Old white man of the day


?Rhinoplasty, skin grafts, and facial reconstructions have been practised for centuries. However, it was New Zealander Harold Delf Gillies who standardised these techniques and established the discipline of ?plastic surgery?. In 1920, his textbook Plastic Surgery of the Face?was published, setting down the principles of modern plastic surgery; principles which were adopted by surgeons from every part of the world. The British Medical Journal described it as ?one of the most notable contributions made to surgical literature in our day?. The New York Medical Journal said that ?his are the greatest of all contributions to the advance of this interesting reparative work.?

The First World War was a challenge to most surgeons. The introduction of more destructive weapons resulted in devastating injuries. In addition, in trench warfare the head was more exposed than the rest of the body, and soldiers? faces were often shattered or burnt beyond recognition. Despite the best efforts of surgeons, many soldiers were left hideously disfigured. A new type of surgery was needed. Realising this need a young surgeon operating out of Aldershot hospital, England, began performing operations which involved rebuilding the face by taking tissue from other parts of the body. This surgeon was Harold Delf Gillies; a New Zealander considered by many to be the father of plastic surgery.

Gillies was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, on the 17th of June 1882, the youngest of eight children to Robert and Emily Gillies. Although his father died when Harold was four, he did not leave his family destitute. He had been a successful land agent, a Member of Parliament, and a leading figure in Dunedin?s business community. In an unpublished memoir, Harold?s older brother wrote that ?we were well endowed with the world?s goods through my father?s successful efforts?. These efforts made it possible for Harold to attend preparatory school in England, and later join his brothers at New Zealand?s Wanganui College.[…]

It is probably no coincidence that Harold Gillies became outstanding in the practice of ?aesthetic, reconstructive surgery? (as he later described the field). While his physical dexterity made him a master surgeon, his artistic ability underpinned much of the work that he later did in reshaping people?s badly disfigured faces. A colleague of his once wrote that ?in many hundreds of hours spent assisting or in watching Gillies in the operating room I never once saw him perform a hurried or rough movement. All the actions of his hands were consistently gentle, accurate and deft.? […]

On the 11th of January 1916, Gillies was ordered by the War Office to Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot, ?for special duty in connection with Plastic Surgery?. His request for a British unit had been granted: he was to be Britain?s first plastic surgeon with full responsibility for getting the Aldershot unit up and running. Pragmatic as always, he spent ?10 of his own money and bought labels directing all jaw and face injuries to himself ? care of Aldershot hospital. He then went back to the War Office and handed them the labels, requesting that they be delivered to field hospitals in France. Within a few weeks wounded men began arriving at Aldershot with his labels pinned to their uniforms. Thanks to Gillies, plastic surgery in Britain was about to become a reality.[…]?End of quote.