BY TOBY PORTER
Former BBC war correspondent Martin Bell has praised South-east London surgeons who rebuilt his face after he suffered massive facial injuries tripping over his suitcases at Gatwick airport.
Bell, 80, fell face-first onto the concrete floor at Gatwick’s train ticket hall after returning from lecturing on a cruise liner in November.
The former journalist broke his upper jaw, both eye sockets, his nose and the base of his skull. But after surgery, performed by a team led by Helen Witherow, a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, he joked that he looked like he’d had Botox.
Bell, who served as an independent MP for Tatton from 1997-2001 and later became a Unicef humanitarian ambassador, covered 18 wars during his television career, including Vietnam, the Gulf war and the Bosnia conflict, during which he was wounded by shrapnel while reporting in Sarajevo. “So it’s a bit ironic. I survived all those wars and I go and crash at Gatwick airport,” he said.
“After the accident, I bore a striking resemblance to Dracula’s grandfather. However, the team at East Surrey and St George’s really looked after me, so I am privileged, from personal experience and with a hole in my head, to sing the praises of the nurses, doctors and surgeons who work for and with the Maxillofacial Surgery Unit at St George’s.
“I have not led a sheltered life, but like most people, I know little about the specialist branches of medicine until I come to need them, usually at short notice.
“So it was with maxillofacial surgery and the people who practice it – and we are truly lucky to have them.”
He was carrying suitcases in each hand and caught his heel on one, falling with his face hitting the floor first.
He was transferred to St George’s Hospital from one in Redhill.
Surgeons reattached his upper mouth to his jawbone, and used four plates and 16 screws to repair facial fractures. He also lost a tooth and broke his nose.
The operation took two and a half hours and as he emerged from the anaesthetic, he confessed he thought he had been kidnapped, and asked to be released.
Ms Witherow said: “Mr Bell’s injuries required specialist maxillofacial surgery, which St George’s is a centre of excellence for.
“The surgery involved repairing Mr Bell’s fractures using titanium plates and screws, and these remain in place permanently.
“We are pleased to hear he is so well, and so positive about his experience of the care our team provided.”
Bell, an author of several books – his latest is titled War and the Death of News – is planning to resume his travels once fully recovered.
“I am being especially careful at airports, when travelling with suitcases,” he said.