Plastic surgery wish listPlastic Surgery Wish List

History of Reconstructive Surgery

10 True Tales and More

From the Ancient Egyptians
to our Modern Time

"Plastic", via Latin "plasticus", comes from Greek "plastikos", meaning "moldable" or "shapable". Today, a "plastic art" is sculpture. Plastic surgeons re-sculpt a person's form.

While reconstructive surgery is how many people reaffirm life, ironically, the tools and technology have their roots in death. That just goes to show you, esthetic surgery is another instance of the human spirit pushing back against inert reality's imposition of constraints. As the US Army advertises, "Be all you can be."

  1. Well over three thousand years ago, ancient Egyptians would surgically alter bodies of their dead, but not of the living. Working on the mummy of Ramses II, ancient specialists placed a small bone and a handful of seeds into his nose. Doing that guaranteed that the face's most prominent feature would not be overlooked by other divines in the afterlife. To make Queen Nunjmet more curvy and alluring than she'd ever been alive, specialists did her the favor of adorning her mummy with bandages stuffed in her cheeks and belly.

    That's similar to implanting silicone into vital spots in our modern era. Today, nine out of ten plastic surgery patients are women. Breast augmentation and nose reshaping—as Ramses II received, but better—are the two most popular plastic surgeries now performed in the world.
    Nefertiti - Pretty foreverPretty Forever
  2. The first plastic surgery on the nose, albeit on the living, also dates back over millennia. About 600 BCE in ancient India, specialists transferred skin from the cheek or forehead (usually, sometimes other parts of the body) into the nose, giving it a noble shape. So the patient could keep on breathing while the nose healed—which could take many weeks—practitioners thoughtfully inserted wooden tubes into the nostrils. Today, recuperation takes only two weeks.

  3. During the Roman Empire, with Roman legions waging war all around the Mediterranean Sea, and thousands flocking to arenas to watch staged combat, wounded soldiers and gladiators had definite need of reconstructive surgery. So did slaves (who numbered into the millions).

    Status of Venus
    Statue of Venus in Mexico
    Owners would lash slaves on the back, yet often free them, too (even adopt them into the family; indeed, our word "family" comes from Latin’s word for "slave" or "servant"). Many freedmen hired doctors to erase the scars of their past bondage. For purely cosmetic reasons, some women hired surgeons to restore their ears to their original shape, the lobes having been elongated by weighty jewelry.

  4. In the late 1500s around the end of the Dark Ages, in Sicily, Gasparo Tagliacozzi, author of the first true textbook on plastic surgery, experimented with skin grafts to reconstruct noses. However, the Roman Catholic Church obstructed his research. Furthermore, anesthesia was in its infancy, leaving any surgery extremely painful.
    before and after picture of rhinoplastyBefore and after rhinoplasty
  5. Back to India. In the late 1700s, a man of brick-maker caste reconstructed the nose of a British oxen driver (who had been mutilated by an enemy to punish him for transporting supplies to the British East India army) while British doctors watched. Word spread. British surgeons began performing nasal reconstructive surgeries in Europe.

  6. In 1895, a German singer whose breasts were not nicely symmetrical, received the world's first breast augmentation. Surgeons took tissue from her back and transplanted it to her breast. Nowadays, rather than move flesh, doctors often insert silicone.

  7. In 1910, Dr. Hippolyte Morestin trained others in plastic surgery at the French army’s Val-de-Grace Military Hospital. Dr. Vilray Blair co-established several university and military training facilities dedicated to innovative skin grafting and plastic surgery in general before and after WWI. Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian, a founding father of modern plastic surgery, pioneered numerous maxillofacial surgical techniques.

  8. World War I brought plastic surgery to a new level. When soldiers looked out over the top of trenches, they exposed their faces and necks. With the advent of aviation, pilots and their passengers received facial injuries: shattered jaws, dismembered noses, or gaping skull wounds. Surgeons developed new ways to treat these new war injuries. Plastic surgery became a legitimate branch of medical science.

  9. In 1962, Timmie Jean Lindsey, a mother of six, went into Jefferson Davis hospital in Houston Texas for a tattoo removal and left with the first successful breast augmentation. Doctors Frank Gerow and Thomas Cronin asked her to volunteer and sealed the deal with free cosmetic surgery on her ears.

    Previous attempts included paraffin in the 1890s, the woman's own fat in the 1920s, and sponges, wood, even glass balls in the 1950s—not to mention inflatable bras. After World War II during the US Army occupation of Japan, whores injected their breasts with silicone stolen from the docks of Yokohama, but gangrene set in. The first silicone breast implants set the world on fire.

