Bibliophile | Under Her Skin: The Life and Work of Professor Fiona Wood AM

Under Her Skin: The Life and Work of Professor Fiona Wood AM
by Sue Williams
Allen & Unwin

On 12 October this year, it will be twenty years since three bombs exploded in two popular Kuta nightspots, the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar, in Bali and killed over 200 people. Of the 52 critically injured with burns and shrapnel that were airlifted to Australian, 28 came to Perth to be cared for a team coordinated by Dr Fiona Wood.

This brought the successful and innovative burns specialist surgeon into the spotlight and Professor Fiona Wood has been recognised as a National Living Treasure and Australian of the Year. Now Sue Williams, who has 26 books to her credit, reveals the incredible person behind the headlines and her extraordinary life story.

Born in a small pit village in the north of England, Fiona’s father had been just 13 years-old when he followed his older brother into the coal mine. Five generations of her family had been coal miners but both Fiona’s parents were determined that their children would escape the mine and the small village that surrounded it.

Fiona remembers when her father rescued a neighbour, who later died from the extent of his injuries, from his burning house. She was also greatly influenced by her Quaker school’s beliefs of equal rights for girls and women with the school motto of “Not for Oneself but for Everyone”.

One of 12 women and more than 60 men studying at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in London, Fiona was told for the six years of her medical studies that she couldn’t become a surgeon because “women didn’t do surgery”. Surrounding herself with people who were supportive, she became the first female plastic surgeon in Australia when she arrived with her Australian husband Tony (who is also a surgeon) and settled in City Beach.

It is quite exhausting to keep up with Fiona as she dedicated her working life to more than just healing her patients. As a research scientist, she worked to find better ways to repair damaged skin and reduce scarring, but it seems that every advance is only possible because she has met the numerous obstacles head-on.

Keeping a fitness regime, including swimming in the ocean near her home each morning, Fiona worked at both Royal Perth and Princess Margaret Hospitals; researched how to improve the treatment of burns; tried to get money to continue her research and cared for the six children she had during that time.

Fiona tells Sue Williams about the inspiration that her brave burns patients have provided; the heartbreaks and the triumphs of her outstanding career and the criticisms, controversies and attacks she has had to endure along the way.

Still pushing boundaries, Fiona says, “I’ve used all the personal resilience I’ve developed over the years of people telling me I wasn’t university material or that women can’t be surgeons, or that I couldn’t be a surgeon with children, or that I wouldn’t be able to grown skin cells or attach them to bodies, to cope.”

Lezly Herbert

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