Maybe there’s someone who was bullied as a child for being heavy, dropped the weight later in life and now wants to get rid of excess skin. Perhaps there’s a woman who had breast cancer and is now seeking an update to previous surgery that isn’t covered by insurance.
Michael Zarrabi believes these kinds of operations can be physically and emotionally transformational, and now he’s aiming to give back to the community where he was raised by offering them for free.
The Santa Monica-based plastic surgeon is launching Chapter 2, a nonprofit organization through which he plans to oversee a wide variety of reconstructive and cosmetic procedures on patients with demonstrated medical and financial need.
“I have always had a very strong desire and belief that you have to give back to your community, and I’ve gotten to a point in my practice where I’m doing well — and I can do even more,” he said in a phone interview. “I have done this type of pro bono work throughout my career, but I really wanted to make it official.”
Zarrabi expects to do at least one or two free surgeries a month and eventually hopes to enlist the help of colleagues to strengthen the effort.
Plastic surgery is often seen as an elective, aesthetically driven practice, particularly in star-studded Southern California, but Zarrabi said the work he does can be essential to the confidence of a patient, whether it’s a domestic violence victim or a child with a facial abnormality.
“Maybe there was someone in an accident who has a terrible scar, and insurance says it’s cosmetic but it’s interfering with their life,” he said. “We want to be able to take care of that. We’ll help as many people as we possibly can.
“Being able to make that person feel comfortable in and out of clothing, it’s huge for that patient. These procedures help one’s self-esteem and make us feel more confident. And we’re trying to do this for people who really have a need.”
Zarrabi’s passion for philanthropy follows an upbringing in which he received dental services at Venice Family Clinic, which cares for low-income patients; money was tight when he and his family left Iran for the U.S. when he was 5 years old.
But Zarrabi, who as a youngster was treated for a head injury at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, decided he wanted to be on the giving side of health care.
He attended Santa Monica College from 1989 to 1991 and continued his education at UCLA, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. He then studied at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri, completed his residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and earned a fellowship at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
“I loved the philosophy — to give back where everybody has taken,” he said of plastic surgery. “Our goal is restoration and giving back to the patient. We’re the ones who make the patients feel whole again.”
Zarrabi returned to Santa Monica and worked alongside Harold Clavin before establishing his own practice. He’s also affiliated with the Santa Monica Speciality Surgery Center.
Zarrabi volunteers at Venice Family Clinic every few months, removing patients’ lumps, bumps, skin cancers and cysts. But now he wants to make his services even more accessible.
“Even if it’s something simple, the gratitude they express — I can’t tell you how rewarding it is,” he said.
To be considered for free surgeries, prospective patients should email essays of up to 500 words about their needs to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call 310-584-9990.
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.