Woman Wood, Fiona (1958 - )

AM, Australian National Living Treasure, Australian of the Year (2005)

Yorkshire, England
Burns Specialist and Plastic Surgeon

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Fiona Wood was born in a Yorkshire mining village in 1958, the third child and first daughter in a family of four. Her father was a miner and her mother a youth worker and teacher. Wood studied medicine at St Thomas' Hospital in London, graduating in 1981, after which she undertook general surgery training. In 1987 she migrated to Perth, Western Australia, with her Australian husband Tony Kierath, a surgeon, and their two young children. She completed her training in plastic surgery in Perth and went on to become head of the burns unit at the Royal Perth Hospital, while also working as a consultant plastic surgeon at the Royal Perth and Princess Margaret hospitals. During this period, she and Kierath had four more children.

In 1993, Wood began collaborating with medical scientist Marie Stoner to work on tissue engineering as a means to more effective ways of treating burns. Their research led to the development of a 'spray-on skin' technique that greatly reduces permanent scarring in burns victims. Wood and Stoner began using skin cells in suspension in 1995 and in 1999 they founded the private company Clinical Cell Culture (C3) (later Avita Medical Ltd). In that year, the two also established the not-for-profit McComb Burns Research Foundation to advance the research and development of innovative tissue engineering technologies. The foundation's vision was to 'improve the quality of outcomes for burn patients, improve patient quality of life and return a patient to their pre-injury condition'. (Fiona Wood Foundation). In 2012, the organisation was renamed the Fiona Wood Foundation.

Wood had been emerging as a leader in significant medical research for some years, but it was in 2002, after the bombings in Bali, that her achievements gained wider recognition in Australia. Many of the Australian bomb victims were flown to Perth for medical attention. In total Wood and her team treated twenty-eight people from the disaster. In 2007, she travelled to Indonesia to help with the emergency burns treatment of survivors of another international tragedy, the Garuda flight 200 crash landing.

Wood's involvement in the medical response to these disasters inspired a high level of public awareness of and admiration for her personally, and for her work as an innovative medical research scientist. She has also inadvertently became a spokeswoman of sorts for working mothers, as she and Kierath raised their six children while both pursued demanding careers. The experience, and some of the criticism she received from women in particular while juggling work and motherhood, has led her to argue that women should be more supportive and less judgemental of each other and their choices. 'The greatest achievement in my life is my kids, she said in a speech marking International Women's Day 2013, admitting that at times she had felt guilty about the conflicting demands on her time, 'the guilt is something you mature out of but it takes a while' (Emery).

In 2003, she was awarded an AM and the Australian Medical Association's Contribution to Medicine Award; in 2004, she was named WA Citizen of the Year, declared an Australian National Living Treasure by the National Trust and awarded a Doctor of Letters from the University of Western Australia. In 2005 she was named Australian of the Year and WA Australian of the Year and she and Marie Stoner were joint recipients of the Clunies Ross Award. Wood continues to lead innovative research with the goal of achieving totally scarless healing for burns.

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