Bristol man’s grim reaper tattoo used in facial reconstruction surgery

Colin Reilly pictured after his surgery. Credit: UHBW

A tattoo of the grim reaper was used by surgeons to reconstruct a Bristol man’s face during a landmark surgery.

The 12-hour operation was to remove a life-threatening tumour from the back of Colin Reilly’s tongue.

It was a complex procedure which involved splitting the 50-year-old’s jaw, dismantling his neck and tongue and reconstructing the lower half of his face.

Colin’s tongue and voice box were repaired using skin from his tattooed arm, which involved removing part of the grim reaper.

Colin's grim reaper tattoo, before it was used in his surgery. Credit: UHBW

‘Good to get one over the grim reaper’

Consultant John Collin, who led the reconstruction element of Colin’s surgery, said: “It is a pleasure to work with excellent colleagues and care for patients like Colin.

“He has always remained positive despite his extensive treatment and I am delighted with how he has recovered.

“I’m sorry we spoilt Colin’s tattoo, but it’s always good to get one over on the grim reaper.”

Colin’s chances of survival - or being able to speak again - were slim.

His tumour was in a difficult position and previous bouts of radiotherapy treatment had been unsuccessful.

But if left untreated, doctors warned he would have less than six months to live.

The surgery was carried out in May 2021 by Bristol Royal Infirmary’s specialist teams.

One of Colin's arm tattoos was used as part of his facial reconstruction. Credit: UHBW

His recovery included lengthy sessions with speech and language therapists, who helped Colin process the trauma of his surgery.

“I know I’ve been lucky, years ago I had a friend who died of throat cancer,” he said.

“I thank God for the technology and surgical advancement which have given me this second chance. 

“There’s not enough I can do to pay the hospital back.”