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with her spray-on skin coming to the rescue of burns victims. This dynamic mother of six kids was
made Australian of the Year in 2005. This week's talking head is Dr Fiona Wood. THEME MUSIC Fiona
Wood, it's lovely to meet you.


Thank you for coming on Talking Heads.

It's a pleasure.

What is spray-on skin?

Well, spray-on skin is skin cells taken from an individual from an area that is not damaged, that
is regenerating all the time and those skin cells have a capacity to keep repairing themselves and
replacing themselves, I should say. So we use the capacity of the body in a non-injured site and we
harvest all those actively growing cells and we put the cells, the skin cells, into a wounded site
to sort of change the balance, to help assist in healing.

It's a solution that you actually literally spray on.

Yes, yes.

Spray into the wound.

Initially we started, like many people around the world, growing skin cells into sheets of
epidermis, the surface layer of the skin. There's a lot of problems with that. It takes a long
time, it's fragile, it's difficult to use, and after a while we thought, "Well, we've got to be
able to think about how to do this better." And to cut a long story short, spraying on seemed a
good idea at the time and that's part of what we do now. I mean, we're always trying to get it
better, always looking at enhancing the quality of we do but certainly that's where we are at the

Now, your early days were in the mining villages of Yorkshire. How about we take a look there.

I was actually born in the west of Yorkshire. I was the third child and my older two brothers were
born at home in the village Upton and by the time I came along my parents have moved to another
mining village Frickley, and I was born in the closest hospital, which was in Hemsworth. So it was
lots of very small villages all clustered around a pit, so that they were all related to that given
mine. My father, he worked down the mine until he went into the air force for a few years and was a
great sportsman, a soccer player. In fact, he played for Nottingham Forest at one stage. He had a
bad injury, he broke his leg, and found himself back down the mine. With respect to the mine, my
father really didn't like being in that environment and it was very obvious to me as a young child
that he was significantly grumpier when he got home from work than the days he didn't work.


NEWS REPORTER: Day 100 in the coalminers strike. It began with a familiar spectacle of thousands of
police and thousands of demonstrators facing each other and people saying, as they have done day
after day, "This can't be happening in Britain."

I remember being very impatient, sitting on my dad's shoulders waiting for Arthur Scargill to shut
up with his speeches to the miners as the union leader, but in retrospect it was obviously quite a
difficult time and we were right in the middle of the prolonged strikes. Things that were very,
very different and they've never recovered. My father was a very academic sort of character in that
he had a scholarship to go to Grammar School but wasn't allowed to pursue that by his family. And
so he has a mind like a steel trap and he felt very strongly that we had to explore our potential
with respect to sport and education, to give us a choice in life. My mother's very much a go-getter
and when I was about 13 I used to walk past the Society Friends, a Quaker school, and I used to
think, "Oh, mum, I'd love to go there." They had these 'Harry Potter' cloaks that went down to the
ground with pale blue woollen lining and a little hood and maybe cloaks. They all looked so happy
and wandered around in this ethereal fashion and I had no concept of what private education cost or
anything like that, but my mother true to form went along 'cause she saw a job advertised as a
matron and she came out of that interview as the phys. ed. teacher, and I went as a staff child
within six months. She'd sorted it. In 1975 I went to St Thomas' Hospital Medical School and I was
one of 12 women. And I remember thinking it was very strange that there was no ladies toilets on
certain floors of the block just because there'd not been that many before. I think that a number
of people didn't consider it appropriate that I would pursue a surgical career, but I didn't
consider it appropriate that they should tell me. I'd sort of ignore that. My standard line was,
"I'm really good at embroidery so just watch out."

Well, from those early days in Yorkshire what was so special about being brought up in that mining
village culture for you?

I think I was just extraordinarily lucky to have the parents that I had. That, really, even in that
quite austere environment could see that there was something special in everyone and certainly for
them in their four children there was something very special worth nurturing and I think if
everybody stands back and really looks hard then the vast majority of us would find that. And it's
something to hold onto because it gives you that strength going forward.

