Use of Fat Grafts in Facial Reconstruction on the Wounded Soldiers From the First World War (WWI) by Hippolyte Morestin (1869–1919)

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Abstract

Introduction

During the Great War of 1914 to 1918, spectacular progress was made in the field of facial reconstruction. The sheer number and severity of facial lesions inflicted during the fighting obliged French and German surgeons to take a close interest in the treatment of patients wounded in such a manner. As head surgeon of the fifth division “blessés de la face” at the hospital of Val-de-Grace, Hippolyte Morestin was responsible for one of the largest surgical departments specializing in facial surgery and reconstruction during the war. During his time of service, he developed various surgical techniques such as autoplasties using cartilaginous and adipose grafts to reconstruct tissue defects. This study focuses primarily on the adipose graft techniques and their aesthetic outcome used by Morestin during and in the aftermath of World War I.

Methods

This is a historical descriptive study. Our research is based on documents available at the museum and archives of the Val-de-Grace Army Health Service (hospital activity reports, pre- and postoperative patient photographs, newspaper clippings, documented accounts of ward nurses, wax anatomy models). Thirty-four clinical cases published by Hippolyte Morestin dealing with facial reconstruction during the World War I were studied.

Results

Fat was mainly used to fill craniofacial substance losses after carrying out often complex reconstructions. The surgical technique is well documented and subdivided into 3 succeeding procedures. Most of the time, the grafts were of autologous origin but sometimes heterologous samples were used. Although the primary objective was to increase volume, an improved quality of skin healing and better skin flexibility were observed. The fat thus allowed the filling of substance losses, and its positive effects on scarring were noticed even before the regenerative properties of the stem cells present in body fat were discovered.

Conclusions

Hippolyte Morestin can be named one of the pioneers of facial reconstruction. A retroperspective analysis of his work with adipose grafts proves interesting because even though not being the first to apply this technique, he contributed, by means of experimentation and reproduction to proving it an innovative and useful method in facial reconstruction. It was not until the 1990s that adipose grafts were again applied under the name of lipostructure. Nowadays, they are commonly used in cosmetic and restorative surgery.

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