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Plastic and reconstructive surgeons have historically been quick to grasp and apply new techniques and apply them. Many of these advances have come from New Zealand surgeons.

Dunedin-born Sir Harold Gillies is widely considered to be the ‘father of plastic surgery’. Trained as an ear, nose and throat surgeon, he turned his considerable talent to skin grafts and reconstruction – especially facial reconstruction – and brought plastic surgery into mainstream medicine.

Sir Harold Gillies developed the tube pedicle flap which is left attached to the original site by a narrow base of tissue to provide a blood supply during grafting. His cousin, Sir Archibald MacIndoe, also Dunedin-born, greatly improved the treatment and rehabilitation of badly burned aircrew.

Sir William Manchester, originally from South Canterbury, set up the country’s first plastic surgical unit at Middlemore Hospital and was internationally renowned for his work with cleft lip and palate. Auckland’s Michael Flint was a world authority on wound healing biology and scar management; and John Williams, also of Auckland, has worldwide recognition for his work with penile abnormalities.

Five hospitals in New Zealand have plastic surgery units – Middlemore, Waikato, Hutt, Christchurch and Dunedin. However plastic surgeons are routinely called on to operate in most large public hospitals and there are visiting services at hospitals in other centres.