Sir Harold Delf Gillies is largely considered the father of plastic surgery and is credited with performing the first successful skin graft in history. Originally born in New Zealand in 1882, Gillies primarily worked in London as an otolaryngologist—an ear, nose and throat specialist—and was educated at Cambridge University.
After studying under a number of leading surgeons, and witnessing the development of experimental skin grafting techniques and procedures, Gilles began to focus strictly on the repair of facial disfigurations. He was instrumental in the establishment of a facial injury ward at the Cambridge Military Hospital which would later be transformed into the world’s first facial injury hospital known as Queen’s Hospital. While working at Queen’s Hospital, Gillies and his team of esteemed surgeons developed many of the first techniques of plastic surgery. A number of these techniques, paired with more modern technologies, are still used in plastic surgeries today.
While at Queen’s Hospital, Gillies and his men performed more than 11,000 surgeries on more than 5,000 patients, many of whom has been severely disfigured during the war. Among his many accomplishments was the facial repair of Walter Yeo who was the first ever recorded patient to undergo successful skin graft surgery. The majority of injuries Gillies worked to correct involved gunshot wounds. Through his methodical research Gillies allowed for many veterans of the First World War to continue their lives normally after suffering serve cosmetic injuries. He also organized plastic surgery units throughout a number of British hospitals. For his work, he was knighted in 1930.
In addition to his work during wartime, Gillies also maintained a private practice in which he treated a number of famous patients. He also traveled worldwide promoting new techniques in plastic surgery as well as lecturing and teaching new medical professionals and surgeons. He and a colleague are also credited with performing the first ever sex reassignment surgery to transform first a female into a male and later a male into a female. During these surgeries Gillies pioneered a specific flap technique which would later become the standard for such procedures.