There's something too about the mining village culture of England. It's dirty work, dangerous work.
At the same time there's a strong intellectual curiosity of a lot of people. There's strong sense
of community.

There certainly WAS a strong sense of community. Like, as I said, it's never recovered. It's never
recovered from that period in the late '70s, in the disintegration, if you like, of those
communities because the unemployment soared as a result of the mine closures. The awareness of my
parents have both been, my dad in the RAF just after the war, my mum in the WAF, and so they both
travelled and so they had this awareness that there was a much bigger world out there and that it
was there for us to explore if we chose to do so and worked hard enough to facilitate that. My
mother's great line was, "Grasp the nettle with two hands, girl, "because if you don't somebody
else will."

Ackworth the Quaker school, was that... Do you see that as an escalator for you?

Oh, certainly. It was a real eye-opener to go there and to have the level of education that I did.

Looks like a beautiful school.

Oh, it was fantastic. It was just paradise as far as I was concerned and also to the sort of ethos.
The school motto was "Non Sibi Sed Omnibus"...

You have to translate.

"Not for oneself but for others". And the engagement in the community in a very different way, from
the Quakers, were something that certainly I was exposed to, I watched, I learned from and it was a
very... You know, when you're 13 to 16 you absorb the different things around you and learn from
them and work out where you fit in this whole jigsaw.

Now, as you're bright, you do very well at school, you do medicine, I'm interested in this choice
of burns though, as a... You know, when you thought about the electives you could have chosen, I
suppose, for surgery.

Well, I think very early on, first day, I was gonna be a surgeon, I thought, "Oh, this is where
it's at.'


Oh, it was just fascinating. I was fascinated by anatomy and I just thought, "This is it. "If a
surgeon puts this back together "then this is where I want to be." And as I went through the
various levels of surgery, I mean, again I'm a great believer you can learn something from
everywhere and as I went through I thought burns was a really interesting mix of that initial
resuscitation, keeping the person alive, with the demands in the intensive care environment and
understanding pain measures and all that and the stress responses, and then you have the surgery
and then you have the rehabilitation. And those three phases are all merged but they're merged with
one thing behind that, the person. And I guess, early on, that for me surgery wasn't as purely a
technical exercise, though that is something that stimulates me and it challenges me, that
technical exercise, but it was more than that. For a period of time this person's life journey is
changed such that they need your help and it's a privilege to help at that point in time. But it's
that whole person that you're helping. And to actually bring all that together is the ultimate

Well, as it turned out a marriage brought you to Australia.


Let's take a look at what followed.

I came to Australia 19 years ago. I came because I married a West Australian. When we met he made
it very clear that, "You marry me, we live in Perth." My mother was a bit distressed it wasn't
Scotland but his accent was certainly not a Scottish one, but I remember thinking at the time,
"I'll decide who I marry - one, "and I'll decide where I live - number two." Who would want to live
anywhere else? The spray-on skin story, I look back and I think, "Well, at one stage it was 10
years of my working life," and now I think it's nearer 15.

So if it's not healed by then that's when we have to go to the operating theatre, remove the rest
of the bone and then put the spray-on skin on. Maybe some from your bottom as well.

Yeah, yeah.


