‘The Facemaker:’ the pioneering surgeon who mended WWI soldiers’ faces

Listen 49:46
(photo credit, Stuart Simpson)

(photo credit, Stuart Simpson)

The modern military weapons of the first World War killed millions of soldiers on battlefields and in trenches. They also left 20 million men maimed and disfigured, a fate many felt was worse than death. But a New Zealand surgeon, working on frontlines in France, would pioneer surgical techniques that, though often grueling, made many of these wounded men’s lives more bearable.

In her new book, The Facemaker, medical historian and author LINDSEY FITZHARRIS tells the story of the young surgeon Harold Gillies, who worked for the Red Cross in France in 1915 and went on to transform the field of plastic surgery. First on the battlefront and then in a British hospital, Gillies reconstructed soldiers’ faces, which had been torn apart by bullets, shrapnel, and flames using innovative techniques. Fitzharris joins us to talk about Gillies, how his groundbreaking work grew out of the devastation he witnessed on the battlefront, and how this early form of plastic surgery transformed the lives of the countless soldiers.

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