  10. In 1977 in France, Dr. Yves-Gerard Illouz performed the first modern liposuction technique for fat removal. The patient had a growth of fat on her back. For the first time, the surgery succeeded without a trace—no scar left at all. Americans had to wait until the next decade to legally receive "lipolysis" treatment in the US.

The above timeline of breakthroughs leaves out some of the necessary steps that made progress possible.

impressive plastic surgeryEnhanced? Who's telling?
"The first silicone breast implants set the world on fire."
Nobel prize for medicineThe Nobel Prize for Medicine
was won by a Plastic Surgeon.

In the late summer of 1921, three doctors met to organize the first association in North America of specialists in what would come to be called plastic surgery. Less than a month later, September 5, eight contestants participated in the first Miss America pageant, held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in a calculated attempt to extend the summer season past Labor Day. From then on, the paths of women desiring to make themselves more attractive and doctors developing the techniques to deliver the desired results drew ever closer.

In 1924 at Johns Hopkins, Dr. John Davis established the first formal training program and fellowship in plastic surgery and was appointed as the first professor of plastic surgery in the United States.

During WWII, the US military established nine plastic surgery centers to better manage the specialized work required to treat facial trauma and burns suffered by wounded soldiers.

During that time frame, Dr. Sterling Bunnell incorporated general, orthopedic, and plastic surgery into one treatment for hand injuries. The next generation of plastic surgeons built on his techniques.

During the 1950s, surgeons revolutionized the treatment of cleft lip and cleft palate. The hundreds of thousands of people born with facial deformities could now create new lives for themselves.

In the 1960s, Dr. Joseph Murray and Dr. Paul Tessier, the "Father of Craniofacial Surgery", made advances in exposing more facial bones, which made it easier to move pieces of the skull yet avoid postoperative complications.

During the 1970s at Emory University in Atlanta, surgeons under the tutelage of Dr. Joseph Jurkiewicz developed new ways to overlay flaps of skin and muscle, thereby greatly ameliorating the results of reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.

In the 1980s, Dr. Carl Hartrampf, co-founder of Atlanta Plastic Surgery, developed the TRAM flap technique for reconstructive breast surgery.

In 1990, a plastic surgeon won the Nobel Prize. Dr. Joseph Murray, the first to transplant a kidney, received the laurel for his pioneering work in organ and cell transplantation.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton (no slouch when it comes to appreciating the female form) signed legislation requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of reconstructive breast surgery after mastectomy. The law also covered breast augmentation for achieving symmetry.

That was not the only foray into politics by plastic surgeons. They also lobbied for safer products, helping require shatterproof windshields and non-flammable fabric. In the 1960s, a plastic surgeon, Hal Jennings, was named Surgeon General of the US Army.

Former President Bill ClintonFormer President Bill Clinton

In 2000, the endoscope, a fiber optic tool used by orthopedic and other surgeons, was introduced into the field of plastic surgery to reduce scarring and recovery time.

During the 2000's first decade, body contouring—the removal and tightening of excess skin after massive weight loss—became a more widely accepted protocol.

after and before surgeryAfter and Before

In 2005 in France, surgeons performed the world’s first successful partial face transplant. Just five years later in 2010 in Spain, a team of 30 surgeons headed by Dr. Joan Pere Barret performed the world’s first full face transplant. The patient, identified only as "Oscar," was expected to regain up to 90% of his facial functions.

In 2008, a German medical team, headed by Dr. Christoph Hoehnke, performed the first double arm transplant. The man, 54, was given the arms of a 19 year old.

Now in the twenty-teens, hi-tech imaging systems allow patients to see pictures of not how they presently appear but how they soon would look with implants—even before they decide to have the surgery.

Through the ages, war has created a demand for techno-progress; most recently it funneled public resources into creating the Internet. And such developments have spun off to benefit society as a whole. Plastic surgery, too, got a huge push from militaries, which dovetailed with people's desire to be beautiful and to take the best of what life has to offer, forever.

Are You Ready?

Now that you know so much about esthetic surgery, how do you get plastic surgery in Mexico? Where can you find affordable reconstructive surgery In Mexico? And take a medical vacation in Mexico?

Medical tourism to India and dental vacations to Costa Rica are likewise growing—as are the costs of getting and staying there. With DocTours, you will likely find everything from face to breast lifts much more affordable. And experience a bit of home away from home.

By training, culture, and personality, our plastic surgeons make you, and any friend or family member you may bring along, feel welcome and totally at ease. Enticingly, some insurers offer and some businesses purchase plans that cover medical tourism, some of which cover the cost (both travel and lodging!) of your traveling companion. (Ask your boss.) It's almost like the boss paying for a second honeymoon!

If you enjoy traveling with another, familiarize them with this website, too.

Before and after picture of woman who had faceliftBefore and After Facelift