Eat that, Gillies!
November 21, 2012 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me assess this piece of medical history? I would like to know if it is historically interesting.

Rummaging through some old journals, I discovered that a doctor in my town performed an instance of early plastic surgery under anesthetic (the patient, not him). To my mind it seems very early and somewhat outside what might be expected, but I would like input from anybody who know more about medical history.

In spring 1847, the doctor operated on a young woman who had significant burns from childhood. The scars meant that she could not move hear head and neck fully. He administered ether to her, cut out the scars, and replaced them with strips of skin taken from elsewhere. The patient lived, and, according to the report, had an acceptably good restoration of movement.

I know that surgery took place before this, and skin grafts are very old, but I can't find much information on plastic surgery for burns at this time (everything seems to skip straight to Harold Gillies). So my question is basically whether this is at all historically interesting, or beyond the norm for what was going on at the time.

Thank you.
posted by Jehan to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's historically interesting. Medical historian Roy Porter confirmed skin graft surgeries as early as 1869 in Paris and Geneva, 20 years after the surgery you mention but long before Gillies' time. And early anaesthetics existed in 1847 as well -- the doctor could have used nitrous oxide (1844), ether (1846), or chloroform (1831).
posted by mochapickle at 1:15 PM on November 21, 2012

I know little about this subject, but if you're intrigued maybe this book on the history of burn care would be interesting and give a fuller perspective?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:11 PM on November 21, 2012

You might also be able to find more specific information about the English history of this practice by poking through the Wellcome Trust projects or by asking at the Wellcome Collection.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:17 PM on November 21, 2012

"The first successful autologous skin graft (transplantation of skin from one location on a patient’s body to another location on their own body) was performed by Berger in 1822."

ouch, the date suggests pre-anaesthesia.

in your position I would contact the Programme Director of the nearest Plastic Surgery training programme and ask if any of the trainees would like to write it up for publication.
posted by Wilder at 2:48 AM on November 22, 2012

another historical context
posted by Wilder at 8:17 AM on November 23, 2012

Thanks for the replies. I do know for a fact that he used ether for the operation, and that the most notable publication demonstration of it was only 5-6 months earlier than the surgery. This is part of what leads me to think that ether + skin graft + plastic surgery for burns + 1847 = pretty interesting. I will follow up some of the leads here. Thank you.
posted by Jehan at 10:23 AM on November 23, 2012

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