In many ways it's never going to be completed because we're always going to be trying to improve
the technology of healing. But essentially it started for me in 1985. When I saw the burns patients
and I saw that we needed something radical to actually cover these large areas, that had to be
more... They had to be smarter than traditional split-thickness skin grafting. We had to be able to
do this better. And that was, I guess, the gauntlet that I threw down to myself. On the Sunday
morning after the Bali bombing I got a call from the registrar, who is a very close friend of my
senior registrar, who actually on Saturday had left for his holiday to Bali. Our first patients
arrived in the early hours of the morning and they were the most severe patients, the most severely
injured. And my overwhelming memory of that is the relief on their faces as they arrived at Royal
Perth and spoke to us just before they were incubated for ventilation and for the treatment to
commence, that relief on their faces. We were full at the time, so we started putting our disaster
plan into action. And as the Sunday developed it became apparent that there was going to be a
significant need, not just for the Perth Burns Unit but for the Australian Burns community as a
whole. When the Bali bombing situation arose we did in fact deal with 15% of our annual workload in
a day, but it's the sort of situation that we've been training for for a long period of time and
when you're involved in it and actually active in doing things it's a very motivating situation
because you are able to influence those lives, not always to a positive outcome but we did our

What were the hardest moments for you in dealing with Bali?

I think it's always, looking back, I wouldn't put it in that way. I find that a difficult question
to answer, "What were the hardest things?" because there were so many people doing so many things
that were actually really positive and my overwhelming feeling, like I say, "You can never do
anything in isolation." It was a real privilege to be Leader of the Burns Team, it is on a daily
basis, but even more so at the period of time. But when I stood back after three weeks, when of the
28 patients we only had four left in the hospital and we had a bit of a mass exodus as everybody
went home and healed, I just thought, "Why is it that we only see so much positive energy "in
response to such a profound negative?" And I think that wasn't the hardest thing but that was my
overwhelming feel, that I saw so much good in so many people and one of my colleagues said at the
time, "We'll never live through anything quite like this "and it's been a real privilege to do so,
to be able to help," they said at that time. And I certainly agree with him but to a point. "Why
can't we actually lift our game? "Why can't all of us actually just give that bit more?"

When you talk about people going home to heal, you're talking about patients there, but I imagine
the medical team needed to do their own healing as well.

Well, I think we... Certainly I knew that we were in there for the long haul and there's things
being said that we worked day and night for five days but we didn't, we did sleep, we did eat. I
was very, very conscious that I needed the people to come back the next day and the next day and
the next day. So we did have rosters and we did have enforced down time. So there was that period
of time so we were able to sustain this, not through a sprint but it was a marathon. But at the
end, I think the healing at the end is ongoing and I met a lady last night who a close friend lost
a child in Bali. That keeps it, that floods back. I see that and it floods back. That's kind of
what we live with on a daily basis. There are certain instances that are, you close your eyes at
night and they are there with you, and Bali is just like one huge episode that you can't forget,
and nor should you.

Well, in my lifetime, I don't think besides September 11, has there been a more shocking thing for
its impact on Australia. It traumatised us.

Yes, absolutely.

You had a job to do.


You were right in the thick of that doing good but did you also get traumatised by it?

I think in some ways the people that are involved in actually facilitating an outcome and trying
really hard to learn all the time, to make sure that the people get the best possible outcome and
quality of scarring, all that, are so focused that I think in some ways we're not isolated. And,
certainly, I think we lost... We didn't lose optimism, I say we lost innocence in that period of
time but because we are actually doing things it is actually a much more positive situation for us
and therefore we can put it in a framework that protects us.

I can't understand, I can't connect to because it seems so terrible, the suffering of burns victims
in particular, perhaps above any other human injury.

I think it is interesting in that we are so much better at it than we were and we're getting better
all the time. And I see suffering every day. People ask me, "Why do you keep going?" And I think,
well, because one day we'll be able to do this such that we can reduce that suffering all the time.
Reduce it, reduce it and one day maybe we will be able to do it without a whole heap of this
suffering happening. And so that's the motivative to keep going.

As you watch these people suffer right through your career, how do you draw strength from them? How
do they manage to get through?

I think people are astonishing and they are inspirational because how an individual can take on
that level of suffering and then come back stronger is a mystery to me because you see it and you
just think, "Where did that strength come from?" And for that you've got to work damned hard to
make sure that even if the person doesn't survive that every lesson you can learn from that you
store away because you never know when it will help somebody coming behind and nobody ever goes
through that. I guess my philosophy, my aim, is that nobody ever goes through that kind of
suffering and for it not to be of use to someone else.

