Plastic surgery: A historical perspective

Bangkok Bright Smile

By Paul Leahy

Special to The Examiner

Posted Sep 27, 2011 @ 01:17 AM



Paul Leahy, M.D., FACS, is board certified and specializes in all

aspects of plastic surgery including reconstructive, hand,

cosmetic and microsurgery at St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Blue Springs, MO —  I’m often asked why they call surgeons of my specialty “plastic surgeons.”

It has nothing to do with plastic per se, but rather the Greek word “plastikos,” meaning to shape, mold or form. While the term was coined in the 19th century by Karl Ferdinand Graefe (1787-1840) – who also attempted to remove the moral stigma associated with nose reconstruction by giving the procedure a classical name, rhinoplasty, to make it more similar to other surgical procedures – plastic surgery is much older than assumed.

In fact, there is evidence that plastic surgery was practiced thousands of years ago to reconstruct body parts for a variety of reasons, primarily due to war injuries or punishment. In India, noses were routinely amputated for legal transgressions. These Indian doctors were among the first practitioners of what is known today as the skin graft; removing a piece of skin from one part of the body to be used on another.

In ancient Rome a prevalent procedure was scar removal, particularly scars on the back, which were indicative of cowardice and were considered marks of shame.

During the Middle Ages, plastic surgery was deemed sinful. The spilling of blood by a surgeon, or any powers the surgeon had over the human body were regarded as magic.

From the American Revolution through World War II, war produced large numbers of injured and disfigured soldiers. Many surgical techniques and advances were discovered or developed as the nature of warfare also changed.

Surgeons who served in World War I established the American Association of Plastic Surgery, the largest plastic surgery specialty organization in the world in 1931 in an effort to curtail unregulated plastic surgery.

What comes to mind when you hear the term plastic surgery? Face lifts, tummy tucks, breast augmentations? Today’s plastic surgery does involve procedures not related to wounds and injuries, but many still are.

Skin cancer is a growing problem for which there are plastic surgical solutions. Despite the advent of air bags and sophisticated restraints, auto accidents still cause many disfiguring facial fractures.

Diabetics may need help dealing with complex wounds associated with the disease. Repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome are often treated by plastic surgeons, and breast cancer patients needing surgery or radiation treatment are almost always candidates.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed a bill which required insurance companies to cover the cost of reconstructive breast surgery for women who had undergone a mastectomy. We’re now often using the technique of fat grafting, which is borrowing fat from one area of the body to use in another. Fat has a high concentration of cells that can help heal the damage caused by radiation treatment.

I’m very fortunate to be associated with a large practice of specialists employing these new techniques and methods to overcome the effects of injury, disease and yes, sometimes the luck of the draw with Mother Nature. That said, plastic, reconstructive or cosmetic surgery is still surgery, and should be discussed with your doctor.

Source: Special to The Examiner