Plastic surgery and war have an interconnected history. It’s not so strange when you think about it—throughout the ages and across the continents, warfare has produced some of the most horrifically disfigured people the world has ever seen. Throughout history, plastic surgery skills have been needed to help the victims, and, while stepping up, plastic surgeons have advanced the field during wartime.
Today, the trend continues with endless strife in the Middle East. Weapons in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas include the conventional and the improvised—both capable of destroying lives and maiming bodies. Repressive regimes contribute to the need for plastic surgeons to offer their skills.
Most historians point to India as the birthplace of plastic surgery. As long ago as about 800 A.D., surgeons were using flaps from cheeks and foreheads to reconstruct noses and ears.
The field advanced at a very slow pace at first. Gaspare Tagliacozzi, an Italian surgeon often credited as the father of plastic surgery, performed rhinoplasty surgery on people injured in wars and in civil violence using grafts from patients’ arms. His famous book, published in 1597, is revered for its comprehensive account of the procedure he perfected.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) notes that the wars of the last two centuries have been the driving force behind modern plastic surgery. The Society’s Web site, www.plasticsurgery.org, identifies World War I as the stage for giant leaps forward in reconstructive medicine.
“Never before had physicians been required to treat so many and such extensive facial and head injuries. Shattered jaws, blown-off noses and lips and gaping skull wounds caused by modern weapons required innovative restorative procedures.” The ASPS says that some of the most talented surgeons in the Western world applied themselves to serving humanity during that time.
Today, ongoing strife in the Middle East produces more victims in need of reconstructive surgery than modern medicine can hope to keep up with.