Known as “the Maestro” he was a surgeon who realized the value of social reintegration after complex reconstructive surgery. As a Royal Air Force plastic surgeon, McIndoe transformed his profession as he treated pilots who were badly burned during World War II.
The brilliant surgeon developed new techniques during a period when little was known about severe burn treatment, reconstructing hands and faces that had been disfigured. According to Time Magazine, McIndoe would “take charred, featureless living remains and remake them into presentable human beings.”
When pilots with burn injuries were transferred to his East Grinstead hospital in the weeks following the Battle of Britain, McIndoe was one of only four plastic surgeons in the country.
McIndoe knew that physical reconstruction was only part of the battle, and that his patients needed to be prepared for the world beyond the hospital. So he arranged for his patients to be invited to events and to attend theater and film openings. The recovering war heroes no longer hid because of their injuries, and thanks to McIndoe’s efforts, East Grinstead became known as “the town that didn’t stare.”
His patients even formed their own drinking club, the Guinea Pig Club, named after the experimental nature of McIndoe’s treatments.
By the end of the war there were over 600 members, and the club still meets today to offer help to burn patients. Sir Archibald McIndoe died in 1960, but his legacy lives on in the tradition of reconstructive plastic surgery, which continues to help injured soldiers, accident victims, and many others who have suffered from a debilitating disorder or disease.