Organized by the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons in concert with Medical Emergency Response International, a team of surgical experts were deployed to Haiti following the earthquake which took place on January 12, 2010. The team was landed in country just three days after the catastrophe, and were performing limb-saving surgeries by the 20th of January.

A new report summarizing the successes of the operation, published in an industry magazine owned by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, has just been released.

The team of surgeons followed a combined orthopedic and plastic surgery approach to minimize the need for amputations and to help victims of the Haitian earthquake retain both form and function in severely injured limbs. With a primary focus on avoiding amputation, the team of five plastic surgeons, five orthopedic surgeons and five anesthetists performed three hundred and forty-eight surgeries in total. The surgeries were performed on just under one hundred and fifty patients who had sustained crush injuries or similar trauma from falling rubble and other accidents.

While the orthopedic surgeons repaired breaks, fractures and splinters of the bones, the plastic surgeons worked to reconstruct skin and underlying tissue while recovering vascular systems and effecting aesthetically correct bodily repairs. As the brunt of the Haitian catastrophe was weathered, the influx of patients with bone damage declined markedly. By the end of the relief operation, it was discerned that about three quarters of the surgeries had been primarily soft tissue reconstruction — work performed by plastic surgeons.

Many plastic surgeons expend their professional energies providing aesthetic embellishments like breast augmentations, face-lifts and tummy-tucks. The experience in Haiti, however, illustrates the critical role that those same surgeons can play in the recovery of normal bodily appearance and functionality. The ten week trip helped to avoid a huge quantity of amputations and massively improved the quality of life for nearly one hundred and fifty victims of the disaster.

“This experience shows that a favorable amputation rate can be achieved,” write the authors of the new report, “and the changes in work load over time demonstrate the benefit that an ortho-plastic limb salvage team can provide in the early stage of disaster relief.”

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