Former Perse student gives insight into life as a military plastic surgeon
16 Mar 2020
Surgeon Commander Anton Fries (1997) gave a graphic and insightful 42 lecture about his work as a military plastic surgeon.
Inspired by his involvement in the Combined Cadet Force during his time at The Perse, Cdr Fries recounted how he had taken a gap year with the Army before becoming a medical student at Cambridge University.
He told the students that this experience had planted the seed of combining medicine with working in the armed forces. He joined the Navy and began to specialise in surgery, training in different procedures ranging from micro surgery in Chinese Taipei to cleft surgery in the Philippines, where he still travels each year to carry out cleft lip repairs on a pro bono basis.
Cdr Fries outlined how modern-day plastic surgery stemmed from the military, beginning with the work of Sir Harold Gillies, who developed facial reconstruction techniques to help injured soldiers during World War I, and Sir Archibald McIndoe, who established skin graft techniques for badly burned servicemen during World War II.
He went on to give a timeline of further plastic surgery developments, from repairing cleft lips to the transplantation of different types of skin and muscle flap to rebuild a damaged area of the body.
Cdr Fries explained how he had used such techniques regularly during tours of duty to Afghanistan, showing graphic examples of the types of injuries suffered by soldiers as a result of bomb blasts and penetrating trauma and how he had gone about healing them.
However, he highlighted that between 2005 and 2013, the ratio of injury severity score to case fatality rate in Afghanistan had fallen significantly due to a number of advances including the introduction of the military tourniquet, improved blood transfusion techniques and the use of tranexamic acid for the prevention of bleeding.
Cdr Fries, who now works as consultant plastic surgeon with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, concluded by explaining how he dealt with his role as a military medic. He recalled the famous lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If – ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same’, adding: “You have to have some coping strategies. You just need to learn everything you can from the failures, but celebrate the successes.”