Aussie Burns Expert Arrives in Yogyakarta

YOGYAKARTA ~ Australian burns specialist Fiona Wood, who flew on Thursday to Indonesia to help survivors of the Yogyakarta plane disaster, is a renowned expert noted for her work on victims of the Bali bombings.

Wood pioneered a so-called “spray-on skin” treatment for burns victims and was acclaimed for her work handling survivors of the 2002 Bali bombing.

Her dedication won her the title Australian of the Year in 2005.

Wood was among a number of Australian experts who flew to Indonesia to help treat survivors of Wednesday’s disaster in Yogyakarta, when a Garuda Indonesia plane ploughed off the runway and burst into flames.

At least 21 people died in the inferno, according to officials, but more than 100 survived.

A spokesman for Australia’s foreign affairs department told AFP Wood would visit hospitals and assess the condition of survivors, many of whom suffered severe burns.

“You couldn’t get a better person on the spot to assist,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard said earlier on Thursday.

“She readily agreed to go and that is a measure of the person.”

The 48-year-old, a mother of six, moved to Perth from her native Britain in 1987 after marrying an Australian surgeon.

Her work in forging a mass-scale disaster plan for the Royal Perth Hospital and groundbreaking research into “spray-on skin” were put to the ultimate test by the Bali attacks carried out by Indonesian Islamic extremists.

Wood and her scientific research partner, Marie Stoner, had spent years in developing spray-on skin, a technique that allows surgeons to take cells from the healthy skin on a burns patient and spray them onto the damaged area.

The process is designed to allow skin cells to regenerate far more quickly than if they are grown in sheets in a traditional laboratory culture, thereby reducing subsequent scarring, infections and the need for surgery.

Wood and her team worked around the clock for five days straight treating the 28 victims airlifted to Perth, some of whom had severe burns to more than 90 percent of their bodies.

She lost only three patients, forming a close bond with many who survived, including Tracey Ball, who said last year: “She’s beyond amazing. I couldn’t sing her praises enough. Sometimes I think she’s an angel.”

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