Annie Elizabeth Yancey (1821-1900) of Caswell Co., NC
Her Experience With Early Plastic Surgery
Ancestry: Annie E. Yancey, daughter of Bartlett, son of Bartlett, son of James, son of Charles, son of Charles Yancey
Annie Elizabeth Yancey was born in Caswell County, NC on June 15, 1821, and was the sixth child of Bartlett and Nancy Graves Yancey. During her early childhood she suffered the common diseases of children. As a young child her health was very poor, so much so that she was unable to attend school. Her entire formal training amounted to only nine months. At age seven her father passed away. This she could not understand. Annie Elizabeth was blessed with a brilliant mind, was an avid reader, and was eager to learn. It was said that she read all of her father's law books through several times. Medical books were also available to her and she read them. She was determined to learn.
The disease which haunted her for many years was diagnosed as inflammatory rheumatism. This plagued the child for quite a long period of time. Her doctor tried about every medicine available to him at that time. It was the decision of the doctor, and agreed to by the family, that the patient should be salivated. This was accomplished by giving heavy doses of calomel. Following the treatment the patient contracted what was called "Ozena". Her skin and flesh appeared to be in a stage of decay. Her condition became critical. The flesh was in such a condition that her nose dropped off. Survival seemed to be almost miraculous. Of course, loss of her nose greatly disfigured the face. As a young woman, life became almost unbearable. Often she felt the urge to walk a few yards east, sit on the stone mourner's bench, surrounded by rock walls shaded by cedars, and among those who had passed, cry over her oppressive burdens. She fully decided that she "could not go through life in that condition". When she arrived at the age to make decisions, it was agreed that she should go to a surgeon in Philadelphia for what we call today plastic surgery.
After careful study by the doctors and surgeon, she was told that they could take flesh and skin from her arm or forehead and make a nose for her. Annie Elizabeth objected to taking it from the arm on the premise that this might affect her ability to use it. The doctor then asked if she would agree for the transplant to be taken from her forehead. That seeming to be the best solution, the patient agreed. During the entire operation, she watched the procedure through a set of mirrors, and without a modern day anesthetic. Silver tubes were used to hold the nose in proper shape and to serve as nostrils.
This brought a reawakening to her. It changed her life. Happiness and contentment were again part of her. Life became meaningful. She was truly happy.
Following the death of her mother, and at age 34, Annie Elizabeth and Thomas Jefferson Womack were married. Secret aspirations became a reality. The fulfillment of love and gratitude filled her heart. She looked forward to children. Their first was a boy and they named him Bartlett Yancey for his late grandfather. Today a large portrait of the three by Roberts is on display at the home of Miss Annie Yancey Gwyn, a favorite cousin of the Womack family. By deduction and some research, the painter has been identified as William Anderson Roberts (1837-1899). He was a famous artist, a nearby neighbor, and at age 20, painted the portrait of the three in 1857. This was his third commercially painted portrait for which he was paid $60. In that portrait the lifetime scar on Mrs. Womack's forehead was almost obscured by the brush.
In Annie Elizabeth's adult life she assisted with community problems, assumed civic responsibilities, even the performance of marriages, especially for slaves. When doctors could not be secured she was called into service.
The Womacks had three other children - Sally Henry, Nancy and Thomas Pancoast, who was named for his father and the famous surgeon who performed the operation on his mother's nose. Today there is a large Medical Foundation and a Pancoast Surgical Procedure, both so named in memory of the famous surgeon.