Professor Fiona Wood, AM
The strength of resilience, to face such horror, and to keep going, knowing there is a bright future ahead when we’ve seen the future of so many beautiful smiles snuffed away.
The love in their heart, that will offer that hand of friendship and forgiveness, and that energy to make sure that we all work, together, to make Australia a place we are proud of, a place we will share our privilege, we will make sure tomorrow is a better day.Professor Wood’s address at 10-year anniversary of the Bali bombings, Canberra 2012.
Professor Fiona Wood is one of Australia’s most innovative and respected surgeons and researchers. A highly skilled plastic and reconstructive surgeon and world leading burns specialist, she has pioneered research and technology development in burns medicine.
Born in the north of England, Professor Wood commenced her medical career at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School in London, where she found herself drawn to plastic surgery and recognised that she wanted a career that combined research, innovation and surgery. She worked under the supervision of the plastic surgical team consultant, Mr. Brian Mayou, who would become one of the influential people in Professor Wood’s life.
While working at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, where she developed a strong interest and experience in congenital issues such as cleft palate, Professor Wood’s curiosity was stimulated through exposure to many forms of scarring. She was accepted for a position at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Sussex, which had a burns unit, and so began the start of her lifelong dedication to burns medicine.
Move to Australia
Professor Wood moved to Australia in 1987 and not long after sought out the late Harold McComb, a brilliant plastic surgeon and Founding Member of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (Professor McComb passed away in August 2012). She describes him as ‘an extraordinary man and an extraordinary plastic surgeon. He was always questioning the boundaries and looking to improve.’ Professor McComb was an inspirational person in Professor Wood’s life, and the Fiona Wood Foundation was formerly known as the McComb Foundation, which was established in 1999.
Professor Wood completed her medical training in Australia, with two key areas of focus – cleft palates and burns, and in the early 1990s made the decision to focus on burns medicine. She became the Director of the Burns Service of WA (BSWA) in 1991.
Professor Wood’s focus from the earliest days of her work in burns has been about the quality of the outcomes for burns survivors, believing that there is more that can be done to facilitate scarless healing, in mind, body and spirit.
Knowing that collaboration is the key to the best possible outcomes, Professor Wood set up teams who shared her quest for knowledge and the translation of research into bedside treatments.
'Spray on Skin'
One of Fiona's early achievements was the development of a skin culture lab that she co-founded with scientist Marie Stoner. Professor Wood and Marie recognised the potential of tissue engineering technology to treat burns (called cultural epithelial autograph or CEA) and in 1993 developed a skin culture facility with support from a Telethon grant. Their product evolved from confluent sheets of CEA to aerosol-delivered cell-clusters, and is known as ‘spray-on skin’. This technology, commercialized through Clinical Cell Culture Pty Ltd (now AvitaMedical) is a world-first and has been used on more than 1000 patients around the world. In 2005 Professor Wood and Marie won the Clunies Ross Award (Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering for their contribution to medical science in Australia.
Traumatic global events over the past 15 years have increased the public’s knowledge of the importance of burns medicine, and Professor Wood and her team have been at the forefront of crisis response to various events. For example, they treated 28 patients in the aftermath of the Bali bombings in 2002, with Professor Wood coordinating a major operation involving four operating theatres, 19 surgeons and 130 medical staff who worked around the clock to save lives and improve the quality of life of the 25 who survived.
Professor Wood’s positions include Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia (BSWA), Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Fiona Stanley Hospital (previously at Royal Perth Hospital) and Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and Winthrop Professor (Burns Injury Research Unit) at the School of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine UWA.
She was awarded Member of the Order of Australia in 2003, the Australian Medical Association’s ‘Contribution to Medicine’ award in 2003, the 2003 and 2004 West Australian of the Year and 2005 Australian of the Year. She was voted Australia’s Most Trusted Person for six successive years (2005-2010) and has been recognised as an Australian Living Treasure.
Professor Wood believes there is always more that can be done to further the field of burns medicine – new research to be undertaken, new technologies to be discovered and new ways to treat burns survivors. She is on an ongoing quest to continue to make a difference to people’s lives.