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Friday, November 1, 2013

Plastic Surgery began when thousands of WWI survivors needed to go on with their lives

Illustration of one man's facial wounds
Musee de la Grande Guerre,
Meaux, France
(My photo)
Prostheses for various types of wounds,
as seen in Musee de la Grande Guerre,
Meaux, France
(my photo)

Today, plastic surgery is so common that it is an elective procedure for many.
But in 1917, when America entered the Great War, plastic surgery was so new that even attempts at skin grafting were primary challenges for surgeons. As surgeons continued to improve their techniques, others assisted soldiers who needed a way to literally face the world and return to their normal lives.

IN American surgical front line units, nurses assisted in 3 main types of severe wounds: those wounds to the head, chest and abdomen were considered the most severe.  Soldiers with these types of wounds who might best survive surgery were "triaged" to be put at the front of the line for care. Yet of course many of the men who incurred these wounds suffered the most hideous disfigurations. These men, capable of living normal lives despite these facial wounds, were the ones that many medical professionals wished to save to live more appropriate daily lives.

Two such people who helped were not surgeons, but sculptors. In fact, one was a woman, Anna Coleman Ladd, an American who worked in Paris in her own studio and whose fame spread as her work helped hundreds of disfigured wounded. In her studio, mirrors were banned. By 1919, she had created more than 180 masks for disfigured soldiers. To read more about her, read this SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE article:

Another sculptor was Derwent Wood, British, who had volunteered to work in hospital wards when he learned he was too old to volunteer to fight. Wood began a practice of molding thin metal to the shape of the soldier's face, then painting it to match skin color and attaching behind the head. He is known for working in the "Tin Noses Shop" or as it was officially termed, Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department, located in the Third London General Hospital,Wandsworth. For more than 20,000 British facially wounded in the war, Wood was able to help hundreds. Others depended on advances in surgical procedures to alter their appearances.

Englishman Derwent Wood putting finishing touches
to one soldier's partial face mask.
Anna Coleman Ladd, American sculptress, 1878-1939 

Examples of facial masks or prostheses developed to aid soldiers wounded facially in Great War. These are 
from the British, called the Tin Nose Shop.

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