Pioneers In Plastic Surgery – Sir Archibald McIndoe


Plastic surgery may seem like a purely contemporary field of medicine. After all, nobody was getting Botox injections in the days of the Wild West.

The truth is, plastic surgery has been around in some form or another for over 4,000 years.

Sure, plastic surgery as we know it today certainly reached new heights in the 1960s and 70s. But pioneers of plastic surgery such as Sir Archibald McIndoe developed innovative techniques in the 1930s ad 40s that served as a strong foundation for all that would follow.

Early 20th Century World Wars Paved the Way

In a previous post, we talked about Dr. Harold Gillies and the advancements he made in giving World War I soldiers with disfigured faces  a more appealing appearance.

Dr. Gillies worked at a French military hospital and was horrified by the head injury patients he witnessed. Working in tandem with other surgeons and dentists, as well as portraitists and sculptors, he explored new skin graft and bone repair procedures that would literally change the face of plastic surgery.

Injuries from World War II presented new challenges for doctors in the 1930s and 40s. Dr. Archibald McIndoe was one of those doctors.

Who Was Dr. Archibald McIndoe?

Born in New Zealand in 1900, McIndoe attended medical school there and was eventually invited to the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. to continue his studies.

While serving as first assistant in Pathological Anatomy, he was offered an assistant surgeon post. He went on to specialize in surgery of the liver. During his years of studying the liver, he discovered and mapped blood supply to the liver. One supply was normal and the other pathological. He theorized that one of those supplies could be shut off when excising part of the liver.

He was correct. And this gave him both tenure and fame in the U.S. Yet he longed to practice in the UK.

What Is the Plastic Surgery Connection?

Upon arriving in the United Kingdom, McIndoe had a tough time finding work and establishing his career. It was a chance meeting with Dr. Harold Gillies (who also happened to be a cousin of his) that his luck shifted.

Right from the beginning of World War II, McIndoe was dissatisfied with the burn treatment techniques that were standard medicine at that time. Tannic acid and jelly were used to dry and tighten tissue and reduce fluid loss. The problem was, severe burn contractures were the result. So McIndoe devised new techniques for treating burns – the most famous of which is the saline burn bath.

McIndoe and Gillies eventually went into practice together – giving soldiers a chance at a more normal life. Gillies had discovered that moving tube pedicles from one part to an adjacent area was more effective. This was referred to as walking. McIndoe took walking to a new level that ensured only unburnt tissue was used in reconstructing and replacing burnt tissue.

Eventually they developed a comprehensive and holistic burn unit that addressed the physical, social, psychological, and functional aspects of the airmen’s issues. By the end of the war, 649 airmen mostly from the United Kingdom (though some hailed from Canada, New Zealand, the United States, Australia and Eastern Europe) had undergone treatment in this innovative burn unit.

McIndoe passed away at the age of 59. But his humanitarian legacy lives on today.

Curious About Today’s Modern Plastic Surgery?

Pioneering surgeons like Dr. Archibald McIndoe played a critical role in advancing plastic surgery and making it accessible to and safe for so many people today.

So if you’re considering a plastic surgery procedure, you can do so with peace of mind.

Further that peace of mind by working with only board-certified surgeonsContact us today to see how plastic surgery could change your life for the better.