Heroes Help Others After Lives Restored Through Plastic Surgery

Thursday, October 9, 2008 General News
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Honored At ASPS Annual Meeting

CHICAGO, Oct. 8 What would you do if half your face was ripped off by an improvised explosive device (IED); if you were born with a genetic condition that distorts your appearance and complicates life's simplest tasks; if, at age 9, your face was burned off; or, if you were diagnosed with breast cancer -- twice? Raising the white flag comes to mind. Not true for the four recipients of the 2008 Patients of Courage: Triumph Over Adversity awards, to be presented by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) at Plastic Surgery 2008 at the McCormick Place West on November 1, 2008. They have endured many reconstructive plastic surgeries and use their experiences, strength and determination to help others struggling with life's obstacles.

The Patients of Courage: Triumph Over Adversity awards program is supported by Ethicon Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company. Continuing in the spirit of giving, $5,000 grants will be donated to four non-profit organizations that provide reconstructive plastic surgery services to people in need.

"ASPS Member Surgeons are thrilled to be a part of these amazing people's lives. It is so impressive to see our patients doing so much good for so many people," said ASPS President Richard D'Amico, MD. "Our members care for courageous patients every day, each with a unique and noteworthy tale of overcoming adversity."

Sgt. Robert Bartlett, 35, Phoenix

Sgt. Bartlett was injured by an IED during a recognizance mission in Sadar City, Iraq. Nearly killing him, the blast left him with severe facial trauma, burns and a closed head injury. After medical care and reconstruction at Walter Reed, he partnered with his ASPS Member Surgeon to reconstruct his mouth, cheek and eye. In addition to many reconstructive procedures, a free flap from his forearm was used to reconstruct his lower lip. Further reconstruction is needed to reanimate his lip.

After regaining the ability to talk, he became less self-conscious about public speaking, and he uses this skill to help motivate fellow wounded soldiers and heighten awareness about caring for wounded veterans. Bartlett works with groups like the Department of Veteran Affairs, Project Healing Waters and the Aledthia Foundation to raise money and communicate the mission and values of the respective groups.

Erin Williams, 22, Baltimore

Williams was born with a severe case of Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by craniofacial deformities and underdeveloped ears, eyes and mouth.

She has undergone 50 surgeries - most recently in March, to close her tracheostomy and to reconstruct her eyes, ears, chin and cheeks. Despite all the time missed from surgeries, Erin excels in school. She received various scholarships and is scheduled to graduate in May 2009 from Towson University with a degree in special education. Working with the Children's Craniofacial Association and the Ridge Ruxton Camp for Special Needs Children, Williams interacts with autistic and other special needs children. She uses her experiences to be a positive influence by showing them how to cope with and hopefully overcome their afflictions. In addition, she has spoken to several schools and civic groups about what it means to be a person with special needs.

Rachel Cooney, 18, Baltimore

Cooney was adopted from her home country of Ghana at age 9, after suffering severe burns to her face. Arriving in the U.S. with no skin on her face, she received life-saving skin grafts. Initial facial reconstruction yielded good results, but she was still missing her nose. After trying a prosthetic nose, it was realized a biological nose was needed. A team, including her ASPS Member Surgeon, created a new nose from her arm tissue and cartilage from her ribs.

Cooney is active in her church's outreach programs -- volunteering at local shelters and supporting church missions. She is also passionate about the Young Life Capernaum Project, a ministry of service for people with special needs. As a role model there, she helps organize programs that "provide life without limits" to people with physical and mental disabilities. Cooney is about to graduate cosmetology school, and her goal is to open a salon for people with special needs.

Missy Fish, 56, St. Louis

Fish was diagnosed with breast cancer in the left breast in 1991. She underwent mastectomy and immediate reconstruction with tissue from her posterior. In 2005, she was diagnosed with cancer in the right breast. She chose mastectomy and immediate reconstruction with a TRAM flap.

After recovering from her first reconstruction, she began an aggressive workout program, and decided to create an event celebrating the connection between women's fitness and their health. The CELEBRATE FITNESS workshop was born. The annual event has grown into a formidable fundraiser -- over 1,200 attendees in 2008 -- that has raised over $700,000 for the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University and supports the Young Women's Breast Cancer Program. She recently started a second event, CELEBRATE SPOT, "a walk for dogs and their people" to benefit breast cancer research.

Over 5.1 million reconstructive plastic surgery procedures were performed in 2007.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is the largest organization of board-certified plastic surgeons in the world. Representing more than 6,700 physician members, the Society is recognized as a leading authority and information source on cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. ASPS comprises more than 90 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States. Founded in 1931, the Society represents physicians certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery or The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

SOURCE American Society of Plastic Surgeons

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