A skin graft is a surgical procedure that uses healthy skin to cover an area of the body where the skin has been damaged beyond repair or destroyed. Skin grafts are common in the case of extensive wounds, such as deep second and third-degree burns. Skin graft surgery enables the patient to heal with more minimal scarring. Large burns may require a number of skin grafts, and a longer period of hospitalization.
Physicians perform the procedure in a hospital. Depending upon the size of the skin for grafting, and the patient’s wishes, the patient receives local or general anesthesia or chooses to stay awake. Using an instrument called a dermatome, a surgeon cuts healthy skin from a part of the body, such as the stomach or buttocks. The dermatome shaves a piece of skin that is about 1/1000th of an inch thick. After removing the healthy skin, the surgeon places it over the injury site. The skin is held in place by surgical staples, stitches, or a pressure dressing.
For a period of about five days, the patient keeps the graft immobile, in order to allow it to stabilize. During that time, new blood vessels grow from the recipient area into the transplanted skin. Recovery time for a skin graft varies, depending upon the size of the graft and the number of grafts on the body. Physicians cover the donor site with dressing to prevent infections. Often, the area used for the graft is very painful; clinicians may prescribe pain medication to patients to ease discomfort after the procedure.
For a period of time between the injury and the graft, patients often use temporary coverings to prevent contamination of the wound. For years, physicians used pigskin or cadaver skins for a period of time. In recent years, scientists have developed tissue-engineered skin that can be used as a temporary skin substitute for patients awaiting skin grafts.
Last updated: 19-May-04