A marine ecologist who lost part of her scalp in a workplace accident while she was researching wound care is helping to shine a light on a "hidden epidemic".
The Shoalhaven-based Dr Pia Winberg underwent a long journey of healing after her hair got caught in a factory machine while she was working alone on her seaweed extract project in 2019.
Despite wearing all necessary protective equipment, the machine tore away a large section of her scalp and in a desperate dash for life Dr Winberg managed to scramble the 200 metres back to her office with her scalp in hand.
She was transported to St George Hospital via helicopter and, despite best efforts, surgeons were unable to reattach her scalp but were able to make a graft and her wound healed.
Ironically, Dr Winberg was working on an integral part of pre-clinical trials that uses seaweed molecules to mimic connective-tissue in human skin for healing surgical wounds faster in an effort to develop innovative techniques.
Dr Winberg is talking about her extraordinary experience and the care she received as part of Wound Awareness Week, which starts on Monday.
She received support from peak body for wound prevention and management, Wounds Australia, which has built a campaign to raise awareness and deliver innovative reform to health and aged care as chronic wounds are a largely unknown problem, despite causing great personal and financial costs.
This week, Wounds Australia will deliver a blueprint for enhancing health and aged care through the cooperation of government and the healthcare professionals.
"People don't appreciate or understand how big an impact chronic wounds have in Australia and an accident like mine demonstrates a dramatic but really good success story in how well a wound can heal given all the right support," Dr Winberg said.
"If everyone going through chronic wound recovery could experience and have access to that knowledge it would make a huge difference to the quality of life to many people."
Dr Winberg said she got to experience first-hand how the healing process worked from being a patient.
Surgeons spent six hours trying to reattach her scalp but that did not work so instead some of the top layers of her thigh skin was turned into a mesh and stapled to her skull.
"Within four weeks, I had new skin over the top of my skull and that saved my life. I wouldn't have survived with a gaping wound," she said.
Dr Winberg has had seven surgeries over the past two years where expander balloons were used to stretch the remaining parts of her scalp over her wound, and the mesh graft was removed
This has meant the skin on her skull had nerves again so it had feeling, could regulate temperature and sweat. Some of her hair was moved in the process onto the top of her head.
"My skin is 85 per cent recovered," she said. "It impressed on me the whole one-year trajectory it takes for skin to regrow and recover. I was lucky my wound did heal up amazingly."
Dr Winberg said she had to work with medical staff, nurses and pharmacists to look after her wound and change her dressings and having access to information gives patients the best chances of healing at home.
"The experience has really helped me understand the journey of what individual patients of chronic wounds go through and how important it is for Wounds Australia to tie together the whole trajectory of wound healing treatment," she said.
This year Wounds Awareness Week will focus on three streams of activity said inventor of 'spray on skin' and 2005 Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Wood.
"Every year over 420,000 Australians suffer from a chronic wound," she said.
"The first is a public awareness campaign that highlights risk factors and warning signs. We will educate people on how they can heal their wounds by simply seeking treatment.
"The second is engaging with healthcare and aged care workers to improve their skills and enhance the treatment their patients receive.
"The third is persistent lobbying of governments to implement straightforward reforms proposed by wound care experts that will slash costs and patient numbers."
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