Too often people see plastic surgery as solely an aesthetic choice, but of course that’s not the case at all. Plastic surgery is also employed in many situations after a patient is left disfigured by an illness or injury. A recently published case study gives an example of one such occurence, and the innovative approach used by the surgeons involved.
The 21-year-old male patient suffered from osteosarcoma, a bone cancer. Osteosarcoma most frequently affects children, and is generally found in the longer bones, such as those in the shin, thigh and upper arm. The leg bones are the most common locations, and osteosarcoma rarely spreads.
In this patient’s case, however, the cancer did spread – into his face and jaw. The result was a tumor weighing almost 10 pounds, which made the patient unable to speak comfortably or eat solid food.
Plastic surgeons in this case faced a challenge. Removing the tumor would require the removal of quite a bit of the patient’s lower face, as well as his tongue. In order to avoid the devastating affect this would have on not only the patient’s appearance but his ability to eat and communicate, the surgeons devised an innovative technique using some of the most versatile tissue in the human body.
The patient’s leg provided bone and skin for the procedure, but muscle tissue from the shoulder, specifically the subscapular free flap, took over the bulk of the patient’s facial function. The tissue here is soft and exceptionally mobile, making it ideal for facial reconstruction.
The procedure itself took 20 hours, during which surgeons removed the patient’s entire lower jaw bone and tongue, as well as the interior of his cheeks and bottom lip, then surgically rebuilt them using the leg and shoulder tissue.
In a testament to how amazing and resilient the human body truly is, it only took three months for the patient to recover enough that he could speak and eat without needing help. Not only were the surgeons in this case able to safely remove a large and dangerous tumor, but they were able to accomplish that removal without the patient losing function in the affected area. In fact, it sounds as though he regained some of the functionality he had already lost due to the tumor’s growth.
This is just another of many cases that show how reconstructive procedures drive the development of new medical techniques, keeping plastic surgery at the forefront of modern medicine.