Pioneers of Plastic Surgery – Dr. Harold Gillies


The long-term disabilities from World War I were overwhelming. Many men came off the battlefield quite disfigured.

Not only were they in pain, but the disfigurement impacted their prospects for work. And the government offered little financial or social support.

Fortunately, pioneering surgeons like Dr. Harold Gillies were changing the face (literally) of surgery and providing needed relief for many of these men.

The Early Days

Treating facial injuries on the frontline was difficult, to say the least. Gaps and holes in the face were stitched together leaving jagged scars. And because there was so much missing flesh, the scars would tighten as they healed and pull the face into permanent grotesque expressions.

Some men were blinded or had a hole where their nose was. Others were unable to eat or drink because of severe deformities in the jaw. They had to be fed sitting up so they didn’t suffocate when they laid down.

The early days of skin grafting were awkward and unpleasant. A large flap of skin was lifted from somewhere near the wound and swung over the injury site. To maintain the blood flow and increase the chances of the graft being accepted, however, it was not severed from the donor area.

Then came Dr. Harold Gillies.

Dr. Harold Gillies

The history of plastic surgery dates back to 800 BC – though it was highly rudimentary at that point. By the Civil War, experimentation had advanced. Even so, the results were often disappointing and soldiers were left with gaping holes in their faces.

During World War I, Dr. Gillies worked at a French military hospital and was horrified by the head injury patients. He knew something needed to change. Working alongside other surgeons and dentists, as well as portraitists and sculptors, he explored new skin graft and bone repair procedures.

He recognized that the flaps in the above-mentioned surgical procedure would curl in on themselves when under tension. He proposed sewing the flaps into a tube to increase blood supply and also decrease the risk of infection.

Then once the tubed flap was attached near the injury site, it could be cut away from the donor area. From there, the skin could be opened and spread out to cover a wider area.

The procedure was a success.

Ushering in the Dawn of Modern Plastic Surgery

Dr. Harold Gillies had the courage to commit himself to a burgeoning wing of surgery that many told him he’d never make a living doing. By the time he had settled into Britain’s Queen’s Hospital, he and his team had advanced the field of reconstructive surgery to help thousands of veterans live a more normal life.

His work also laid the foundation for modern plastic surgery that would grow in strength and stature by World War II to provide the veterans of that war with even more life-changing procedures. And luckily so.

How Can Modern Plastic Surgery Help You?

Pioneering surgeons like Dr. Harold Gillies had a huge part 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 surgeons. Contact us today to see how plastic surgery could change your life for the better.