Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Plastic Surgery? It's More Hard Graft Than Nip/Tuck; When We Think of Plastic Surgery, Most of Us Imagine the Glitter of TV Series like Nip/Tuck. but as Yasmine Gibson Discovers, There Is a Deeply Serious Side to This Most Painstaking of Skills

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Plastic Surgery? It's More Hard Graft Than Nip/Tuck; When We Think of Plastic Surgery, Most of Us Imagine the Glitter of TV Series like Nip/Tuck. but as Yasmine Gibson Discovers, There Is a Deeply Serious Side to This Most Painstaking of Skills

Article excerpt

Byline: YASMINE GIBSON

VIVIEN Lees was a precocious child who wanted to be an RAF pilot.

Then, at the age of nine, she read a book about the Battle of Britain and became fascinated by the story of Archibald McIndoe - the famous surgeon who made badly disfigured pilots look human again.

His inspirational story changed her life, and the air force's loss was medicine's gain. Now 43, Lees has been a consultant plastic surgeon for eight years.

She is pleased with her choice of career. "It has more than lived up to my expectations. No two operations or patients are the same. I am constantly learning and finding out about new treatments, and this means that I can push the frontiers of what I do."

The number of women entering the profession is increasing. Within the training grade about 20 per cent are now women. The one thing they all have in common is that they must be prepared to work hard. Qualifying as a plastic surgeon is a long and gruelling process that doesn't end until they are 35.

Women are often attracted to plastic surgery, says Lees, because of its creative side. "Our work centres on reconstruction of parts that nature bestowed but fortune has taken away.

It's a satisfying job - you can really make a difference to someone's life."

To emphasise the point she quotes a 17th-century saying - "To succeed as a surgeon you need the heart of a lion, the eye of an eagle and the hand of a woman."

She specialises in hand surgery, treating congenital hand abnormalities such as cleft hand, or the wrong number of fingers, as well as degenerative hand diseases. She also works on serious injuries to the arm and upper limb. There is no typical day, but she might spend her morning in the clinic, walk around the inpatient ward at lunch, see an emergencytrauma-list clinic in the afternoon and be on call at night.

One young man was brought into her emergency clinic with severe burns after an accident. His arms were so badly burnt that his elbows had locked straight.

Lees operated on his arms, replacing one of his joints, so that he was able to bend his arms and feed himself. Then she worked on his hands to get his fingers moving again. Eventually, he was able to resume a normal life.

An important part of her work is with children. Her patients may be born with anomalies - a cleft or split hand or the wrong number of fingers. Major surgery can be done at a young age: Lees might take part of a toe and regraft it onto the hand if the thumb is missing.

Children tend to be operated on between the ages of two and four, before they start school, because the younger the child the more quickly they adapt to using a changed hand.

"If a teenager came in with a cleft hand I probably wouldn't operate on him, as it's highly likely that he would be unable to use his new hand properly - the operation would only serve to disable him. …

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