Head and neck reconstruction is the last thing that many people think about when they are told that they have cancer of that region, or have suffered a devastating trauma, such as a gunshot. But the long-term ramifications of not having this area reconstructed are many, including functional issues, such as swallowing and airway problems, and quality of life issues like reduced socialization and psychological problems.
Mark Kubik, MD, Assistant Professor of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is on the forefront of new techniques to offer patients opportunities to regain a part of their lives with face and neck reconstruction. Dr. Kubik, along with a team of vascular surgeons and plastic surgeons, has built upon previous advancements to develop new ways to help patients achieve some normalcy after illness or trauma.
Facial reconstruction began in 16th century Italy by a surgeon who developed flaps, pieces of skin and tissue from another part of the body that could help regrow nasal tissues that had been destroyed by syphilis, which was at an epidemic level at that time. From there, flaps have progressed to being constructed from moving tissue and muscle from the deltopectoral region to the face and neck to promote regrowth of skin and tissue, which ultimately would lead to being able to reconstruct the area. Vascular repair during surgery has been crucial to providing the patient with a chance at having successful reconstruction of their face and neck.
Now, Dr. Kubik and his colleagues are working on even more enhanced reconstruction techniques that begin before the patient enters the operating room. With virtual surgical planning, including 3-D modeling, Dr. Kubik plots out what will happen prior to surgery, and work through any potential issues that may arise during the procedure which might prolong the time that the patient is both on the table and under anesthesia. Nerve reconstruction and dental implants, which are important aspects to perfect as it gives patients a more normalized facial experience long-term, are also being researched by Dr. Kubik and his team.
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