Let's take a look at what keeps you going day to day.

I think the beach is something that's very special to me because it was such a special treat in
England. It may sound strange to go to the seaside for two weeks a year. It was very special when
you think the seaside was the North Sea. And certainly I look at this and think, "Wow, this is a
beach." You know that feeling of being fit is very important, I think and I think it certainly
helps you cope and I feel that I'm able to do more because I have energy, because I maintain that
energy through exercise. My bike, I guess, is the one thing that no-one else touches or uses. You
know what it's like with lots of kids. Probably because I was a runner for many, many years and I
find it difficult to find something where you could get that level of exertion but without the
joint impact and certainly cycling does that. When you start to think about sport I think it
teaches you an awful lot of lessons and it teaches you how to win and to lose gracefully hopefully,
which occurs more often. So it teaches life's lessons but there's no substitute in my book, for
education, because that gives you choice.

Mum, what's for dinner?

Well, it's barbecue because Josh and Zorbs are coming around.



My kids are all very active, they're all very involved kids. Very lucky to be their mum, I reckon.

Mum, dad wants to know if I'm doing the run this weekend.

I thought that'd be a good idea but it's an Olympic distance and I told him you won't be allowed to
do it.

Yeah, I know, but he said that it's shorter.

We were brought up as kids to understand that being fit and healthy is part of life and certainly
that's the way I brought my kids up. I'll feed you and clothe you, educate you and I'll make sure
you're fit and healthy, sort of thing. And so sport has always been an integral part of my life and
we love watching sport but much more so participating. I learnt a long time ago, in fact, around a
particular individual that I was treating that the only thing I can do on any given day is my best.
The only thing I can expect or ask of all my colleagues on the team around me is their best. That's
all we can do. And the concept of whether our best is good enough is really not a question that we
should be asking. What we should be asking is, how can we make our best better?

The Australian of the Year for 2005 is Dr Fiona Wood.


The question of how my colleagues see me is probably that I'm quite clearly the wrong person to be
asking, you should ask them. I think they'd probably think I'm a little bit mad really.

Ah. Is it true? Are you a little bit mad?

Oh, absolutely. I'm mad, passionate, obsessive. All sorts of different things. All mixed up, I
guess. Yeah, I think there has to be a level of... ..of fight as well. A level of doing something
with a level of aggression such that you will keep moving forward, that you will not be deflated
from your path. That is the focus. My focus from a professional point of view is scar-less healing.
We have achieved it in some people, some of the time in my lifetime and for that I'm eternally
grateful but we haven't sorted out the problems. We have not achieved it in everybody all of the
time. We can't deliver that. And that's gonna take an enormous amount of energy and I need to not
only from my energy to drive forward and keep moving that forward with that kind of passion but
also almost aggression and ferocity but also to get everybody to come with me because this is a big
jigsaw and the jigsaw pieces I haven't got the intellectual capacity or the time or energy to
actually manufacture all these pieces of jigsaw, but I know where I can find them. I go and I see
amazing science being done, I think, "Whoa, can we work together? "Because that is one of the
pieces of the jigsaw, "I can see that it will fit "and I can see I can help you with maybe a little
bit of yours "but you can help me with mine." So to actually use that energy not just for that
forward progress but to say, "Come on, guys, this is exciting, this wave is building "and we can
make a difference, not just in skin but beyond skin."

Back there we saw you kind of fob off the question of what do people think of you, and what do you
think your colleagues think of you for example, but inevitably whilst you want to be collaborative
there is this intense competitiveness, isn't there? And a lot of this is about, for everyone, is
about ego. It can't be anything else.

