For many people, the words “plastic surgery” illicit thoughts of elective surgical procedures designed to improve a patient’s physical appearance, whether they need it or not. But while plastic surgery can fit this description, many people don’t realize that it is often used for other purposes, such as to repair physical deformities or injuries. But now, a new film called Wonder may help shine a light on the other side of plastic surgery, a move many surgeons hope will help the field gain more mainstream acceptance.
Wonder is the story of a young boy named August “Auggie” Pullman, who was born with a rare genetic condition called Treacher Collins Syndrome. Treacher Collins Syndrome affects the development of the bones and tissue of the face, most commonly the cheekbones. Persons with Treacher Collins may also have a smaller chin and jaw, cleft palate, downward-slanted eyes, and may have smaller ears or no ears at all. And some patients with Treacher Collins show almost no noticeable signs.
In the film, Auggie struggles with fitting in at a mainstream school after being home-schooled his entire life. When discussing his appearance with peers, Auggie explains that he’s already had dozens of plastic surgery procedures to correct his facial deformities, a scene that plastic surgeons like Dr. Bruce Chau of Berkeley, Michigan, believe shows an important but lesser-known side of plastic surgery.
“Plastic surgery gets a bad rap for being about vanity, or being unnecessary,” says Chau. “But believe it or not, it’s not just about creating fake abs or bigger lips. It is often used to reconstruct deformities and physical damage, like mastectomies, injuries from accidents and even conditions like Treacher Collins.”
In fact, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, reconstructive breast surgeries alone are up over 30 percent since 2000.
Though Treacher Collins Syndrome is rare (occurring in fewer than 20,000 births per year) the disorder often does require plastic surgery to help those affected live a more normal, comfortable life.
“With conditions like Treacher Collins, it’s not simply about teaching acceptance,” says Chau. “Often, the patient requires surgery to improve their quality of life. Children born with Treacher Collins may have difficulties seeing, breathing, hearing and even eating. Cosmetic surgery procedures can help alleviate many of these side effects, helping those with the condition live a better life.”
Chau says the film may not only help audiences gain a better understanding of Treacher Collins, but also about the many benefits of reconstructive plastic surgery.
“Reconstructive plastic surgery is not a new field, but plastic surgery in general can often carry a negative stigma with it. Hopefully, films like Wonder can help change that,” he says.