April 5, 2002

As plain as the nose on your face

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Dr. Russell Ries represents the facial plastic and reconstruction subspecialty of Otolaryngology. He operates on faces as varied as the ones populating his walls, his goal the art of realism. (photo by Anne Rayner Pollo)

As plain as the nose on your face

You’d think by reviewing the tools of his trade, and hearing how they’re employed, he’d be either an artist or a mechanic. There’s JB Weld and bailing wire, of sorts, and techniques to color, blend and shape. He spends his days rebuilding, shaping, tweaking.

But associate professor Dr. Russell Ries fixes faces, not fan belts, his commissions are correcting and covering the ravages of disease or dysfunction, using products as medically specific as BoneSource, a two-part epoxy-type artificial bone cement, or as common as GoreTex, and a lot of metal plates.

In the department of Otolaryngology, Ries represents the facial and plastic reconstruction subspecialty.

The bulk of Ries’ work involves resurfacing skin after cancer has appeared on the face, head and neck, where 80 percent of skin cancers appear. But in clinic Ries’ patients run the gamut, from keyloids to hemangiomas of the turbinates to port wine stains. At the Asthma, Sinus, Allergy Program clinic, Ries and Dr. James Duncavage, professor of Otolaryngology and a world-renowned sinus surgery specialist, see patients whose sinus problems are so severe they require surgery.

And there are traumas. Ries rotates with faculty in Plastic Surgery and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, seeing patients like Beth Allen, whose nose was crushed almost two years ago by a softball lined up the middle. The ball fattened her nose. Ries’ reconstruction work mended the nose, his otolaryngology training played a part in helping restore airflow, and his plastics work left little sign that he’d been there.

Everything Ries does has a functional component, including blepheroplasty (eye lifts). And he dispels the mystique of any artistic quality to his work, beautifying the already beautiful.

“If you want someone to repair your face, you don’t want Picasso,” he says. “This isn’t interpretive art. This is replacing symmetry and function to someone’s head.”