Former Menlo Park resident Magda Fischel Levy, who drew on her experience as a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, artist and maxillofacial prosthetician to provide reconstructive facial prosthetics for cancer survivors, died on March 18 at age 97.
She was living in Bristol, Rhode Island, at the time of her death, according to her son-in-law, R. Todd Johnson of Menlo Park. Before moving there, she lived with her daughter and son-in-law, Lil and Todd, residing in Sharon Heights since 2011.
Levy was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1922. She knew from the age of 7 that she wanted to be a surgeon, but Hungary's laws prevented Jews from attending university, and the Nazi occupation ended her dreams, according to her family.
Following the end of the war in 1945, Levy attended university for a few months, just long enough to obtain a passport to Austria on her way to an Italian displaced persons' camp. For the next several years, she became one of a generation of Eastern European wanderers, her family said.
Upon her arrival in Italy, she was deported back to Austria because "people with valid passports couldn't stay in displaced persons' camps."
Levy plotted her illegal return to Italy with a guide to lead a nighttime trek over the Alps, her family said.
In Italy, Levy received her first formal training in sculpting at the Academia Albertina di Belle Arte in Torino, where she began a six-year period that proved to be the most prolific of her career.
She later moved to New York, joining her sister and brother. There, she continued sculpting and worked in a medical laboratory. In 1951, she married Michel Levy, who preceded her in death in 1984.
Her work as a prosthetician began when she was encouraged to help a friend who needed a prosthetic hand. Without formal training in the field, she worked with scientists at chemical companies who were experimenting in the new field and plastics and foams, and worked to perfect the art of sculpting faces for those suffering deformities, her family said.
Although she never became a surgeon, her facial reconstructive work at medical centers such as Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, New York University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center produced results that received great acclaim in the U.S. and abroad, according to her family. She retired in 1984 as a result of macular degeneration.
While living in Menlo Park, Levy had limited mobility because of her vision limitations, but she was active in Stanford Wellness programs and the Peninsula Community Jewish Center, Johnson said.
She is survived by her children Diana Levy of Tiverton, Rhode Island, Joseph Levy of Chicago, and Lil Johnson (Todd) of Menlo Park.
The family requests that memorial donations be made to USC's Shoah Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, or the Jewish National Foundation.