Old Skool Plastic Surgery

On Reddit, I recently came across some stunning photos of a WWI veteran’s gradual facial reconstruction performed by the surgeon Sir Harold Gillies, who, incidentally, also performed the first sex reassignment surgery from female to male. It’s quite wonderful to see this soldier’s face look more and more normal as the images progress.

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One Reddit commenter, Desert__Rose, described the soldier’s story as such:

This man’s name (although there is some confusion as to whether this is correct) is Willie Vicarage. He was wounded during the Battle of Jutland, and was “notable as one of the first men to receive facial reconstruction using plastic surgery and the first to receive radical reconstruction via the “tubed pedicule” technique pioneered by Sir Harold Gillies.”

He was an able seaman who was aboard the HMS Malaya during the Battle of Jutland. On May 31, 1916, the Malayawas hit eight times, where a total of 65 men died. Willie was among the wounded.

For all those asking about pictures three through six:

In order to reconstruct Willie’s jaw, a tubed pedicle was used (AKA a “walking-stalk skin flap” or “waltzing tube pedicle”).

Essentially what happened was, Sir Harold Gillies “used a flap of skin from the chest or forehead and “swung” it into place over the face. The flap remained attached but was stitched into a tube. This kept the original blood supply intact and dramatically reduced the infection rate.”

Some interesting info about Sir Harold Gillies:

Harold Gillies is widely considered the “father of plastic surgery”. He became interested in facial reconstruction after watching renowned French surgeon Hippolyte Morestin remove a tumor from a patient’s face, and cover it with grafted skin from the patent’s jaw. He insisted that a facial injury ward be created at Cambridge Military Hospital, but soon this was not enough. “A new hospital devoted to facial repairs was developed at Sidcup. The Queen’s Hospital opened in June 1917 and with its convalescent units provided over 1,000 beds. There Gillies and his colleagues developed many techniques of plastic surgery; more than 11,000 operations were performed on over 5,000 men (mostly soldiers with facial injuries, usually from gunshot wounds).”

Another interesting tidbit:

“In 1946, he and a colleague carried out one of the first sex reassignment surgery from female to male on Michael Dillon.[2] In 1951 he and colleagues carried out one of first modern sex reassignment surgery from male to female using a flap technique on Roberta Cowell,[2] which became the standard for 40 years.”

Gillies was later knighted for his war service.

And to anyone who wants to know/see more:

*Here are some of the other men Sir Harold Gillies performed surgery on (and more info about how the surgeries were performed). Perhaps NSFL?

*Here’s an incredibly disturbing article titled: “20 Gnarly Old School War Wounds” Enter at your own risk :/

And to conclude this post with a warm fuzzy feeling, here’s another quote from Redditor user, enjoy_my_jacket:

My mom and I work for wounded warriors. Today these kinds of surgeries cost about half a million dollars and a lot of soldiers are coming home needing facial reconstruction surgeries (they usually need a series of them). Here are some of the stories and a not-so-shameless plug to donate money or time if you can; there are a ton of places you can volunteer to help local wounded warriors.


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