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 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 Center – 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 are 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.
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 travels to Guatemala City with the John Lester Foundation, a charity dedicated to providing care to children who have facial deformities, and lends his incredible skill to those children.
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 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.