By Erin Moran
Dr. Aron Wahrman considers Chestnut Hill the “center of [his] professional existence,” although it is not where his career got underway. He spent the very first day of his surgery residency at the Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in University City, where he is now the section chief of plastic surgery.
“It couldn’t have been better for me,” he said. “It’s just been fantastic and fun. I think you get to a certain point in your career … that you want that second or third wind of inspiration.”
Dr. Wahrman said that inspiration comes from a special connection he feels toward U.S. veterans due to his family’s history. Wahrman’s father, Henry, and his uncle, Wolf, were Holocaust survivors who were liberated from Flossenbürg concentration camp in the German region of Bavaria by U.S. troops on April 23, 1945.
“I have a tremendous amount of not only respect but gratitude [for U.S. veterans],” he said. “My biggest regret is that my late father and my uncle aren’t around to sort of see the circle kind of being completed.”
Wahrman said he was already looking for a change when a colleague, Dr. Joseph Serletti, approached him at a conference. “He said, ‘I could use your help at the VA. What do you think?’ And I said, Sounds good to me.’ The stars were very much aligned in many ways.”
After his residency, Wahrman worked in private practice at Chestnut Hill, Hahnemann University and Roxborough hospitals. In 2007, he began as a professor of surgery at Temple University. Last October, he started spending three days per week at the VA medical center and two days at Penn Medicine in Chestnut Hill.
“The one constant for me has been Chestnut Hill Hospital. It’s just a very enjoyable place to work,” said the physician, who has collected an extensive fount of historical documents and photos of the 90th Infantry Division, part of Gen. George Patton’s legendary Third Army, which liberated his father and uncle. Part of this collection is a 25-page treatise by Wahrman’s father on the atrocities he and other inmates endured in Nazi concentration camps.
Wahrman’s father, uncle and a Polish aunt were the only members of their extended family to survive World War II. Many others were murdered in concentration camps. In 1949 Wolf and Henry came to the U.S. Henry, who became a cantor and sang in many synagogues in the New York City area and elsewhere, died in 1993.
At the VA medical center, Wahrman mostly treats age-related conditions like skin cancer or hand conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome. He insisted that his connection with veterans is always part of his work. “It’s part of our religious background. It’s letting my kids know that this is who your grandfather was; this is where you came from; this is why you should thank your lucky stars that you were born in this country. It’s always kind of in the background.”
Wahrman said his father valued education and self-sufficiency, and although the surgeon grew up in an orthodox religious environment, his father took Wahrman and his siblings out of parochial school to expose them to a more diverse group of children in public school.
“He was just a very loving, effective parent,” Wahrman said. “An effective teacher. And his experiences in the war, you would think someone like that would be so much more bitter or inhibited or have different issues, but he really didn’t.”
While working in medicine, teaching and helping students with their residencies, Wahrman meets many first-generation Americans, some of whom have similar stories. He said that watching first-generation Americans clutch the same opportunities as he has had really “resonates” with him.
Wahrman, who has maintained his clinical duties at Chestnut Hill Hospital under Penn Medicine, was recently selected to be president of the Robert H. Ivy Pennsylvania State Society of Plastic Surgeons. But working with veterans is his way of giving back.
“Considering what happened in Europe and what my father and uncle went through, giving back is not a very easy thing to do,” he said. “I’m here, and I’ve gone to this school, that school. My father was from a foreign country; he was a refugee. Rescued by the U.S. Army, he comes to this country. How do you even comprehend what you would need to do to pay that back? Other than just trying to be a decent, productive, helpful person … Veterans helped us. They’ve sacrificed. They deserve the best care.”
For more information: www.pennmedicine.org/providers/profile/aron-wahrman