History of Plastic Surgery

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I saved this question to answer on Memorial Day when we remember our loved ones lost in wars. Sir Harold Delf Gillies was an otolaryngologist and is widely considered the father of modern plastic surgery. He was born in New Zealand before moving to London. During WWI he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was medical minder to a dentist who was developing jaw repair work. After watching him experiment with nascent skin graft techniques, Gillies traveled to Paris to meet the renowned surgeon Hippolyte Morestin. After observing him remove a tumor on a patient’s face and cover it with his own jaw skin, Gillies became enthusiastic about the possibilities. He returned to England and persuaded the army’s chief surgeon to establish a facial injury ward at Cambridge Military Hospital. Soon after, the Queen’s Hospital opened which was totally devoted to facial repairs.

There Gillies and his colleagues developed many plastic surgery techniques. More than 11,000 operations were performed on over 5,000 men, mostly with facial injuries. During WWII, Gillies acted as a consultant to the Ministry of Health and the RAF. He organized plastic surgery units throughout Britain and trained many doctors. Gillies was knighted on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 1930.
The “plastic” in plastic surgery has no correlation with the synthetic polymer. The origin of the word comes from the Greek language, and the word “plastikos,” which means to mold or shape.

Of course, today’s techniques are light years ahead of the past, but we remember the founders, just as we remember our fallen heroes today.

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Dr. Paul Vanek

Trusted plastic surgeon, sculptor, biochemist and researcher

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