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Restoring disfigured vet's visage through generosity Volunteers provide plastic surgery, flights

Tim Juliano, an Iraq War veteran from North Tonawanda, is beginning to look like a new man.

A Pennsylvania plastic surgeon, originally from the Southtowns, has rebuilt Juliano's broken face, and "American Chopper," the popular reality show on cable television, is preparing to make a celebrity out of him.

The bandages were removed Tuesday, and Juliano says the big dimple in his left cheek is gone and the prominent scar where shrapnel pierced him has been minimized.

Several plates and screws on his forehead, nose and cheeks that were loose -- in some places on the verge of pushing through his skin -- were removed to make way for the reconstruction.

And for the first time since a rocket exploded 8 feet away from him outside Baghdad two years ago, the 45-year-old former technical sergeant from the 914th Air Force Reserve unit in Niagara Falls can breathe freely through his nostrils.

Juliano has Dr. Charles K. Herman to thank after three hours of surgery Friday that was arranged by Iraq Star, a national volunteer organization of more than 200 board-certified plastic surgeons.

"There's hardly any pain, and he did a lot," a grateful Juliano said of the doctor. "I had a huge dimple on my left cheek where the shrapnel went in, and now it is gone. My face is still swollen, but there's no pain. I just have some tightness."

Explaining the intricacies of the surgery, Herman said that he used a graft from a cadaver to build up the left cheek and that after removing plates and screws, he moved bone around.

"I took a chisel and cut the bones on his nose and forehead and realigned them so they'd be straight and installed a small titanium plate and screws to hold the bones in place," Herman said.

While Herman was performing the surgery, a film crew for "American Chopper" was recording it for a broadcast sometime in November as a means of promoting the work of Iraq Star and its volunteer surgeons, who waive all costs not covered by military insurance.

"These types of cases really illustrate that plastic surgery is not just skin-deep," said Herman, a 1994 graduate of Hamburg High School who has performed many surgeries on combat veterans. "Tim didn't have to pay a penny, and there couldn't be anyone more deserving."

Herman said Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Pa., donated the use of its facilities.

Juliano is expected to return home Saturday by way of Angel Flight NE, another national organization that helps veterans and their families with free flights. Joe DeMarco, a local pilot, will fly Juliano home.

With more than 33,000 veterans seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, Herman said he and his colleagues have plenty of opportunities to put their surgical skills to work.

"This is what it's all about," said the 33-year-old surgeon, who has offices in Pennsylvania and on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The doctor also offered praise for "American Chopper" and its star, Paul Teutul Sr., the rough-and-tough tattooed father in the family's business, Orange County Choppers, which builds customized motorcycles and is the setting for "American Chopper."

"He's donating a $40,000 motorcycle to Iraq Star, and they'll auction it off at a charity event Oct. 4 in Los Angeles," Herman said.

Iraq Star was founded by in California by Maggie Lockridge, a registered nurse. Wounded veterans in need of plastic surgery, Herman said, can call (760) 568-4039. Online information is available at www.iraqstar.org.

The willingness of the surgeons to lend a hand, Herman explained, is prompted by the fact that procedures on war-related wounds are often complicated, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs "generally does not have adequate plastic surgery expertise."

What does Juliano, who is now medically retired, think of all the attention he's receiving?

It has proved to be great diversion from being preoccupied with the surgery, he says, especially when Teutul and actress Kristy Swanson, an Iraq Star ambassador, participated in his consultation with the doctor before the surgery.

"I had the muscle man and the beauty coaching me through it," Juliano said. "They were there before the surgery, through it, and after."

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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