History of plastic surgery

Plastic surgery has been around longer than most people can imagine. This isn’t saying that in the past some methods of surgery were safe or practical. Medicine, tools and techniques have majorly developed over the years. We will be discussing the History of plastic surgery and the surgeons who pioneered new techniques.


In the 1400’s Antonio Branca developed a new technique for performing a nose job (rhinoplasty), which involved using a skin grafting technique. He would use a template to trace around directly onto the patient’s arm to create a donor area of skin. The skin flap, which was still attached to the patient, was then raised to their nose. This skin was then attached to the nose.

The arm was bound to the head, as the skin was not detached from the arm for at least 8 days. After 8-10 days the nose and arm were separated, slits were cut in the remaining nose skin to create nostrils.


A book called ‘Sushrata Samhita’ is a medical textbook which dates back to the 8th century. This book contained surgical illustrations which inspired the development of new surgical techniques. One image, in particular, involved an area of skin being used for a skin graft to the nose which inspired surgeons. This book helped develop large skin grafts.


1895 was a very important year in surgical history, as it was when the first documented breast augmentation took place. This surgery was performed by transplanting tissue from the back to the breast. This surgery was used to correct asymmetry of the breast.


The year of 1899 was the year when the first breast implant materials were used. The injectable materials included paraffin, beeswax and vegetable oil. These substances are now considered to be unsafe once injected into the body.


Dr Hippolyte Morsin was the first surgeon to carry out plastic surgery training in 1910.  During this time period, Dr Vilray Blair published his techniques of skin grafting. This was in the effort to help wounded soldiers affected by WWI.


Dr John Davis was the first person to create the first plastic surgery program. He was also the first professor of plastic surgery in the US.


Dermatome was an instrument invented in 1939 which helped to improve the speed and ease of skin grafting. It helped to cover large areas of skin for wounds and burns. In some cases if these wounds or burns were not covered quickly it would result in limb loss or severe deformity of the limb. So the use of Dermatome was vital.


 This year was very iconic as this was the year of the first female plastic surgeon. Her name was Alma Dea Morani, and she specialised in reconstructive hand surgery.


Dr Ralph Millard was the surgeon who pioneered and perfected new techniques for correcting cleft lip.


Dr Joseph Murray was a plastic surgeon who was the first  to carry out a successful organ transplant. He performed a kidney transplant on identical twins Richard and Ronald Herrick in December 1954. As a result of this procedure, Dr Murray was honoured with a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990.


The first silicone breast implant was unveiled by Thomas Cronin. This would eradicate the use of harmful materials such as beeswax and oil.


 Dr Carl Hartrampf developed the TRAM (Transverse Rectus Abdominis Myocutaneous) flap technique. This is when large areas of tissue from one area of the body is grafted to another area, for example, from the abdomen onto the breast area.


 In 1982 liposuction became popular. This was because a French surgeon called Dr Yves-Gerard Illouz presented the ‘Illoz Method’ which used suction to remove fat cells. A cannula was used to inject fluid into the tissue to break up the fat before removing it with a suction device. Later that year liposuction was introduced in the US.


In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restricted the use of silicone implants deeming saline implants the only safe option for breast enlargement.


This was the year of the first successful hand transplant. This surgery was carried out by Dr Warren Breidenbach.


This was the year body contouring was introduced. Body contouring is used to help people who need excess skin removal or tightening after drastic weight loss.


Isabelle Dinoire was a French woman born in 1967; she was the first person ever to undergo a successful partial face transplant. Isabelle needed to undergo a face transplant after her dog mauled her face in May 2005. In November 2005 she underwent a 15  hour operation where the donor nose, lips and chin was transplanted to her face. This surgery was carried out by Professor Bernard Devauchelle.


This was the year of the first successful double arm transplant. Karl Merk was a German dairy farmer who needed both arms amputated after a work related incident in 2002. In July 2008 a team of 40 surgeons and nurses worked within two operating rooms to remove the arms from the donor and transplanting them to Karl.


In Barcelona, Spain, an unnamed 45 year old man had a full face transplant surgery in February 2010. He suffered from a condition called arteriovenous malformation for the past 20 years causing deformations of his facial tissue. The effects of his illness caused vision and speech problems as well as the risk of severe bleeding.  A team of 45 doctors, surgeons, nurses and anaesthetists joined together to help take part in his 27 hour long surgery.

The development of new surgery techniques means that there will be more opportunities in the future for more cutting edge procedures. We are all very grateful and mindful of the history of plastic surgery.

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