Frederic Deleyiannis is an artist, pure and simple, though his canvas is not paper or linen, but human beings.
A plastic surgeon, Deleyiannis toils hours in operating rooms to restore vital function for people whose bodies have been ravaged by trauma or cancer. His work is complex and challenging and not about mere cosmetics, but helping people heal from malformation or devastating injuries.
Board-certified in both Plastic Surgery and Otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), Deleyiannis is a tertiary plastic surgeon who helps repair injuries caused by car accidents, gunshot wounds, explosions, mauling and disfigurement from cancer or birth defects.
A board-certified surgeon for nearly 20 years, Deleyiannis has practiced in Pittsburgh and in Denver. He recently joined UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs because it is a Level I Trauma Center and the UCHealth Cancer Care – Memorial Hospital Central is building a surgical reconstruction program for patients disfigured after removal of cancerous tumors. He practices in Colorado Springs with Plastic Surgeon Dr. Tad Heinz.
“I think it’s really profound,’’ Deleyiannis said. “You’re presented with people that are missing basic, vital function from some soft tissue that has been removed, whether it’s from a cancer or a trauma. What we’re able to do as plastic surgeons is replace that tissue with other parts of the body. We aim for really improving the quality of life.”
Deleyiannis has rebuilt the faces of people who have been mauled by grizzly bears or dogs; reconstructed the jaws of people who have been shot in the face and mended the mangled feet of patients injured by lawn mowers.
In his hours-long surgeries, he takes tissue, bone, arteries and veins from a patient’s own body and transplants the healthy specimens to repair wounds. He then sews tiny blood vessels to existing blood vessels, restoring blood flow to the newly transplanted skin or bone.
“You identify vessels in the legs, and use the artery and vein and sew it under the microscope to a blood supply that you can find in the body,’’ he said. “We do microvascular surgery, which is basically a transplant in your own body. Those techniques have been around for 20 or 30 years, but it’s the sort of thing that takes 20 or 30 years to get really good at. It’s a technique that uses microscopes, and blood vessels are sewn under the microscope, and you transport that (needed) tissue to a different part of the body.”
Deleyiannis recently reconstructed the jaw of a patient who had been shot in the face. The bullet destroyed the man’s jaw bone, leaving an open cavern in his face. In surgery, Deleyiannis cut away the damaged jaw bone. He then removed the man’s fibula (leg bone) and carved it into the shape of a jaw bone. Deleyiannis used a vein from that leg bone and attached it to a blood source in the man’s jaw to keep blood flowing to the newly created jaw bone.
Another of Deleyiannis’ patients was featured in a National Geographic story five years ago after the man was attacked by a grizzly bear. That story is here.
Over the years, Deleyiannis has done countless numbers of ear replacement surgeries. Whether a person was born without an ear, or had one removed in an accident or attack, Deleyiannis creates ears in the operating room and then implants them under the skin. He uses a rib bone, which he carves, to create the new ear. That surgery takes five hours.
Each year, Deleyiannis, who has worked in Denver at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado, spends at least one week a year in Guatemala City with the John Lester Foundation, dedicated to providing reconstructive surgery for children with facial deformities. This year’s trip is in June.
“We return each year so we can provide critical care, as well as see new patients,’’ he said.
The surgeries are performed at the Moore Center, which adheres to American medical standards for quality and safety. The John Lester Foundation hosts an annual golf tournament to raise money to help children in the U.S. and abroad.
John Lester, a Denver businessman, had skin cancer and was a patient of Dr. Deleyiannis’. He envisioned the foundation before he died in August 2016, and his family has nourished his desire and built the nonprofit. Dr. Deleyiannis performed four major “free flap’’ surgeries, removing cancer from John’s head and replacing entire sections of skull with bone, veins and tissue from John’s arms, legs and back.
Connor Lester, executive director of the foundation, said that before his father passed away, he endured major surgeries and learned of their transformative nature.
“He’d go in feeling really sick and come out feeling better,’’ Connor said. “He realized that children were going through the same thing, they had deformities either from trauma or cancer and my dad really empathized with them and he wanted to help them get back on their feet and back to their lives.’’
The foundation helps pay expenses for the physicians who go to Guatemala City.
Dr. Deleyiannis said there is no greater reward than helping children, and helping patients who have been severely injured or disfigured from cancer.
“I get a lot of hugs,’’ he said.