The Early Years
Mankind’s essential nature entails self–improvement. Without the individual’s pursuit of learning and enlightenment, peace with his or her neighbors and more efficient means to work, progress would stop. Because human beings have always sought self–fulfillment through self–improvement, plastic surgery – improving and restoring form and function – may be one of the world’s oldest healing arts.In fact, written evidence cites medical treatment for facial injuries more than 4,000 years ago. Physicians in ancient India were utilizing skin grafts for reconstructive work as early as 800 B.C.
However, progress in plastic surgery, like most of medicine, moved glacially for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that the specialty forged ahead both scientifically and within the medical establishment in both Europe and the United States.
America’s first plastic surgeon of note was Dr. John Peter Mettauer, who was born in Virginia in 1787. The colorful Dr. Mettauer performed the first cleft palate operation in the New World in 1827 with instruments he designed himself.
War Initiates Plastic Surgery Developments
For better or worse, the driving force behind most plastic surgery developments during the late 1800s and early 1900s was war, with the awful injuries it often inflicts on its participants. In fact, it was the “War to End All Wars,” World War I, that catapulted plastic surgery into a new and higher realm.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. Some of the best medical talent in Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Austria–Hungary devoted themselves to restoring the faces and lives of their countrymen during and after World War I. In the United States, plastic surgeons like Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian of Boston and Dr. Vilray Blair of St. Louis nobly served both their country, and humanity, in those years.
Aesthetic Procedures Also Advance
Aesthetic surgical procedures also developed during this period as physicians realized, as in the words of 19th Century American plastic surgeon John Orlando Roe, “How much valuable talent (had) been...buried from human eyes, lost to the world and society by reason of embarrassment…caused by the conscious, or in some cases, unconscious influence of some physical infirmity or deformity or unsightly blemish.”
Plastic(To Mold or Give Form)
Despite the popular misconception, the word “Plastic” in “Plastic surgery” does not mean “Artificial,” but is derived from the ancient Greek work “Plastikos,” which means to mold or give form. Plastic surgery includes both the reconstructive and aesthetic subspecialties.
Plastic Surgeons in need of their own organization
Despite the great leaps forward in plastic surgery after World War I, the profession was still rather ill–defined in the American medical establishment in the 1920s.Physicians specializing in this area had no formal means to share their new knowledge and innovations with like–minded physicians across the country. What was needed was a professional organization.
Two Founding Fathers
Like most great American institutions, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (ASPRS) developed mainly through the sweat and toil of immigrants. In this case, it was two surgeons from Europe who came to the United States after World War I, Dr. Jacques Maliniac and Dr. Gustave Aufricht.The two doctors were as unalike as any two men could be, except for their dedication to their craft. Despite his French–sounding name, Dr. Maliniac was born in 1889 in Warsaw, Poland. After studying with the leading plastic surgeons on the continent before the war, he was called into the Russian Army at the outbreak of hostilities. A small, intense man, Dr. Maliniac, who was Jewish, came to the United States in 1923 and decided to stay as anti–Semitism was on the rise in Europe in the 1920s. Settling in New York City in 1925, he opened a thriving private practice, and convinced the administrators of the City Hospital system to establish the first division of plastic surgery at a public hospital.
Dr. Aufricht, born in 1894, was a native of Budapest, Hungary. Like Dr. Maliniac, he treated wounded soldiers during the war, studied with the leading practitioners in Europe and arrived in New York in 1923. And like Dr. Maliniac, he was Jewish and decided to stay here when things became inhospitable in the Old World. However, the similarities ended there.Where Dr. Maliniac was considered bombastic and dictatorial with his students and residents, Dr. Aufricht, who went by the nickname “Gusti,” was genial and outgoing, but no less a commanding figure, loved and revered by his charges.
The ASPRS is Born
The seeds of the ASPRS could be found in the establishment of another plastic surgery organization, the American Association of Oral Surgeons in 1921, which only accepted physicians with both medical and dental degrees and severely limited the number of members. Despite their reputations, Drs. Maliniac and Aufricht were not invited to join.This rebuff was answered by informal meetings of Dr. Aufricht and his colleagues, including Drs.Clarence Straatsma and Lyon Peer, who plotted the formation of their own organization. With 10 charter members, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons was launched, with Dr. Aufricht and others joining soon after.
In the 1940s, many plastic surgeons served their country during the Second World War, and expanded plastic surgery procedures through the unique circumstances of treating wounded soldiers, sailors and airmen.
The Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation
As the 1940s moved to a close, the ASPRS steadily grew in membership, and by 1949 had more than 150 surgeons. These new members had been trained by surgeons other than Dr. Maliniac, who concentrated on his private practice rather than teaching. With all the new blood in the organization, Dr. Maliniac gradually lost control of his own creation. However, rather than sulking at losing his power, Dr. Maliniac moved quickly and decisively as he had done 20 years earlier in founding the ASPRS: In 1948, he formed the Educational Foundation of the ASPRS, now known as the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation (PSEF) and served as its President until 1955.The Foundation’s mission was to support research pertaining to congenital and acquired deformities, promote high standards of training, practice and research in plastic surgery; confer scholarships and prizes; and promote lectures, seminars and medical and public meetings to educate the public in plastic surgery matters.
The Foundation also took American plastic surgery to the rest of the world by establishing exchange and fellowship programs with physicians in other nations. The PSEF has been especially active since its inception in sending American surgeons to Third World nations to help train physicians in plastic surgery techniques and treat citizens of those countries who would not otherwise have access to advanced surgical techniques. The Foundation also sponsors educational symposia to allow surgeons to demonstrate their innovations to colleagues.
With board certification and its own scientific journal, plastic surgery was fully integrated into the medical establishment by 1950. It next moved into the public consciousness.
There was much good news to report to the American people in those post–war days. As with other areas of science and medicine, plastic surgery discoveries were happening at a break–neck pace, often derived from innovations tested in the rear–area hospitals of Korea. Internal wiring for facial fractures, rotation flaps for skin deformities and a bevy of other new techniques were developed by plastic surgeons in the 1950s.
As the 1960s began, plastic surgery became even more prominent in the minds of the American public as the scope of procedures performed by surgeons increased.
There were many scientific developments in the 1960s. A new substance, silicone, began to emerge as a tool for plastic surgeons. Silicone was initially used to treat skin imperfections, then Dr. Thomas Cronin, MD, of Houston, utilized it in a breast implant device, which he unveiled in 1962.
A Big Year for Plastic Surgery
The 1970s began with plastic surgeons moving to the forefront of the medical profession. All parts of the human body, it seemed, could benefit from the skill of a plastic surgeon and ASPRS members made landmark contributions in areas not previously considered within their sphere.
A Nobel Laureate
In the early 1970s, ASPRS member Dr. Joseph Murray, MD, of Boston, performed the first successful kidney transplant, an achievement that would earn him the Nobel Prize. Dr. George Crikelair, MD, of Florida, developed flame–retardant children’s clothing, saving thousands of lives, and thousands more from agonizing pain and disfigurement.
The Passing of a Founding Father
In 1976, ASPRS founder Dr. Jacques Maliniac passed away. In the 45 years since he founded the Society, he had seen it grow from a handful of his east coast New York colleagues to nearly 2,000 members spread across the country.
Keeping the Patient Informed
The 1980s saw plastic surgery expand its efforts to bring knowledge and information to the public. Studies indicated that patients wanted information to take home and read, so the ASPRS began producing a host of brochures on the specialty and individual plastic surgery procedures.
Another Pillar Falls
The other founding pillar of the ASPRS, Gustave Aufricht, passed away in April 1980, one year short of the organization’s 50th anniversary.
The 1990s began on a high note of growth, cooperation and continued innovations in the field of plastic surgery. More than 5,000 board–certified plastic surgeons were active in the United States. Many were engaged in research or volunteered in their communities or overseas.
Public Perceptions Need Improvement
Despite the contributions plastic surgeons make both in their own communities and the world community, the profession still suffers from an identity problem as consumers did not recognize the kind of work plastic surgeons perform. A survey conducted by the ASPRS indicated that the American people did not realize plastic surgeons perform reconstructive work, instead equating “Plastic surgeon” with “Cosmetic surgeon.”
In 1979, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed reclassifying silicone gel implant devices and asking manufacturers for studies on implant performance and safety.Throughout the 1980s, the issue went largely unnoticed by the public. However, in December 1990 the questions of implant safety exploded nationally when “Face–to–Face with Connie Chung” detailed the “Horrors” of breast implants. Her report sparked a wave of concern among breast implant recipients and increased pressure on government officials to act.Plastic surgeons sought to reassure breast implant patients and the public. A survey that indicated more than 90 percent of implant patients were satisfied with their devices was conducted.. The ASPRS set up a toll–free hotline for physicians and patients with questions about implants.Despite the efforts of the Society and Foundation to address growing fears scientifically, the FDA effectively banned the use of silicone gel breast implants in January 1992.
The other great challenge of the 1990s has been health care reform. Plastic surgeons have been active in advocating coverage for reconstructive procedures in any new health plan and ensuring patient choice and access to specialists.Meanwhile, plastic surgeons push ahead with innovations, improving current techniques and discovering new ones. For instance, the potential of the endoscope, a fiber–optic tool used by orthopedic and other surgeons for more that a decade, is just now being unlocked in the field of plastic surgery to reduce scarring and recovery time. Researchers are now trying to unlock the secrets of the growth–factor environment of the womb, where scarless healing takes place, and apply it to wounds in children and adults.