Dr Roberto Spierer
Chief Physician for Hand, Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery, Vivantes Auguste-Viktoria Hospital in Berlin
For Dr Roberto Spierer precision is everything – and it has to be. He does, after all, perform operations as a plastic surgeon and hand surgeon, often working with a microscope. In the following interview he talks about how he restores damaged nerves and how plastic surgery can help victims of accidents to achieve a better quality of life. In the Department for Hand, Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery at the Vivantes Auguste-Viktoria Hospital, operations are performed both on German and international patients.
Does plastic surgery mean the same as cosmetic surgery?
Dr Spierer: Plastic and aesthetic surgery usually deals more with the general restoration of bodily functions. Typical cases are situations following accidents or cancer operations. By reconstructing parts of the body or restoring nerves and tendons, by restoring normal physical capabilities and thus enabling people to function just as they did before their accident or operation, we are able to give them back a part of their identity and improve their quality of life.
So do people also come to you for cosmetic operations?
Dr Spierer: Yes, and it’s an upward trend. Beauty today has very narrow definitions, and for increasing numbers of people an improvement to their outward appearance through, for example, cosmetic surgery boosts both confidence and quality of life. We offer tightening operations, procedures to the male and female breasts, facelifts, eyelid surgery, liposuction and wrinkle treatments. Patients can find out about the full spectrum of body-sculpting surgery in our consultation appointments.
You are an out-and-out specialist. Do patients travel long distances to be treated by you?
Dr Spierer: Yes, our patients come from all over Germany and some even come to us from abroad. Our high degree of specialisation and many years of experience are leading more and more patients to put their trust in us for their plastic surgery needs.
And this is why you are not able to treat all patients immediately and why a patient may sometimes even have to wait a few weeks?
Dr Spierer: Yes, that’s right. Waiting times of up to eight weeks are possible, except in emergencies. However, we are making efforts to expand our capacities and to always treat patients straight away.
What operations have you performed today then?
Dr Spierer: One of the operations I’ve performed today was on a lady who was unable to properly stretch her elbow because of burns that she suffered as a child. We’ve also carried out a tummy tuck. Yesterday I operated on a man who had been shot in the hand, a hand that he will soon be able to use as normal again.
Hand surgeons must have to deal with this all the time: a nerve is damaged, injured or severed – and it’s your job to sew it back up again?
Dr Spierer: Yes, but the nerve has to have been cut through relatively recently – i.e. no more than ten days after an accident. Otherwise the nerve shrinks too much and you can’t then sew it back together. Our aim is to restore the nerve's two functions: controlling the muscles and transmitting sensation.
If the nerve has been damaged for more than ten days are you no longer able to help?
Dr Spierer: We can still help, but a piece of nerve has to be transplanted. It’s then a case of waiting until the nerve heals and sensation returns, meaning the healing process lasts much longer.
For hand surgery and other operations, you yourself require a steady hand and have to work with great precision?
Dr Spierer: Absolutely. We work in a similar way to watchmakers – sitting down and with the smallest of parts, employing the most precise techniques and instruments and often using a microscope. This type of procedure is called microsurgery and it’s how I prefer to work. Being a plastic surgeon is my dream vocation.
On average, how many patients do you treat a year?
Dr Spierer: Our team of four surgeons treats around 800 patients every year. We offer consultation appointments on two days of the week.