The Guinea Pig Club header graphic

Thanks To The Guinea Pig Club
The Beginnings of Modern Plastic Surgery


It is thanks to the Guinea Pig Club of World War II (and somewhat New Zealand) that great advances in cosmetic surgery were made in a very short space of time.

The Guinea Pig Club was the name given to a group of patients who had undergone major reconstructive surgery following injury while in the Royal Air Force. The sad truth was that the fuel for the aircraft was stored under their seats. The most severe burn injuries were to the hands and face. To be a member of the club an airman had to have had at least ten surgical procedures and, alarmingly, at the end of the war, the club had 649 members.

Prior to to WWII many people with severe burns were considered beyond help and ultimately died. However there had been minor developments and the RAF had prepared burns units in several hospitals in anticipation of casualties.

It was the eminent cosmetic surgeon Archibald McIndoe that created the club while working at The Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. Archibald McIndoe was born in New Zealand and had studied under his cousin, Harold Gillies (known as the modern father of plastic surgery).

Harold Gillies had made incredible advances in the treatment of facial injuries during the first world war! Sadly it was common for soldiers to suffer extreme facial and jaw injuries after popping their heads above the trenches. At the time of WW II there were only 4 plastic surgeons in the United Kingdom (3 of the were from New Zealand).

Due to the unprecedented numbers of burns victims Archibald McIndoe was able to improve many of the known techniques. Through the experience gained he was also able to develop new reconstructive surgery techniques. A large number of the patients were so badly injured that their treatment and recovery would take several years.

McIndoe formed the Guinea Pig Club to help rehabilitate the airmen and, hopefully, prepare them to lead a life as close to "normal" as possible. Archibald McIndoe was knighted for the work he did with The Guinea Pig Club.

McIndoe carried out many procedures that are today repeated for cosmetic purposes. In one case (Mr. J. Toper, flight sergeant in 166 Squadron RAF) he rebuilt the patients nose, eyelids, mouth and chin (using skin grafts) over 26 operations. McIndoe, faced with such horrific and severe injuries, had no option but to experiment. With such a large number of patients and so little understanding, at that time, there were many failures as well as successes.

The term "Guinea Pig" was given in reference to the experimental treatments and equipment used.

The term "Plastic Surgery" is a reference to the ability of surgeons to reshape and mold skin tissue into new shapes.


Author Details:
Andrew Kelly, copywriter for various websites including, Cosmetic Surgery Info 4u and Microdermabrasion Skin Care a growing skin care information portal.

NOTE: This article may be reproduced ONLY if the author details and links remain in place.

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