TAU Microsurgeon Puts Smiles on Frozen Faces

Doctor and humanitarian is a Newsweek Top 10

Dr. Eyal Gur
Dr. Eyal Gur

Tel Aviv University associate professor Dr. Eyal Gur has been voted by Newsweek magazine as one of the top ten microsurgeons in the world. But for the surgeon, who painstakingly operates on children’s faces up to 33 hours at a time, his biggest reward is simply seeing a patient smile.

Dr. Gur specializes in facial reanimation, a unique field in microsurgery where he does the impossible: he reconnects severed arteries, veins and nerves smaller than 1 mm in width with threads thinner than a human hair. Fine motor movements, which might have been lost forever, are brought back to life. He literally gives children back their smiles.

Says Dr. Gur, “There is a misconception that everyone who works in plastic surgery is working in the area of aesthetic surgery. While this is something I can do, my first love is helping people -- especially kids -- regain a function in their face. After a terrible illness, birth defect or trauma, some people suffer paralysis. We stitch their severed nerves back together.”

The muscles and nerve networks of the face are the most complicated in the human body. A smile involves the coordination of seven distinct muscles through the action of the facial nerve. In the recent past, surgeons did not have the tools or skill to repair fine nerve damage.

As head of the microsurgery unit at the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Dr. Gur performs or supervises about 60 facial reanimation operations a year. In many cases, a tiny muscle from the patient's thigh is transferred to the paralyzed face to help regain facial motion.

It is the only center in the Middle East that performs this procedure, drawing clients from the former Soviet Union, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. As a volunteer for Physicians for Human Rights and the U.S.-based “Operation Smile” organization, Dr. Gur often donates his time to help migrant workers as well as Palestinian children who do not have health insurance.

“I donate my time because I think that, through this humanistic effort, I can help give a push -- even if it is a small one -- to help promote peace,” he says.

Though a busy entrepreneur, father, surgeon, volunteer and university lecturer, Dr. Gur is also concerned about training the next generation of microsurgeons. “I am busy sending our residents abroad to the best centers in the world,” he says. “We have young doctors now specialized in reconstructive surgery after breast cancer operations and in reconnecting severed limbs.”

Dr. Gur sees his specialization growing and changing in the future, when new tissues or transplants may be grown artificially in the laboratory. "Once an ear and blood vessels are created in the lab, microsurgeons will be the ones connecting them to the human body. This field and the field of allotransplantation -- microsurgically transplanting tissues from brain-dead patients -- will illuminate some of the major obstacles of human medicine today,” he believes.

For example, Dr. Gur recently founded a breast augmentation company, MIM Cup & Up, which offers a minimally-invasive medical procedure to uplift breasts. It is believed to be a far safer solution to conventional breast procedures, from which many women suffer unwanted side effects.

Teaching future generations and healthcare professionals about the wonders of microsurgery is one of Dr. Gur’s greatest missions, he says. Medical students from TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, as well as students in physical therapy and nursing, attend his lectures on a regular basis and shadow him while he’s on the job. Frequently invited to speak at conferences around the world, Dr. Gur will be in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago this January while participating in a meeting of the American Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery.

 

 

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