News & Features

Facial Plastic Surgery

Plastic Surgeons Step Up for Vets

by Staff

U.S. soldier Neil Duncan suffered the loss of both of his lowers legs after a huge explosion just under his vehicle in Afghanistan. Later, Duncan received two artificial legs and learned how to walk, and then run, with the prostheses.


Eventually, Duncan found the two devices allow him to do most of the activities he had enjoyed before. He walks normally -- albeit with a slight limp -- and skis competitively, sky dives, takes part in triathlons, drives a car, and once jogged with U.S. President George Bush. Duncan also spends a lot of time raising money for organizations that benefit wounded war veterans.

Cosmetic Surgery To Treat Scars

Something he did not enjoy, however, was facial disfigurement including burn scars, a badly torn lip and a condition known as "tattooing." That happens after dirt, sand, explosive residue, and other junk is blasted into the skin in powerful explosions.

"I also had severe scarring where my lip was torn loose," Duncan says. "The Army did all it could but I was still biting down on my lip every time I ate."

However, living on disability pay left scant resources for cosmetic plastic surgery.

Plastic Surgery Costs

Enter Iraq Star Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to supplying cosmetic plastic surgery to wounded vets.

Within a week, Duncan was in the office of Denver plastic surgeon Richard Albin, M.D., who is surgically correcting a significant number of facial scars on Duncan's face. The former soldier will also see Denver dermatologist Richard Asarch, M.D. to treat the facial tattooing. The fees for anesthesia, other medications and the operating room were waived, too. (Read more about the costs of plastic surgery.)

Iraq Star also works with Angel's Flight, which volunteers aircraft to help the vets travel to the most appropriate specialists.

Founded and currently headed by Maggie Lockridge, Iraq Star operates from Rancho Mirage, California, and has enlisted the services of 144 board-certified plastic surgeons in 37 U.S. states.

Plastic Surgeons

Lockridge, a nurse who served a hitch in the U.S. Air Force, served an even longer stint in civilian life at a Beverly Hills plastic surgery office as the patient coordinator and became acquainted with leading plastic surgeons nationwide.

The 144 Iraq Star plastic surgeons have offered to perform -- at no charge -- cosmetic plastic surgery on wounded vets from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The most current statistics reveal that about 24,000 men and women vets have returned wounded," says Lockridge.

William Jervis, M.D., a plastic surgeon in Walnut, California, counts himself as one of the many surgeons waiting and eager to see former soldiers who need surgical rejuvenation.

Army Staff Sergeant Jeff Colpetzer was hit by a missile that severed his facial
nerve. He is undergoing treatment by a University of Maryland
surgeon who is donating his services and other costs. (Iraq Star photo)

"The guys and gals from war zones deserve every break they can find to meld back into civilian life," says Dr. Jervis.

Plastic Surgery

"I volunteered for Iraq Star because plastic surgeons are perfectly trained to handle wounds, injuries and scars brought about by warfare," says Saeed Marefat, M.D. a plastic surgeon in Fairfield, Virginia. "In fact, plastic surgery was basically born in warfare, during World War I.

"Additionally, I'm a trained micro-surgeon and want to help wounded vets who need that specialty."

While the U.S. military has services, experts and other resources available for reconstructive plastic surgery, most military doctors are primarily concerned with saving the soldiers' lives and -- with ever more injuries arriving -- just do not have time for cosmetic plastic surgery.

Facial Wounds

"The military does all it can to make veterans functioning people again," Lockridge says. "But the fact remains that terrible scarring from shrapnel, burns and other wounds to the face often remain. Iraq Star's only problem is that nobody seems to know about us.

"We have 144 plastic surgeons from Hawaii to Maine constantly asking for war wounded Vets as patients!"

So far, 12 soldiers have received donated rejuvenation surgery, usually with transportation and other fees associated with surgery also donated.

Iraq Star's cases include:

*A soldier in Sherman Oaks, California, received two procedures to alleviate third degree burn scars to his back and second degree burns to his face. Operating was Richard Grossman, M.D. of the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks and at Santa Ana, California.

"I've done enough breast augmentation and cosmetic plastic surgery to last a lifetime," says Dr. Grossman. "If we can perform gratis surgery on poor kids from the Philippines, it seems we can do the same for our own injured service men and women."

*Austin, Texas, plastic surgeon James Fox, M.D. operated on a sailor who was injured and scarred in an explosion while loading bombs on a plane on an aircraft carrier.

A Soldier and Loved One Say Farewell

*Hollywood dentist Larry Rifkin, D.D.S. is putting a new bridge and crowns into a sergeant who suffered wounds to his tongue and mouth in Iraq.

*Bruce Haughey, M.D., a plastic surgeon in St. Louis, Missouri, performed a 12-hour operation on an active duty Marine who suffered a shattered jaw and tongue injury that interfered with his speech.

Facial Surgeries

*Brian Gastman, M.D., of the University of Maryland, is performing extensive nerve reconstruction and scar revision surgery on Army Staff Sergeant Jeff Colpetzer, who lives at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. while undergoing out-patient treatments. The soldier has already had a dozen surgeries on his face and head alone.

*Beverly Hills ophthalmologist Michael Groth, M.D., is removing thick scar tissue around the eyes and performing reconstructive eye surgery for a Marine Corps sergeant wounded in Iraq.

Tattooing Off

*Hawaiian plastic surgeon S. Larry Schlesinger, M.D. removed tattooing and multiple scars from the face, lips, ears, and eyelids of an Army vet wounded three times in Iraq. The procedure required four hours to complete and was the 17th surgery for the soldier.

Adds Zachery Gerut, M.D., a plastic surgeon at the Gerut Center for Plastic Surgery in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania: "I volunteered because our society does not do enough for the people who give so very much, including the ultimate sacrifice.

"If you are tall and can throw a larger rubber ball through a metal ring, you can earn millions," he says. "But if you risk your life in Iraq, or run into burning buildings to save people, you earn very little in comparison."

According to the Iraq Star website, 80 percent of donations go directly to veteran assistance. Moreover, the organization works closely with the Veteran's Administration (V.A.)

Iraq Star
P.O. Box 1931
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270

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