Plastic Surgery

Harold Gillies was born in 1882 in New Zealand. He attended medical school at Cambridge. When World War I began, he joined the Royal Army Medical College. He was not allowed to operate but worked under the supervision of a dentist.

When Dr. Gillies saw the dentist using skin grafts, he wanted to know more about their use. He studied under a renowned surgeon in Paris and saw how skin grafts could be used to do a facial reconstruction. When he returned to England, Dr. Gillies began to extend the techniques he had learned. These became the start of the medical specialty of plastic surgery.

During the War, Dr. Gillies and his colleagues performed over 11,000 surgeries, mostly reconstructing faces from gunshot wounds.

Between World Wars I and II, Dr. Gillies had a private practice, specializing in plastic surgeries. He also developed others in the practice. When World War II broke out, Dr. Gillies trained more doctors in reconstructive surgery. He became recognized as the father of plastic surgery.

Although Dr. Gillies had reached retirement age by the end of WWII, he chose not to retire. His medical support during the war had not allowed him to build the assets needed for retirement. In 1946, he and a colleague performed one of the first sex reassignment surgeries. Their surgical techniques became the standard for the remainder of the 20th century.

When he wasn’t practicing medicine, Dr. Gillies was an outstanding amateur golfer. He represented England in its match with Scotland over a span of 20 years. Dr. Gillies died at the age of 78 while performing surgery.

Beginnings are often triggered by tragedy. Wars created necessary opportunities for innovations in areas beyond military advances. Medicine is one of those areas.

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“There’s a way to do it better-find it.”– Thomas Edison

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