Thursday, September 20, 2007
Urban legend debunked: Can you donate skin from your tummy tuck to the Shriner's burn center for skin grafting?
I do a good bit of surgery on people after the two most common weight loss operations, gastric bypass and gastric banding (the "lap-band"). Every few months I get an email from someone asking about a rumor they've heard that if they donate their excised skin from their tummy tuck (panniculectomy) surgery that they will get the cost of their surgery covered by the Shriner's, the charitable social organization whose endowment funds many of the largest burn units across the country.
The idea that that skin could be used easily always sounded fishy to me, as post weight loss skin is "damaged goods" and would seem like poor material to be considered for use as it tends to be very thin and attenuated tissue.
Cadaver skin has been harvested for a long time for use as temporary wound coverage. If you try grafting it on someone else, their body ultimately mounts an immune response and rejects it. Still, it can make an effective temporary closure for very large burns. A number of companies turn cadaver skin into commercial products like Alloderm by removing the proteins from it that trigger your immune system. Alloderm (usually processed from the very thick back skin) is a very strong material I increasingly use during breast reconstruction.
Anyway, back to busting the urban legend thing.............
From the Shriner's Hospital website:
Q: Can skin from gastric bypass surgery be donated to children for skin grafts?
A: No, the only donor skin that can be used at the burn center is cadaver skin processed through a skin bank. Only skin from cadavers is used for skin grafts, because cadavers give the greatest amount of surface area – up to 10 sq. feet of usable skin for a burn patient. Skin that could be taken from a person who had excessive weight loss would not generate the amount of skin or quality skin needed to treat burn patients.