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Plastic Surgery and the War on Terror

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Much has been written about the fact that the field of plastic surgery advances in wartime. Indeed, treating wounds sustained in battle poses some of the most difficult challenges imaginable for plastic surgeons, said the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, including “shattered jaws, blown off noses and lips and gaping skull wounds.”

The ASPS noted that World War I helped usher in the modern age of plastic surgery. The organization explained that the weaponry of the day required innovation in reconstructive procedures, and surgeons from the United States and Europe rose to the occasion. They not only gave the wounded the best possible chance of living a normal life after war, the lessons the physicians learned also contributed to modern techniques for rhinoplasty and other cosmetic surgeries.

Today’s “war on terror” brings with it more formidable challenges for surgeons than ever before. High-energy blast devices such as IEDs deliver devastating trauma to skin, muscle and bone. At the same time, techniques for saving lives in the field continue to improve. The result is that the reconstructive skills of today’s plastic surgeons are being tested to an extreme. And they are responding in amazing ways—achieving astonishing results and, as in the past, sharing what they learn with the world.

For a taste of some of this work, browse a paper published last year by three military plastic surgeons (see link below), Anand R. Kumar, Raymond Harshbarger and Barry Martin. The three physicians present two cases to illustrate typical reconstructive work confronting plastic surgeons who operate on soldiers: a massive craniofacial injury and a major torso/extremity wound. In both instances, as in many devastating wounds suffered in battle today, advanced triage techniques saved the patient’s life and reconstruction was delayed for months.

The first soldier profiled in the paper entitled “Plastic Surgery Challenges in War Wounded” sustained extensive head wounds, losing a large amount of tissue and part of his skull.

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