Hope after trauma

08 Feb 2024

“I’m a beach bum and don’t know much about farming, but there I was with an axe in my hand,” says Peter.

Peter Colquhoun

Peter Colquhoun has lived in the public eye for more than two decades. Many will know him as the resident architect on the award-winning lifestyle television show, “Better Homes and Gardens".

On a cold, stormy winter afternoon in 2021 while holidaying near the Blue Mountains, his life took a dramatic turn that nobody saw coming.

“Safety is always top of mind and when it comes to splitting wood,” says Peter. “I’d normally have my sunglasses on for protection, but it had gotten dark early, so I took them off.”

“The axe went down on the last log I planned to split and a bit of it bounced off the concrete and into my right eye,” says Peter.

“Straight away I knew this was a proverbial ‘bullet’ that I wasn’t going to dodge. I also knew I had to get to Sydney Eye Hospital immediately,” he says.

Peter Colquhoun and his mum

Peter’s mum has suffered for many years with eye diseases and infections. As fate would have it, all in her right eye.

“I remember spending time by my mother’s bedside at Sydney Eye Hospital and she’d say to me, ‘Listen, if anything happens with your eyes you’ve got to come to this hospital.’ That was when I was seven years old. Fifty years later they were the first words that came to me,” says Peter.

Alex Chorney, Alex Hamilton, James Leong and June Adetia

Dr Alex Chorney, Dr Alex Hamilton, Dr James Leong and Dr June Adetia

Dr James Leong, a surgeon instrumental in setting up the Sydney Eye Hospital Trauma team explains that our eyes are one of our most complex sensory organs. When an eye is damaged, multiple areas of sub-specialty and expertise are needed to address its different parts.

“When someone has a serious eye injury, a coordinated approach across cornea, retina, glaucoma and plastics specialists is vital in order to strategically plan surgeries and rehabilitation,” says Dr Leong.

The extent of Peter’s injuries was immediately apparent to Dr Alex Hamilton, the specialist who first saw Peter in the emergency department and who took a lead role in the Trauma team caring for him.

“The splinter had a catastrophic effect on Peter’s cornea, lens and iris. He was completely blinded in his right eye. All he could perceive was light and dark,” says Dr Hamilton.

“To restore any useable vision, a team of sub-specialists had to create, match and implant an artificial iris along with performing reconstructive lens and cataract surgery,” he says.   

Peter, Drs Hung and Dr Hamilton

Dr Hamilton, Dr Hung and Peter

Iris surgery is incredibly complicated and rare, let alone the other procedures that were necessary. The collaborative efforts of the Sydney Eye Hospital Trauma team meant that Peter could have multiple complex surgeries done in one day rather than over an extended period with numerous anaesthetics. 

In addition, by having the surgery at Sydney Eye Hospital, a public hospital, all the expertise is available freely to the Australian community.

“My family would have done anything to get me in front of the best surgeons on the planet,” says Peter. “We didn’t have to do that. Sydney Eye Hospital is the best.”

“I was anxious about the day of the big operation. But when I met the team, I felt confident. I could tell they all knew what they were doing,” Peter says.

The Trauma team and the multi-disciplinary program it offers is still in its infancy, but already it’s giving hope to patients like Peter.

With more funding from the Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation, this sight-saving service can be expanded to become a platform for collaboration nationally and internationally promoting prevention, teaching and research.

“An accident like that happens in the blink of an eye,” says Peter. “But in my case, if I’d blinked, I’d probably have been okay! So, in less than a blink of an eye, my life changed.”

“Our vision is our greatest asset. For me, it’s not only my livelihood, but it is also my life - I’m a visual person. It was scary that my major asset was compromised,” says Peter.

“Now, thanks to this world-class hospital in my hometown, my eye was saved,” he says.

“Acting on my mother’s words all those decades ago and trusting the medical team at Sydney Eye Hospital was the right call.”