Traumatic facial injuries — from motor vehicle accidents, gunshots, military combat, or other incidents — can cause debilitating effects. These can include sunken, jagged facial features and increased scarring.
Jeremy Feldbusch, an Iraq war veteran, received a facial injury during combat when artillery shrapnel tore through his skull.
While surgeons can often reconstruct the bones of the face, it’s hard to return the soft tissue to its original form.
J. Peter Rubin, MD, chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at UPMC, and other experts started researching a new form of facial reconstruction due to an increasing rate of military facial injuries. The technique, called fat grafting, can improve soft tissue deformities in the head and face.
While fat grafting is common — plastic surgeons performed approximately 65,000 in 2011 — using it for facial reconstruction was a completely new, experimental use of this well-known treatment.
Fat grafting is a minimally invasive facial reconstructive surgical technique. Surgeons remove a patient’s own fat from a place on the body where there's less need and transfer it to areas that have lost shape or fullness.
To repair Jeremy’s disfigurement, Dr. Rubin took fat from his stomach and thighs and injected it into cavities that his war injuries had left on his face.
Because fat does not have much structure or volume, facial fat grafting is especially challenging.
Surgeons and researchers at UPMC are now able to maximize the effectiveness of fat grafting by:
Researchers believe that this stem cell-rich fat promotes blood vessel growth and blood flow, volume, and lift, which is crucial for not only the survival of the fat graft but also to promote healing and stability.
Through research, Dr. Rubin and his team have found that the fat stabilizes about 3 months after the procedure. In 3-year follow-ups, the fat retained the same volume as it had at 3 months.
To learn more about fat grafting surgery for facial repair, contact the UPMC Department of Plastic Surgery at 1-877-639-9688.