His journey to health and healing continues...

When we think of plastic surgery, cosmetic surgery and liposuction comes to mind. What we don’t realize is that it can also assist in more serious cases such as burn reconstruction. We spoke to a specialist, Dr. Kais Al Tawab, about how burn reconstruction is playing a big role in medicine, and how technology and innovation are driving it forward.

After graduating as a plastic surgeon in his home country, Syria, Al Tawab chose to specialize in burn surgery. He left Syria in 2012, worked in other Arab countries including Jordan, Yemen, and Iraq, and is now based in Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia. Despite admiration for advanced countries like Belgium and the US, Al Tawab says his experience with war patients made him realize that he was most needed in the Middle East. “Non-developed countries lack knowledge about burns and burn treatment. This encouraged me to choose this path,” he said.

Al Tawab describes the type of treatment used in each case depends on the degree of the burn and the surface area affected. First-degree burns are your common sunburn, while second-degree burns can be superficial and deep, and third-degree burns are the most serious, requiring surgery. Chemical and electrical burns are the worst cases to deal with.

“We use artificial skin in burn treatment, and there are new studies being done into the use of stem cells in burn treatment, which can reduce scars, and results in fewer complications with the healing process,” said Al Tawab. There are different kinds of artificial skin, some of which use collagen to enhance healing, and some of which use silicone. Not many people know that liposuction can also be used in burn treatment.

“Sometimes there are deep wounds or depressions in the body, and we can inject fat in those areas. Stem cell treatment also has promising results. We can obtain stem cells from the patient using liposuction. In terms of technology, skin grafts are not new but are effective depending on the degree of burn. Tissue expanders are used to expand healthy skin and cover raw areas. But one of the most exciting things now is 3D skin printers. This is a fantastic mixing of technology with medicine. Strips of fabricated tissues are used to cover the burn and it works! Studies are being done into how to use it more effectively” said the doctor.

One of the most serious cases he has worked on was a young girl in Syria who had been playing outside near an electrical box that was exposed, and she suffered a deep electrical burn. He successfully saved her forearm from amputation by using an abdominal skin flap.

Al Tawab now works as a specialist surgeon and medical director in a private medical center, dealing mainly with aesthetic cases such as breast surgery and liposuction. He said the most challenging part of his work is meeting the expectation of patients. “With reconstruction, our priority is restoring functionality, but sometimes patients are not satisfied with the final appearance of the skin, and we have to counsel them.

There is also a psychological impact on the patient,” he said. However, Al Tawab is able to build good relationships with his patients. “They feel like they are connected to you, they need you. When you give someone, who cannot move his hand the ability to use it, you have restored faith and hope in them and this is my biggest satisfaction as a surgeon,” he said. Despite his success in private practice, Al Tawab still has the desire to return home one day, when it is safe to do so. “I’d be more useful in my country; they need me there.”