Miss Heather Cleland is the Head of the Victorian Adult Burns Unit at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. She and her team of plastic surgeons use donated skin from the Donor Tissue Bank of Victoria to treat severely ill patients suffering from non-healing burn wounds.
According to Miss Cleland the main two groups of burns patients are young male risk takers and the elderly and frail. The number of elderly patients is increasing due to the rising aged population in Victoria.
Donated skin is used as a last resort due to the shortage of this product. It’s reserved for situations where Miss Cleland and her colleagues can no longer use the synthetic skin products that are easily accessed. These are generally situations where a patient’s wounds are infected and synthetic skin wouldn’t be tolerated by the body’s immune system. Donated skin is an invaluable resource for these patients, as it aids in controlling infection, pain management and surgical reconstruction.
As a plastic surgeon and someone who has treated severely burned patients Miss Cleland truly appreciates how precious the gift of tissue donation can be. “Obviously, at a time when someone has died, it’s incredibly difficult for the people who cared about that person,” she said.
“It’s important, I think, to have the conversation before that time comes so that your family and all the people who care about you, know what your wishes are. If that time does arrive and they have been asked to consider donation, it makes it easier knowing what you wanted.”
‘And it’s also really an opportunity for people to make a gift at a time when there might not be a lot of other positives.’ Miss Cleland said.