Weird History
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The Untold Story of the First Plastic Surgery In History

Updated November 3, 2020 199.4k views14 items
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Nowadays, plastic surgery is seen as a pretty basic, relatively safe procedure - but that hasn't always been the case. The first plastic modern advanced surgery on record was performed during World War I, and at the time, it was very risky and nearly killed the man who went under the knife.

Walter Yeo was injured in battle and would have had to live out the rest of his life with a severely marred face if it hadn't been for one daring doctor by the name of Sir Harold Gillies. Together, the two of them would attempt a completely revolutionary surgery that would give Yeo back his life (and his face), and secure Gillies a place in the history books. 

Whether or not you've heard of Walter Yeo's plastic surgery before, keep in mind that this procedure changed medicine forever.

  • He Was An English Sailor In WWI When He Was Only Twelve

    Walter Ernest O’Neil Yeo was born in 1890 in Plymouth, Devon, and even in his youth, he had a love for the sea and his country. When he was only twelve years old, he joined the Royal Navy and eventually became a Petty Officer, a post which he held as World War I began. As a result, he was stationed on a ship called the HMS Warspite, a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship, which won many battles. One such battle was the Battle of Jutland, which was where Yeo met his very unfortunate fate. He had been manning the guns on the ship when an attack occurred.

  • He Completely Lost His Eyelids

    During the Battle of Jutland in 1916, Yeo was wounded while at his post. His injuries were so severe that much of his face was burned, with the upper half of his face sustaining the worst damage - Yeo even lost his upper and lower eyelids, leaving him unable to blink.

    It is unknown which hospital he was first admitted to, as documentation was poor at the time; however, he was eventually brought to Plymouth Hospital where he waited until a bed at Queen Mary's Hospital opened up. Little did he realize that he would end up waiting around fifteen months before actually being admitted to Queen Mary's Hospital! Lucky for him, the results were worth the wait.

  • A Famous Doctor Took Interest In His Case

    Upon his arrival at Queen Mary's, a physician by the name of Sir Harold Gillies took particular interest in Yeo's case. Gillies was already famous for his newly discovered skin grafting technique of transferring skin from undamaged areas on the body to damaged areas, but he'd never had a case quite like Yeo's.

    In his notes, Gillies said that Yeo was severely disfigured, and that there was already waxy scar tissue forming on his forehead and nose. Soon after observing this, Gillies opened up a special ward at the hospital specifically for treating people with severe facial wounds. Of course, Yeo was one of the first ones to be brought in. Once he was there, Gillies set out to use his new technique to repair the damage and return Yeo to some sense of normalcy. Together, they would change medical history.

  • He Was Treated By Using A Flap Of Extra Skin

    The method of helping Yeo was as ingenious as it was horrifying. The procedure used a "tubed pedicle" flap, meaning that skin and soft tissue were moved from one place on the body and attached to the area where the skin and flesh was to regrow. Both ends had to be anchored so that blood could still circulate and flow; and then, gradually, one end would be severed and moved closer and closer to the target site until the skin and flesh in each place was healthy enough to live on its own.

    What made Yeo's procedure unique was that Gillies intended to recreate a large portion of his face - this wasn't just a procedure for necessity, it was for anesthetics as well.