The Latymer School History Magazine - page 37

paid for a set of labels
himself - to be printed with
the Aldershot address on
them - and gave them to the
War Office to distribute. He
was a man of both
determination and his
ingenuity; when faced with a
challenge he was always
obstinate, and would
overcome it by any means.
The first day of the Battle of
the Somme saw Gillies’ ward
flooded with patients, many
bearing the labels he had
printed. Realising that it was
not feasible for his operation
to continue in such a limited
space, he campaigned for a
larger specialist hospital to
be found where his work
could be expanded. Frognal
House at Sidcup provided
such an opportunity. In June
1917, the Queen’s Hospital
was opened, eventually
providing over a thousand
beds dedicated to sufferers
of facial injuries. Doctors
from all over the
Commonwealth came to
work in this specialist
hospital and learn from its
cutting edge ideas.
The move to a larger
hospital, where surgeons
and other medical
practitioners could be
concentrated with a number
of patients, was a crucial part
of Gillies’ ethos. He knew
that Queen’s Hospital could
encourage development in
treatment and technology
and even teach vital lessons
drawn from the experience
of failed earlier surgical
procedures. The sheer
number of patients allowed
Gillies and his team to make
vital advancements in the
field, which formed the basis
of teaching for the first
generation of post-war
plastic surgeons.
Certainly one of the most
significant contributions that
Harold Gillies made to the
future of plastic surgery, and
to the field of medicine in
general, was his meticulous
documentation of each and
every case. He recorded
several patients and their
different surgeries by
photographing them, as well
as creating plaster casts and
hand drawn art. He famously
worked with surgeon turned
artist Henry Tonks, who drew
pastel portraits of patients
under Gillies’ care, which
allow the colours of the inter-
war years to be seen even
today. The detailed records
of these patients, who were
often the first to experience
new techniques, act as
examples of impeccable
medical documentation and
valuable teaching resources
for post-war surgeons.
Alongside a number of
breakthroughs in
anaesthesiology, one of the
most important legacies of
Gillies from his time at the
Queens Hospital in Sidcup
were the new facial
reconstruction techniques
that he developed. Grafts of
bone or cartilage began to
be used to reconstruct
patients’ faces (usually their
noses), whilst the
groundbreaking surgical
technique of eyelid
reconstruction was
eventually perfected. This
was mainly used on veterans
of the air force whose eyelids
had been badly burned in
the war. Gillies and his team
also developed the tubed
pedicle, an innovative
treatment that allowed tissue
to be grafted onto the
patient’s face with a
dramatically reduced rate of
infection - a crucial discovery
as antibiotics were yet to be
invented. The technique
involved removing a flap of
skin from the patient’s chest
and transplanting it onto
their face. The skin was still
attached to their chest while
the skin slowly grafted to
their face, but was stitched
into a tube, which allowed
the original blood supply to
keep flowing and reduced
the infection rate of the
newly attached tissue. The
patience required to
reconstruct wounded faces,
as facial tissue gradually
rebuilds, is still essential to
surgeons today.
Gillies recognised the need
for both functional and
cosmetic problems to be
addressed in his
reconstructions, and the
aftercare and occupational
rehabilitation of the patients
was also of utmost
importance. Classes and
programmes were run to
help patients readjust to
normal life, and special
provisions were provided for
those who couldn’t face
normal social interactions –
many were trained in work
like cinema projection and
chicken farming.
Gillies had no reservations
about his medical
endeavours, which was
proved when, in 1946, he
performed the first recorded
female to male gender
reassignment surgery
(although male to female
transitions had occurred
previously). This proves his
bravery in both exploring
new medical techniques and
defying societal conventions.
Gillies’ use of new and
untested methods was
mostly incredibly effective,
but there were some
incidents when his
experimentation did not
prove altogether successful.
Such was the case of Henry
Lumley, a pilot who was
admitted to the hospital in
Sidcup with severe facial
injuries. Gillies had
attempted to graft a large
flap of skin from Lumley’s
chest to his face but the graft
had become infected. The
trauma of the surgery caused
Lumley’s heart to fail, and he
died. In retrospect, Gillies
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