April (interviewer): Good Morning and welcome. Today here in the studio we are very honoured to have with us Western Australia’s only female plastic surgeon, mother of six children and the 2005 Australian of the year Dr. Fiona Wood.
Fiona Wood: Good morning April.
April: Dr. Fiona Wood graduated from London’s St. Thomas’ hospital medical school in 1981 and continued working in the hospital. In 1986 she married Australian surgeon Tony Keirath before migrating to Perth in 1987. In 1990 she graduated from the Western Australian university completing her training in plastic surgery. Fiona, did you grow up wanting to become a plastic surgeon?
Fiona: Not exactly, I grew up in a small coal-mining village in Yorkshire and was the most athletics obsessed schoolgirl you could ever come across. I just loved sport. As a child I was also very hungry to learn. I was so lucky because I could balance schoolwork and sport. I wanted to become an Olympic sprinter but I soon realised I wasn’t good enough. So I decided that in my lifetime I wanted to make a difference.
April: In 1993 you co-founded clinical cell culture, C3’ a company dedicated to ongoing skin cell and burns research with Ms. Marie Stoner. In that same year you also came across a major medical breakthrough with the development of spray on skin. How did you discover this technology and what made you start the company with Ms. Stoner?
Fiona: On October 1st 1992 a high school science teacher arrived at the Perth hospital burns unit with serve burns to 90% of his body. I was just new in my role as head of the department and I had never come across a patient this severely injured before. “I was desperate to keep this man alive, it was a big and difficult time personally and professionally. You’ve worked and you’ve trained and all of a sudden you’re the boss. It wasn’t an easy burn case I had to make 7 phone calls overseas and spent hours in surgery but eventually he pulled through. After that I thought surly there could be an easier and quicker way for the healing process which is why I started the C3 medical research foundation with Marie.
We spend days on end in the lab trying to find the answer. We had been growing sheets of skin and placing it over burn victim’s wounds because that’s what was being done in the states, but we still weren’t happy with the healing results.
I remember one night joking around saying we should be able to spray this on, it didn’t take long and we found ourselves at the local chemist buying every spraying instrument we could find.
April: And all of this happened in the first year C3 was operating. So how exactly does method work?
Fiona: A small sample of healthy skin cells are fed and grown in a lab so they expand. They are then harvested and sprayed onto the patient’s burns while the cells are still active. The process creates less scaring and stronger skin.
“Its exciting to actually see at the end of the day we could influence the outcome of the scar.”
“A scar to me isn’t its appearance, it’s how you move and how you function. There’s much more to a scar the people thinking it looks horrible.”
April: In October 2002 the world encounted another devesting terrorist attack and your career peaked when the largest proportion of survivors arrived at the royal Perth burns unit where you directed, constructed and co-ordinated a team of 60 doctors and nurses to save and treat 28 patients with burns ranging up to 92% of their bodies, deadly infections and delayed shock. At one stage you and your team worked continually for 5 days, and you saved all 28 patients.
The aftermath of this event has propelled you into the spotlight. What effects did this event cause in your life, isn’t it strange having people stare and recognise you in public?
Fiona: Sometimes you have to Make the decision whether to engage it or not. It can be strange but “people are just so nice and the attention is so positive, it’s not unpleasant in any way. People are just saying that what I do from a professional point of view is appreciated that’s all.”
“All of a sudden after the Bali bombings the window opened my world and people wanted to know about it.”
April: In 2003 you received an award from the Australian medical association for your contribution to medicine and you were named a national living treasure. As well as being the 2005 Australian of the year award recipient.
You said before that you wanted to make a difference. Do you feel as if you have. Why do you think you received these awards?
Fiona: Being awarded, as an Australian citizen with not having being born here is, such an honour. As Australians our identities are manufactured and broken down into discourses, which state where we fit in out communities and in the society. They make up who we are and help decide who we become. I’m a middle aged female, an Australian immigrant, a wife, a mother, a university graduate, a business owner, a Doctor and a plastic surgeon just to name a few. Someone else in the world would have the same set of discourses but to me it’s how you use them and how deep a foot print you want to leave on society. There are so many remarkable people out there that are making differences in the world. I’m just lucky enough to be acknowledged for mine.
“I do believe that to this point I’ve made a difference to a significant number of situations, certainly. But it’s not enough. There’s an awful lot more work to do. So I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve achieved what I believe I could achieve, or what to achieve at this point.”
April: Through your enthusiasm, innovation and vision, you have saved and improved countless amounts of people’s lives. You have inspired many nations and medical research associations, and is a highly respected female surgeon in the fields of burns internationally and locally, for many more years to come. Thank you so much for being with us here today.