Peter Sawyer’s doctors did not know how to help.
So he lived with a smelly festering wound in his leg for 17 years.
Then, almost by chance, he walked into a specialist wound clinic – and six weeks later he was healed.
The solution was a special compression bandage. “I could not believe it,” he said on Thursday in an interview marking national wound awareness week.
Mr Sawyer, 75, had seen doctors and specialists in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney for his wound, which started as a minor gardening cut.
“It was embarrassing, expensive and messy. No one knew how to help me.”
Eventually a nurse at his Brisbane GP suggested he try the Wesley Hospital, which was conducting trials on treatments for non-healing leg ulcers.
Around 430,000 Australians, mostly older people, live with wounds that don’t heal, according to the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
However, most recover within 12 weeks if treated at a specialist clinic.
“A lot of people have wounds that don’t heal for years or decades,” says Dr Kathleen Finlayson, a QUT researcher.
Highly skilled nurses at specialist centres throughout Australia are achieving a high success rate, but too few GPs and patients know about them, she says.
One of those nurses is Michelle Gibb, who works at a wounds clinic run by the university as part of a research project.
It treats around 300 new patients a year.
“I love what I do. I see people who have been living with nasty wounds for a long time – from six months to 30 years. Most heal relatively quickly.
“They are constantly amazed.
Eighty per cent of her patients recover within 12 weeks, with the success rate rising to 94 per cent after 24 weeks.
“Some patients don’t achieve complete healing, but we can help them improve their quality of life,” she says.
“A lot of people think it is normal to live with a wound.”
People could need specialist intervention if a wound has not significantly reduced in size within four weeks, says Dr Stephen Yelland of the Australian Wound Management Association.
Most states and territories have advanced wound clinics in the major public hospitals, he says.
Barriers to proper care range from a lack of training at medical school to a lack of government subsidies for the best wound dressings and treatments, he says.