Out of the ashes grows hope

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Bruce Rock farmers Jane and Kevin Fuchsbichler with world leading burns specialist Fiona Wood at Fiona Stanley Hospital's burns department.
Camera IconBruce Rock farmers Jane and Kevin Fuchsbichler with world leading burns specialist Fiona Wood at Fiona Stanley Hospital's burns department. Credit: Countryman

Touring the burns unit at Fiona Stanley Hospital last week, Bruce Rock farmer and long-standing CBH director Kevin Fuchsbichler could not believe his eyes.

A state-of-the-art occupational therapy facility, plenty of windows and spacious rooms overlooking manicured gardens — WA’s main burns unit looks a little different to when Mr Fuchsbichler needed help after a normal day on the farm turned tragic and left him with burns to 37 per cent of his body 15 years ago.

He was feeding sheep and burning off in April 2005 when a jerry can fell over in the tray of his ute and caught on fire — quickly spreading under and over the top of the ute and destroying the car’s brakes.

After realising he would not be able to stop the ute, Mr Fuchsbichler rolled himself out the driver’s side door while travelling 40km/h and fell into the stubble below.

“I was trying to slow the ute down enough to get out, but the fire went under the cab and the floor mats were bubbling,” he said.

“I was running out of air but when I tried to open the door, flames would pour in.”

With his clothes and body scorched, he ran about 1km to his firefighting unit and poured about 25 litres of water on himself before a farm worker who saw the blaze came to his aid and took him to Bruce Rock Hospital.

He ended up in Royal Perth Hospital’s Burns Unit for six months, kickstarting four years of rehab which included a year of not being able to do any farm work at all.

He needed skin grafts for full thickness burns across 30 per cent of his body which were particularly worse across his hands, arms and back and have left him scarred.

Mr Fuchsbichler was last week invited to tour WA’s multimillion-dollar burns unit at Fiona Stanley Hospital and to learn more about how the $25,000 donated by CBH members in recent years had been used.

I was running out of air but when I tried to open the door, flames would pour in.

Kevin Fuchsbichler

With a quiver in his voice, Mr Fuchsbichler said he was amazed at just how far burns rehabilitation had come in WA.

“It was quite moving, because the last time I was in a burns unit I was in a pretty bad condition,” he said.

“The recovery time is horrific. You will never be the same again. I was just blown away by how nice the burns unit is ... you can look out the window and see plants, you can see hills on the escarpment.”

One of his strongest memories of the burns unit was when he tried to make a piece of toast with Vegemite but was unable to lift it to his mouth due to the tightness and severity of his burns.

WA grain growers — including Mr Fuchsbichler — have donated $25,000 to the Fiona Wood Foundation by forfeiting grain from overloaded trucks.

The money was used to create a burns education portal on the Fiona Wood Foundation website and a burns quick reference guide for regional and remote clinics.

Bruce Rock farmers Jane and Kevin Fuchsbichler with Fiona Stanley Hospital burns department clinical nurse consultant Sharon Rowe and clinical nurse Kim Bowen, who looked after Mr Fuchsbichler in 2005.
Camera IconBruce Rock farmers Jane and Kevin Fuchsbichler with Fiona Stanley Hospital burns department clinical nurse consultant Sharon Rowe and clinical nurse Kim Bowen, who looked after Mr Fuchsbichler in 2005. Credit: Countryman

Dozens of hour-long sessions focused on burns have been placed on the website to give regionally-based staff across WA the chance to access them.

Fiona Wood Foundation holds a monthly education session at Fiona Stanley Hospital or Perth Children’s Hospital, allowing all healthcare workers to dial in and view the hour-long sessions.

But depending on shifts and workload the sessions can be missed, so the online sessions were created for their easy access.

The money was also used to create a burns quick reference guide in magnet form for regional and remote clinics, giving staff a step-by-step guide to assess a burn inquiry and help understand what information will be needed when they telephone the State Adult Burns Unit at Fiona Stanley Hospital or Perth Children’s Hospital’s Burns Unit.

Dr Wood thanked CBH members for their donation, which she said would directly benefit WA farmers.

“The donation from this program will support our Telehealth education program, which directly benefits rural and regional areas in WA,” she said.

“For a State as vast as ours, this service enables regional communities to have clinical appointments in their local areas.

Our new Telehealth education program will enable healthcare workers to remotely access our education series, their increased knowledge directly benefiting the community.”

It was quite moving, because the last time I was in a burns unit I was in a pretty bad condition.

Kevin Fuchsbichler

The money was donated through the Harvest Mass Management Scheme, a unique grain-selling scheme put in place in 2012 that allows farmers with trucks loaded above legal tolerance limits to forfeit tonnes at CBH bins to raise money for charities.

The grain is sold by CBH and profits donated to charities helping in regional WA.

Mr Fuchsbichler said he hoped the education sessions would help to “standardise care” of burns victims across regional and remote WA.

“This will mean a nurse anywhere in WA can be trained... it will give us trained nurses in the country capable of looking after us,” he said.

Mr Fuchsbicler was quick to urge others working on farms to always be vigilant with their safety.

“Wearing more clothes can help... I wasn’t wearing my fire overalls that day. Have a fire plan in place and know it.”

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