Champions for Children: Meet trauma surgeon Warwick Teague

This year at the RCH, we’ve seen a significant increase in preventable and severe burns presentations compared with previous years, particularly with flame burns from barbeques or fire pits. By October 2020, we had already seen 74 per cent above the average yearly presentations relating to severe burns – or almost two times the number expected for the entire year.

But the important message for parents and carers to remember is, burns are preventable. Please ensure you are always being fire safe, particularly when children are around.

In our latest Champions for Children profile, we sat down with Warwick Teague, lead burns surgeon and Director of the RCH Trauma Service, to learn more about fire safety and first aid, and how to prevent burns injuries.

What does a typical day at the RCH look like for you?
The typical day at RCH starts early and ends late with a walking commute – a moment to clear my head between home and work, work and home. In between, I’m kept busy with clinics and meetings, wards and theatres, time in the office, time on the go. Lunch is not much to speak of, and I am often running just late or am glad to be just on time. My terrible poker face usually lets people know exactly how my day is panning out, but this also means I smile a lot, seeing as I spend much of most days with some really lovely, talented and hardworking people. In some of the best moments I get to stop, with a mate, with a family, or even by myself and take the time to share a laugh and chat. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the operating, which I just love.

We’ve seen a significant increase in burns injuries this year at the RCH. What are some of the most common causes and what is the best first aid we can provide for a burns injury?

2020 has been a difficult and busy year for burns in children. There are lots of reasons for this, and no one factor or cause to point a finger at. For all sizes of burns and children, scald burns from hot water are the most common burns we see. This year, this has included oodles of noodle scalds, other cooking scalds, as well as the usual hot drink scalds. Sadly, in 2020 we have also seen a very concerning number of severe burns caused by flame, such as BBQ incidents and a very tragic house fire.

Good burns first aid is one of the most important actions any of us can take to of reduce the health impact of a burn.

The four ‘do’s’ in burns first aid are:

  1. REMOVE and clothes, nappies or jewellery,
  2. COOL the burn with running water for 20 minutes. You may need a shower, you will need a clock,
  3. COVER the cooled burn loosely with cling wrap or a clean, damp cloth, and
  4. SEEK immediate medical advice for burns bigger than a 20c coin.

The four ‘do not’s’ of burns first aid are:

  1. Do NOT use ice to cool the burn,
  2. Do NOT use ice to cool the burn,
  3. Do NOT use ice to cool the burn, and
  4. Do NOT use toothpaste, gels or flour to cool the burn. Just cool with cool running water for 20 minutes.

What’s your message for parents, carers and young people on fire safety?

It is a challenging truth for us parents, that the most common location for a child to sustain a burn is in their own home. In 2020, because of the important and life-saving social distancing measures we have all been living with, Victorian children have spent more time in their own homes than probably ever before. Therefore, it is not surprising – but still sad and concerning – that we have seen a larger than usual number of severe burns. But this was and is not inevitable, burns are preventable, and burns prevention starts with us. In response to children being home more than ever, we can all look around our homes more than ever, and take positive and effective steps to protect children from burns. The safety steps are all pretty simple things, like keep hot drinks and other hot water away from small children, use the back burner on the stove to keep pot handles out of reach of curious kids, never ever put fuel or other accelerant on an open flame – inside or outside the home, and supervise children at all times in the kitchen.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I get to meet children and families in moments of need, sometimes great and desperate need, and have the privilege of training, resources and skills that enable me to reach out and make a difference. Caring is a team game, so I get to care for children and families alongside some pretty awesome people, and we care for each other at times as well. When ‘the dust has settled’, which may be minutes, hours, days, weeks or months, I am buoyed and humbled by the smiles and gratitude looking back at me. Not every story ends this way, but I can at least start each story with the hope and encouragement the better outcomes leave with us.

Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself or something your team may not know about you?
I once got arrested and held at gun point at a Czech border crossing. Apparently having your name spelled incorrectly in your passport raises eyebrows…especially when the border guards have not even heard of your country of birth, Papua New Guinea. For that, I got a great story and a humble apology from the passport office.

What made you want to become a surgeon?
Even before I went to school I had learned a lesson that I would shape my future – surgeons got to help others, and this help made people happy. I loved to walk the wards with my Dad, who was also a surgeon, after kindergarten (later after school) and meet happy, fun and caring people…not to mention the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. I fell in love with that possibility and that opportunity, and have worked to realise my dream of being a helping surgeon ever since.

What three things would you take to a desert island?

An axe – to keep me alive, a chess set – to keep me sharp, and a sense of humour – to keep me sane.


Check out our video with Warwick and RCH Chief of Critical Care, Ed Oakley, talking about fire safety and burns first aid:

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