The basics of plastic surgery

Aug. 3, 2020
A doctor performs plastic surgery in an operating room.
Plastic surgery is more than nose jobs and tummy tucks. It covers a range of procedures, including those for the face, arms and legs, and the trunk. Photo: Getty Images.

A plastic surgeon’s work isn’t just about nose jobs and tummy tucks.

“There’s the cosmetic plastic surgery, which is what everybody thinks of, but people don’t realize we do broken jaws and big open wounds to the leg,” said Dr. Aaron Frye, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and UCHealth Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Clinic in Fort Collins. “When people ask what a plastic surgeon does, sometimes I describe it by starting at the head, and going to the toes.”

Below, Frye does just that, outlining the various procedures a plastic and reconstructive surgeon does.

Procedures for the face

If you end up with a broken jaw, nose, cheek or eye socket, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon will be the one to fix the fracture and reconstruct the face.

“If someone gets punched in the eye, the floor of the eye socket will break away. We repair that so the eye doesn’t sink down and cause an imbalance in the face,” Frye said. “Or, if there’s an impact to the cheek that smashes that in, we’ll pull it back out.”

Another procedure that is very successful with patients is removing excess skin from the upper eyelids. In many cases, the issue is deemed a medical condition, and so is covered by insurance.

“Your eyes are your window to the world, and your eyelids are the shades,” Frye said. “If the shades are down, you only see part of the world. Plastic surgeons perform a procedure that lifts the eyelids to allow the patient to see more.”

People who suffer from trauma to the face, for instance from a dog bite or fall, often see a plastic surgeon.

“If a kid has a cut anywhere on the face, their mom and dad often want a plastic surgeon to stitch it up to help minimize scarring,” Frye said.

Plastic surgeons can also remove skin cancers from the face – and anywhere else on the body – and then reconstruct the area.

Procedures for the arms and legs

Accidents that cause severe trauma to the arms and legs may be a reason for Frye to work his magic.

“A patient who was in a motorcycle accident recently had a broken tibia and fibula,” Frye said. “The orthopedist puts the bones back together, but since a huge chunk of skin and soft tissue was missing, I used muscle flaps and then skin grafts to cover it.”

Patients who have lost a lot of weight sometimes find their arms and thighs are left with folds of excess skin. That can become problematic is the skin tears or gets stuck in places, but Frye can remove the bothersome excess.

Procedures for the trunk

A tummy tuck, in which excess skin and fat is removed from the abdomen, is often a cosmetic procedure. But sometimes it is considered medically necessary, and so may be covered by insurance.

Breast augmentation, in which breasts are enlarged, is a cosmetic procedure. But a breast reduction to ease the rashes and pain in the neck, back and shoulders that large breasts can cause may be covered by insurance.

“If patients come to see me, they’re often really having problems. Some may have ulcerations in their shoulders from their bra straps,” Frye said. “I reduce the volume of the breast and remove excess skin, which results in a lift. Hands down, these are some of my happiest patients.”

Breast reconstruction is performed for women who have been through breast cancer treatment. For Frye, working with these patients can be especially rewarding.

“Breast cancer is a really tough diagnosis. A woman is slammed with 10 different doctor’s appointments right off the bat – it’s like getting hit with a ton of bricks,” Frye said.

“As a reconstructive surgeon, I’ll see the patient every week for two to three months. I really get to know them, and enjoy talking with them and helping them through that journey.”

This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at