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Columbia Falls local returns to serve as Logan Health’s reconstructive surgeon

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | April 22, 2024 12:00 AM

Former breast cancer patient Carol Church had almost given up hope on getting reconstructive surgery following her second battle with the disease. But it was by lucky coincidence that Logan Health had just hired Dr. Thomas Wright to specialize in plastic and reconstructive surgery, bringing top-of-the-line care to the area where he grew up.

Wright began his tenure at Logan Health Medical Center in Kalispell in August of 2023. With an emphasis on breast reconstruction, Wright said he enjoys getting to know his patients and learning how to best solve their issues.

Many of the surgeries he performs go to improve someone’s overall quality of life, particularly for recovered breast cancer patients who opt for a free flap surgery. Free flap surgery is a type of breast reconstruction where a tissue flap (including blood vessels, skin, fat, and sometimes muscle) is removed from one area of the body and is reattached to the chest to form a new breast mound, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“It's treating the trauma and the sense of well-being of patients who desire reconstruction —  occasionally, they're not candidates for implants and the free flap is a great option for those patients,” Wright said. 

For Church, it was the only option left. She had an expander put in her breast to prepare for a silicone implant, but it unfortunately got infected. This is common, especially for patients who have undergone radiation, according to Wright. He said implants are a fine option for many people, but free flap surgeries work well because of the procedure’s low risk of infection. 

After discussing the option of a free flap surgery with her doctor, Church said she hesitated to travel out of state for the procedure. But, she ended up having a great experience with Wright without having to travel far from home. 

“I don't know that I could have gone so far to get the surgery … I wouldn't want to be so far away from a surgeon that could fix it if something had gone wrong. So, this worked out perfectly,” Church said.

Wright became interested in reconstructive surgery during his time in medical school at the University of Washington. After growing up in Columbia Falls, Wright went on to attend Montana State University and graduated with the highest honors, according to Logan Health. He completed his residency in plastic surgery in Salt Lake City, then took on a one-year fellowship in microsurgery at the University of Washington. 

“It really appeals to me because you just have to think creatively to solve unique problems that different patients have. There's no patient that's exactly the same,” Wright said.

While Wright handles a lot of surgeries for former breast cancer patients, he also does any type of surgery that would require moving skin to a different area of the body. For example, he recently had a case to reconstruct the top of somebody's thumb to avoid it needing to be shortened. 

“We were able to think of a nice little local flap option to reconstruct, so that was a fun case. It's really anywhere on the body that needs more tissue, that’s what we specialize in. We never get into the bowels or the internal organs, it's usually skin soft tissue muscle, some bony reconstruction occasionally as well,” Wright said. 

He said the valley has had great plastic surgeons operating for decades, but what he brings to the table is the ability to do microsurgery. It’s a discipline in which specialized operating microscopes and precision instruments are used to repair intricate structures such as blood vessels and nerves less than a few millimeters in diameter, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. 

“It's a really fun surgery and you get to intricately dissect blood vessels, you hook them up under the microscope, and you can solve some very complicated problems with this technique. I am the only microsurgeon in the state of Montana, they do offer this form of reconstruction in Bozeman, but they're bringing surgeons in from Texas to do it,” Wright said.

A 2021 article published in the Archives of Hand and Microsurgery said the first operating microscope was invented by Carl Zeiss in 1953. The limitations of the practice steadily decreased and have reached “a limitless level of today’s supermicrosurgery.” In addition to breast reconstruction, the surgery can achieve head and neck reconstruction, functioning free muscle transfer for certain types of muscle paralysis, vascularized bone flap transfer, complex wound reconstruction, digit replantation, nerve repair and lymphatic reconstruction.

He said microsurgery and the way it lends itself to the body’s ability to heal is one reason he was compelled to study this area of medicine. 

“It's what drew me to the field. The main thing you need to heal is a good blood supply, so doing free flaps with microsurgery is bringing good blood supply to the area, in addition to soft tissue to get things healed,” Wright said. “And offering a service like this to a hospital this size empowers other surgeons to tackle problems that they might not otherwise be able to tackle. Orthopedic surgeons might be capable of fixing a bone, but if they don't have somebody to provide good soft tissue, they might have to ship those patients out. So offering that service here in the valley keeps patients closer to home.” 

Many of his referrals are from Dr. Melissa Kaptanian, Logan Health’s breast surgical oncologist. But, he also gets referrals from other surgeons who need his help for certain aspects of a patient’s recovery, in addition to referrals from people’s primary care physicians. He said if someone believes they might be a good candidate for a reconstructive surgery, they can give his office a call. 

Learn more about Wright and find contact information for his office online at www.logan.org/provider/thomas-wright/. 


Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.