Saving Face: Dr. Antell's Groundbreaking Study of Identical Twins

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In the right hands, plastic surgery is both a complex discipline and a subtle
art. The ancient and sometimes suspect practice, which took a quantum
leap forward in the first decades of the twentieth century, is by definition
the very essence of creativity. With a knowing eye, deft hands, and skills
both learned and innate, plastic surgeons can perfect that which nature
made imperfectly. They can accomplish Einstein’s dream of manipulating
time and undo the inexorable drag of the years on muscle and flesh. And
when a plastic surgeon of national renown, like Darrick “Rick” Antell,
takes identical twins whose faces have aged differently and restores
them to the mirror-like similarities of the past, it can seem
miraculous.



“Plastic surgery has nothing to do with plastic as we think of it
today,” Dr. Antell is quick to point out. “It comes from the
Greek word plastikos, which means to mold. What we do is mold tissue.”



Plastic surgery predates Hippocrates. Descriptions of procedures have
been found in papyrus writings dating back to 3000 B.C. Modern plastic
surgery, which often combines both cosmetic and reconstructive skills,
was born in the trenches of World War I. Young doctors inexperienced in
battlefield medicine struggled with old techniques and gave birth to whole
new areas of medicine, including dental and plastic surgery, with the
emphasis on repairing jaws and faces savaged by shell and machine gun
fire.



“In trench warfare,” Dr. Antell says, “the soldiers looked
up over the trenches and were hit in the face.” All that many people
know about plastic surgery is from Nip/Tuck (the cable television series
about two wildly dysfunctional surgeons), he says, “so you
have to educate them about World War I and the injuries, and how it came
to be the way it is.”



A quick explanation: Plastic surgery includes reconstructive surgery,
which Dr. Antell defines simply as taking someone and basically getting
them back to normal; and cosmetic surgery, which is taking someone who
is basically normal and improving their appearance. (While cosmetic surgery
is not covered by health insurance, reconstructive surgery, theoretically,
is.)



Dr. Antell maintains a busy Park
Avenue practice in New York and teaches at
Columbia University. He is a devoted
family man to wife Lisa and their four
children. When they used to vacation on
Fisher’s Island, he volunteered as a general
practitioner and would be given vegetables
and fruit by patients in return. A lifelong
believer in giving back, he has treated
patients from Kuwait, Egypt and England
as a medical consultant in plastic surgery to
the United Nations, operated on victims of
the August 2003 terrorist bombing of the
UN headquarters in Baghdad and is
involved in Operation Smile, which
provides free reconstructive surgery to
inner-city children in the New York metropolitan
area.



His groundbreaking study on aging
and identical twins, which concluded that
lifestyle and environmental factors were
the most significant contributors to premature
aging, was sparked by conversations
with his patients. “I think I’m probably best
known for face-lifts,” he explains, “and
patients always ask, ‘How long will my
face-l