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NCV Spring Dinner

Tuesday 26 November, 2013
by Jonathan Billingham
Dr Brian Owler is a neurosurgeon with a heart to prevent unnecessary injuries.

Would you rather:

a) Miss the start of the footy?; or
b) Run a red light, T-bone another car and give your mate brain damage?
Should you:
a) Arrive a few minutes into the film?; or
b) Rush, lose control in the rain and snap your girlfriend’s spine?

The guest speaker at the 2013 NCV Spring Dinner too often sees the trauma when motorists get it wrong.

Dr Brian Owler is a neurosurgeon with a heart to prevent unnecessary injuries and fatalities inflicted through accidents caused by a lack of care or just plain irresponsible behaviour. Already, in his life, Dr Owler has achieved much as a surgeon. Yet, perhaps it is in the areas of public health and safety policy and in the pursuit of improving medical practices that Dr Brian Owler has made the biggest contribution. You will probably recognise him from the challenging road safety television advertisements in which he appears.

At the NCV Spring Formal Dinner, Dr Owler challenged and encouraged the NCV community by sharing some powerful stories of tragedy and hope. Road accidents are not the only category of avoidable tragedies that he is working to prevent; as the following graphic and tragic description from his address to the NCV community illustrates.

“When a toddler falls out of a high window they usually fall head first. Instinctively they put their arms out in front of them as they descend. Often they have gone through a flyscreen - their parents not even having realised the risk. As the child hits the ground both their wrists are broken before their skull is shattered and the child’s spine is broken”.

Dr Brian Owler speaks at the NCV Formal Dinner

Dr Owler takes no delight in describing this terrible but common situation. Outside the operating theatre he is the President of the New South Wales Australian Medical Association. In that role Dr Owler is working with the NSW Government to educate parents about the risks of their children playing near open windows. Speaking to the NCV community, Dr Owler shared how important it is to build support through the media to influence government policy. In this instance a media campaign was generated by releasing a statement every time a toddler fell through a window. The government was compelled to take action leading to new building codes for strata dwellings. Dr Owler hopes this will help prevent toddlers from falling out of windows.

Dr Owler challenged the whole NCV community, and particularly those on track to work in a medical profession, to always be looking for ways to improve work practices. He cited as an example his own initiative to improve the emergency care provided to patients living outside metropolitan areas.

In the past if a person sustained a serious brain injury in a rural or regional area it was necessary to transfer the patient, by road and helicopter or aeroplane, to a large metropolitan hospital where a surgeon could operate. While this is still sometimes necessary, it usually is preferable to minimise the need for a patient to travel after sustaining a brain injury. Convinced that better care could be provided to people in country areas, Dr Owler spearheaded a campaign to send both surgeons and patients to the closest hospital to the scene of the accident.

Now if someone sustains a brain injury in a country town like Dubbo, a surgeon on duty in a metropolitan hospital may be flown to the regional hospital where the causality is first taken. There the surgeon can lead a local team of medical professionals to perform whatever procedure is necessary. The time saved by not having to prepare the patient for safe transportation to a metropolitan hospital can be the difference in whether or not surgery can save a life.

As well as the thought-provoking talk the Spring Formal Dinner was a wonderful occasion for the community to share a delicious meal and hear the NCV Band perform a tribute to Johnny Farnham. Formal Dinners are just one example of why NCV and New College are far more than just a place to live while studying at the University of New South Wales.