though much of his surgery was performed at Chestnut Hill Hospital, Dr. Brobyn was also affiliated with Bloomsburg Hospital in Columbia County, in central Pennsylvania. He performed operations on patients’ hands and other reconstructive work.

He was an assistant professor of surgery, teaching fledgling physicians at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and Temple University Hospital.

In 1998, Dr. Brobyn joined his colleague and friend George Zavitsanos in a joint practice in Fort Washington. Dr. Brobyn retired in 2008.

“He was the caring, consummate physician who dedicated his life to the care of his patients,” Dr. Zavitsanos said. “He was an upstanding member of the medical community, and a friend and colleague to all in the field.”

Dr. Brobyn was a pilot and member of the Philadelphia Aviation Country Club.

In retirement, he enjoyed reading four to five hours daily, visiting with friends, making office “social rounds,” and sitting outside by a home fire pit with his wife and two rescue dogs. He stayed in touch with his former office nurse, Mary Ann Kenney, who was also a family friend.

“He remembered and retold every joke he had ever heard, even if you didn’t want to hear them,” his wife said with a chuckle. “He loved his life.”

Besides his wife of 40 years, he is survived by two sisters, four nephews, and a niece. He was formerly married to Gloria Brobyn. They divorced after having a son, Christopher, and a daughter, Carolyn.

A visitation from 2:30 to 4 p.m. will be followed by a 4 p.m. memorial service on Monday, Oct. 21, at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia. Interment will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to Second Chance Shelter, 130 County Rd., Boaz, Ala. 35957. The Brobyns rescued their dogs from the animal welfare group.