7th February 2017
Disfigurements on the human body can have a negative impact on an individual’s confidence. That’s why Dr Khawaja Gulraiz Rauf uses innovative techniques in reconstructive surgery to help rebuild lives. By using ‘tissue expansion’ Dr Rauf places ‘balloons’ under the skin that are then injected with silicone over a period of time. This technique stretches the skin, allowing it to be used to reconstruct the affected area.
This fascinating procedure has meant that Dr Rauf has been able to transform lives, from a young man who was badly burnt in a fire aged 14 to a young woman who was involved in a traffic accident resulting in the loss of skin and hair from one side of her face.
Disfigurements on the human body can have devastating effects on people’s confidence. Dr Rauf has spent his career using his unique set of skills to combat this, repairing bodies and rebuilding lives.
When you think of plastic surgeons, your immediate thoughts are… face lifts, trout pouts and tummy tucks, but Dr Rauf’s work couldn’t be further away from this type of cosmetic surgery. Dr Rauf specialises in reconstructive surgery, using a special technique known as tissue expansion. This type of plastic surgery is not very common. He says, “The actual procedure takes months and this seems to put off a lot of doctors from joining this field of medicine.” In its simplest form, this treatment uses balloons placed under the skin, which over a series of months are injected with a saline solution to inflate the balloon thereby stretching the skin. Once the skin has stretched sufficiently Dr Rauf will remove the balloons and use the excess skin produced to reconstruct the affected area.
His demeanour is extremely relaxed and he exudes a quiet confidence. When asked about his surgical results, he is very humble and doesn’t wish to take any credit for the results. He said, “How can a gardener take credit for the beauty of the rose that he plants?” Dr Rauf graduated from the prestigious King Edward Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan in 1982. He moved to the UK to receive his surgical training, gaining Fellowship of Royal of Surgeons England in 1988 and Certification in Plastic Surgery from Royal College & British Association of Plastic Surgeons in 1992. After his training, he returned to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Science in Islamabad where he was Associate Professor of Plastic Surgery. It was there that he undertook his first tissue expansion procedure in 1995. He recalls the day, “A young man was brought to my clinic, almost dragged in by his brother.
His face had been badly burned at the age of 14 and the disfigurement meant he hardly left the house. He even stopped going to school because he was so ashamed of his appearance.” The skin that had been burnt meant the young man couldn’t grow a beard, so Dr Rauf had to take hair growing skin from the patient’s head to help reconstruct the face. He continued to explain that this procedure was one of the first full beard and moustache tissue replacements ever performed. He recalled, “We used the balloon treatment at the front of his head to expand the skin. It is important to use the right part of the scalp so the new hair grows in the right direction.” After three months when all the balloons had been fully removed, the careful placement and the precise use of the expanded skin, meant the new beard and moustache grew exactly how it would have done before the burns. Dr Rauf showed us a picture of the young man before treatment and then with a full beard. Apart from the slight scarring at the top of the beard the transformation seemed unbelievable.
Later we meet Kathryn, who was involved in a road traffic accident in South Africa while on a college trip. The bus she was travelling in lost control and toppled over, the window nearest Kathryn smashed and her face was dragged across the road ripping the skin and hair from the side of her face. We sit opposite her on typical bright blue NHS chairs in a small waiting room. At first glance, apart from a small scar on her forehead you wouldn’t know she’s even had surgery. She takes her phone and shows us a picture straight after the surgery in South Africa. You can clearly see the skin graft applied by the South African surgeons. The problem, she explains, was “With this skin graft, the hair wouldn’t grow back. This is where the magic of Dr Rauf came in.” Kathryn was coming to terms with not having hair on one side of her head and was finding different ways to cover it up and disguise the area, but after her first appointment with Dr Rauf she said, “He gave me hope that I could once again have a full head of my own hair.” So over a period of three months, Dr Rauf inflated a number of balloons strategically placed under Kathryn’s scalp. The balloons were increasing the scalp area and helping her body grow more skin and hair cells. After the three months Dr Rauf removed the balloons and started to reconstruct Kathryn’s scalp. He first of all removed the initial skin graft sewn on by the South African doctors and used the extra skin that had been produced by the balloon treatment to carefully reconstruct the affected area. Months later Kathryn’s hair had started to grow properly, the scars had died down, her appearance notably improved and she felt that her life could get back to normal.
Kathryn is just one of many of Dr Rauf’s success stories. We sit in a treatment room and he flicks through lots of slides on his laptop of previous patients. He stops at a picture of a man who was missing the end of his nose. The picture is of Arron Jackson, a bouncer whose nose had been bitten off in an unprovoked attack. Dr Rauf said, “Body image was very important to Arron so we had to get the nose just right.” In order to do the procedure, Dr Rauf expanded the skin on Arron’s forehead and carefully manipulated the skin to re-create the tip of his nose. Every before and after slide we saw built an instant picture of a life Dr Rauf had helped rebuild. Some of the injuries were so graphic that we found it hard to look at the screen, but the more graphic, the more amazing the final treatment looked.
Everyone we met that day, including patients and colleagues, talked very highly of Dr Rauf. He isn’t concerned about making the big bucks associated with cosmetic plastic surgery, his focus is more about the well-being of others, about helping people get back to, or gain a sense of normality. He operates a clinic that concentrates on giving patients the confidence to be happy with themselves, to be proud of their appearance and be able to live life without worrying how they look.
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