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Wartime story of Sir Archibald McIndoe's pioneering surgery retold
Dr Sandy Saunders, who was treated by plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe after being badly burned in an plane crash in 1945, chats to actors Graeme Hawley and Fiona Dolman about the play The Guinea Pig Club
WHEN glider pilot Dr Sandy Saunders first looked in the mirror after escaping a devastating air crash in 1945, he was unable to recognise the face which looked back.
Dr Saunders had suffered such serious burns in the training flight he needed 14 facial reconstruction operations. But it was not until 1947 that Dr Saunder’s life took a turn for the better when he was referred to the now-legendary plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe.
He became one of Sir Archibald’s ‘Guinea Pig’ patients, a group of severely-burned pilots who were all given pioneering surgery.
Over the next two years, Dr Saunders underwent 14 further operations on his eyelids, nose and lips in a process which he said transformed his life.
Yesterday, Dr Saunders, now 89, was guest of honour at the Yorkshire Air Museum in Elvington to attend a read-through of The Guinea Pig Club, a play due to be staged at York Theatre Royal in October, which recalls the work of Sir Archibald.
Remembering the days after the accident, Dr Saunders said: “I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t seen my face. I looked in the mirror and I was totally horrified to see another person.
“I was so horrified I felt suicidal. I was 22 and a little vain. For a young man, facial disfugurement is an awful shock. Many of the Guinea Pigs felt similar things.
“I went to the hospital roof and had been going to jump off.”
But he said Sir Archibald inspired him to become a doctor and he remains friends with a number of the Guinea Pig Club.
“I was able to face the world again,” he said. “Coping with serious discomfort makes a man of you. It makes you tolerant, it gives you a sense of endurance and a greater sense of moral maturity.”
Actor Graeme Hawley, who has appeared in the York Mystery Plays and Coronation Street, will play the role of Sir Archibald. Graeme said: “It’s an incredible experience to meet Sandy while embarking on a project like this.”
The Guinea Pig Club, which also stars Fiona Dolman, of Midsomer Murders fame, will run from October 5 to 27. For tickets, phone 01904 623568.
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