Well, I don't. Maybe I'm naive. I know I'm a rabid optimist because I think if we could use that
energy of ego and change it into the energy of progress we would be flying to the moon for our
holidays. I think actually that level of competition is erosive and it's not actually, we can
harness it in a better way, let's put it that way. I think we can harness it in a better way to
make more forward progress. And I'm sure I've had enormous support from a vast number of my
colleagues and it's fantastic. But not all of them. And that's life, yet I'm not going to engage
with that negative because that sucks them out of energy that I want to use in a positive way. And
I want to connect with people that are positive and I want to connect with people who are actually
in the same kind of... It does not matter which one of us solves this problem, that we solve the
problem. Because what matters is that what should drive us all is look at that suffering every day
and we can impact on that. That's what should drive us. Not the ego of, "I am the one that actually
found the answer."

Do you feel that the scepticism expressed by some surgeons about whether CellSpray works is part of
that whole ego game?

Well, I'm not sure. Do I feel that? I really am, I'd have to say, I don't spend a lot of time
worrying about it because it's by far the minority. The kind of work we do isn't just done in
Western Australia, the particular sprays, certainly we've put that forward and put it on the map
but we're all working around it and trying to get it better. And there are other groups around in
the world, they're the people I connect with because they are people I can learn more from rather
than a minority who say, "Oh, it doesn't work and we'll prove it doesn't work." I'm like, "Well,
fine, but then let's give us something "that works better. "Then come and talk to me." Because is
this about ego? I don't know but it's not my problem. My problem is the person in front of me doing
the best for them on the day and working out who in the world's gonna help me make that better. And
so I guess it's really difficult for me to answer that question 'cause I really make a conscious
effort not to go down a negative route because it takes too much energy and energy and time is so

The Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia has approved CellSpray. The Food and Drug
Administration in the US hasn't. The Canadians have.


The shares in the company are up and down like a yoyo.


How does that impact on you?

Not at all. In that, my motivation for C3 is not personal gain. My motivation for C3 is for
royalties to the McComb Foundation to underpin our research and those royalties are collected to
give us that sort of base and they're slowly building.

Away from all of that, back home... ..with the six kids and with Tony your husband, I mean, is it a

Absolutely, yeah. He's the sort of rock, if you like. The barrier which we all retreat behind. The
person who keeps us safe. The person who is obsessively private and therefore we won't talk about
him anymore.

How do you switch off? Or do you really switch off?

I'm not good at doing nothing, something that my family recognise. Not long ago at a birthday I was
brought into the house, it was as I came home, they blindfolded me and sat me down, chocolates in
one hand, wine in the other, video o n. It's hard for me to sit through a whole movie. And they
held me down while they... It was 'Notting Hill'. 'Cause they figured that that was suitably tame
and would keep me laughing and they thought it was a funny movie as well.

Well, it must have been hard for you to sit through this. Thank you very much.

Oh, it's been pleasure.

And that's Dr Fiona Wood. We'll be back with another Talking Heads next week. If you'd like to look
at our website, we're at: And I look forward to your company soon. THEME MUSIC And next week on
Talking Heads Graeme Bell.

It wasn't really until I was in my early twenties that I was corrupted into jazz by my brother and
eventually I got to like it, but I never imagined it would be my profession.

ANNOUNCER: Next week on 'The Cook and the Chef' Maggie and Simon put their twist on the

SIMON: Toad in the hole.

I've never had Toad in the Hole.

You're gonna love it.

Food to warm your heart. That's 'The Cook and the Chef' Wednesday at 6:30.

This program is not subtitled

This program is captioned live. Tonight - bowing to the inevitable. John Howard caves on his asylum

I'm disappointed, but this is the situation.

The Government converts to gas to ease the petrol pain. And fierce fighting preceeds a cease-fire
in Lebanon. Good evening, Virginia Haussegger with ABC News. John Howard has caved in to the most
serious backbench rebellion since he came to power and abandoned his tough border protection
legislation. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone warned the backdown could make it harder to fight
terrorism. Indonesia accused Australian politicians of signalling that the door is open to asylum
seekers. The message to John Howard was writ large on high.