The Other Face of Plastic Surgery

Michael H. Rosenberg, MD

Article by
White Plains Plastic Surgeon

Although everyone is familiar with the glamour of Plastic Surgery, and one has only to turn on their television or go to YouTube to view some of the most current cosmetic surgical procedures that we perform, there is another side of Plastic Surgery that I would like to share with you this month…   From the repair of congenital birth defects to the reconstruction of trauma and burn victims, from the repair of the hand to cancer reconstruction, Plastic Surgeons have been in the forefront of helping our patients recover and lead normal lives.  In cosmetic plastic surgery the goal is enhancing our patient’s appearance, while in reconstructive plastic surgery the goal is restoring one’s appearance.   In many cases, the two goals overlap, and the surgical techniques are often very similar.
At the Breast Institute in my own hospital, Northern Westchester Hospital, as well as in many of our Westchester Hospitals, our goal is to restore and where possible enhance the appearance of our patients who are dealing with the diagnosis of breast cancer.  Plastic Surgeons are an integral part of the team that cares for woman with the diagnosis of breast cancer, and for many patients the same operation that treats their cancer is the operation that helps restore their breast.  This advance has been recognized as critical for the welfare of our patients, and access to breast reconstruction has been codified in New York State law.  Not only are health insurers required to cover breast reconstruction services, but in addition, surgery on the opposite breast for symmetry has also been recognized as a required coverage benefit… More recently, The NY State legislature has mandated that woman with a new diagnosis of breast cancer must be given information explaining their options for breast reconstruction, and access to this treatment if they so desire…  I hope to go into some of the specifics of the surgical options for breast reconstruction with my readers in my column this October during Breast Cancer awareness month…
I remember when I was chief surgical resident at Columbia-Presbyterian my residency director and the Vice-Chairman of the Department questioned, “Why in the world would you want to go into the field of superficial skin surgery”?   Although he was kidding (or at least I hope he was), my work as a plastic Surgeon in the Army Reserve taught me just how important restoring someone’s appearance can be.  I had the privilege of operating on many of our soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and to be able to help them return to a normal life after all of their sacrifice on our behalf has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Plastic surgeons remain a critical part of the trauma care team, and one of our colleagues recently pushed the limits of our science and art when she reported on her first facial transplant operation for a victim of trauma.   Stay tuned for some very exciting developments in this area…
Although there is so much more to share with you, I wanted to conclude with a discussion of another service Plastic Surgeons perform as American Ambassadors of good will throughout the world.  Each of the partners in my practice, along with many of our colleagues throughout the state, have travelled to other countries on medical missions to provide advanced Plastic Surgery care, most often to children.  Treating severe burns scars, and cleft lips and palates, and helping train local physicians so their work can be carried on, is part of many plastic surgeons’ repertoire.  Here, our biggest reward is a child’s smile that we helped to restore…