Director of Reconstructive Surgery Talks About New Techniques to Help Shepherd Center Patients
ChiChi Berhane, M.D., MBA, is a plastic surgeon who joined the medical staff of Shepherd Center in August 2013 as director of reconstructive surgery. He specializes in aesthetic and all types of reconstructive plastic surgery. Dr. Berhane sees patients at Shepherd Center Clinic for reconstructive surgery.
Q: How do you describe your work when someone asks what you do?
A: When I say “plastic surgery,” a lot of people think plastic surgery only involves aesthetic surgery, so the reconstructive surgery aspect is the part I have to explain. Plastic surgery includes many types of reconstructive surgery, craniofacial/pediatric surgery, hand surgery, microsurgery and burn.
Q: What does reconstructive surgery involve?
A: Reconstructive surgery is performed to correct functional impairments caused by traumatic injuries, such as facial bone fractures; burns; congenital abnormalities, such as cleft lips/palates; developmental abnormalities; cancer or tumors, such as breast reconstruction after mastectomy; infection and diseases. It is usually performed to improve function, but it may be done to approximate a normal appearance.
The majority of patients who are admitted to Shepherd Center have post-traumatic injuries. Many of our patients, especially those with spinal cord injuries, can develop pressure wounds that require surgical intervention. Treating these complications requires transferring muscle from a healthy area to the wound site. Some patients have exposed bone, post-traumatic injury that requires soft tissue coverage with a local flap or microsurgery free flap.
Patients with traumatic brain injuries sometimes have to have part of their skull removed by neurosurgeons in a trauma care setting. When patients arrive at Shepherd Center after the initial trauma, the main concern with this is that the patients have nothing protecting the brain except soft tissue on the scalp. I’m able to do cranioplasty reconstruction for these patients – restoring their skull using either their original bone (skull) or a titanium mesh.
Q: What first drew your interest to plastic surgery?
A: Plastic surgery distinguished itself to me as a sophisticated specialty of tremendous breadth with a practical focus. Its combination of elective and emergent cases, and its range of therapeutic options, exemplifies the scope of the field. In addition, plastic surgery impacts people of all ages, genders and backgrounds, and includes congenital abnormalities, trauma, and aesthetic and reconstructive surgery.
Q: What impresses you about Shepherd Center?
A: Its mission to help people rebuild their lives with hope, independence and dignity. I’m impressed with how everybody at Shepherd Center is very knowledgeable in their specialties, and how everyone works really hard for better patient care and outcomes.
Q: What goals do you have professionally?
A: From the reconstructive surgery standpoint, I want to be able to apply all the new techniques and procedures especially from a microsurgery standpoint to help patients. From the aesthetic surgery standpoint, I strongly believe that every person should have the right to seek and obtain happiness – psychologically, emotionally and socially.
Aesthetic plastic surgery can help patients feel better, both inside and outside. My goal is to make the person feel confident when he or she sees their reflection in the mirror. I want to boost the patient’s self-esteem and allow the patient to feel happier about herself or himself, while still letting the patient see the natural person they are.
Q: You’ve been able to use your medical skills in volunteer work overseas, as well. Describe those experiences.
A: Volunteer work in developing countries is often very challenging because the health care system is much different than it is here. Most of the time, we have to take all the medical staff, equipment, and supplies we need to complete the mission. It’s very intense and hard work, often operating 10 to 14 hours a day for one to two weeks. But at the end of the trip, being able to help people who are less fortunate than you makes all the hard work worth it.
Hospital affiliation and Experience:
Plastic surgeon at Piedmont Healthcare, July 2013 to present
Plastic surgeon at Shepherd Center, July 2013 to present
Plastic surgeon at Northside Hospital, July 2012 to present
Plastic surgeon at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, June 2012 to August 2013
Craniofacial/Pediatric Plastic Surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (Scottish Rite Hospital and Egleston Children’s Hospital at Emory University)
Plastic surgery residency at the University of Miami Hospital
General surgery residency at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, Marshall University.
East Carolina University School of Medicine
Master of Business Administration, East Carolina University
Bachelor of Science in Biology/Chemistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Dr. Berhane has volunteered his medical skills internationally in Asia, Africa and South America with public service organizations, such as Medishare, Operation Smile and Doctors Without Borders.
- His hobbies outside of work are spending time with family and friends, playing soccer, basketball, golf and attending church.
Interviewed by Phillip Jordan
Photography by Gary Meek
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.