Trudy Davis: Appeal for help sparked outpouring of generosity

Former Mercury editor the late Peter Cullen was an important figure in the life of Trudy Davis. In 1998 he wrote the following article.

Brave: Peter Cullen, Trudy Davis and Carol Johnstone shortly before Trudy's lifesaving operation in Switzerland.

Brave: Peter Cullen, Trudy Davis and Carol Johnstone shortly before Trudy's lifesaving operation in Switzerland.

A few days ago I drove out to Albion Park to visit a very special young woman in my life.

She greeted me at the door of her home and, with a radiant look on her face, exclaimed: "PC, do you know it's 10 years today that I had the operation in Switzerland?"

So it was. The 10th anniversary of a story that gave me a mixture of emotion and pride when we sent a 17-year-old girl named Trudy Davis overseas for lifesaving neurosurgery.

People often ask me about a career highlight, the one story that warmed the soul and rated above the rest. I answer without hesitation. I say that anything you do which either saves or preserves human life goes straight to the top of the list.

This is why the Trudy Davis story is number one both in my heart and mind.

It all began on a Monday morning back in 1988 when I arrived in my office. A Mrs Davis had phoned and wanted to talk with me.

Her daughter, she said, was dying and needed urgent help and she feared doctors were dithering.

When I arrived at the Davis home in Barrack Heights, Trudy, then just 16, was slumped in a lounge chair and looked desperately ill.

She had a tumour on the brain. In the week that followed, we spoke to Sydney's best specialists.

The problem with Trudy was she had a skull-based tumour located in a complex and difficult area.

The best man in the world to do this operation was in Switzerland, one Professor Ugo Fisch.

Trudy's medical history and the relevant scans were soon on their way to Switzerland. Prof Fisch agreed to operate.

The Illawarra Mercury launched a public appeal for funds, and the response was a staggering $100,000. Everybody in the Illawarra wanted Trudy to live.

Tears flowed the day Trudy, her mum Karenne and reporter Carol Johnstone jetted out on this lifesaving mission.

Carol had written some beautiful pieces about Trudy. I recall one such story from July 2, 1988 when she wrote: "We're sitting at Bass Point. It's warm, the sky is a brilliant blue. Trudy says the sea often reflects her mood. It is calm.

"A beautiful, peaceful day and we're talking about death. Trudy's death. It seems so unreal. But it is real and no-one knows that better than Trudy Davis."

The surgery took 13 hours. I went into the Mercury office and waited by the telephone for news. This was the longest night of my life.

Near dawn, Carol phoned me to say Prof Fisch had reached a critical stage with the excision of the tumour. There was a fear, a possibility, that if he tried to excise the entire tumour, Trudy could be left severely impaired, or even die.

Carol told me the surgeon had relayed this news to Karenne. Trudy's mother, a gallant woman, told Prof Fisch to go for it.

The next two hours were tense, emotional, and I started to wonder how I could ever face up to Trudy's death. I had played a major role in sending her to Switzerland.

Emotion was getting the better of me. But the sense of guilt was overwhelming, and alone, in my office, I became depressed.

I couldn't stop the tears and I felt I had fallen into a black hole. If Trudy died, I would never forgive myself. At 7.30am my phone rang. I didn't want to answer it.

It was Geoff Davis, Trudy's dad. "Did you hear the news? Trudy made it. She made it. Prof Fisch got the whole tumour out and there's no problems."

I just cried like a kid.

In the recovery room after her surgery, Trudy phoned her dad and said: "I can smile both sides of my face."

In a few weeks, Trudy was back home, head swathed in bandages. Bedlam at Sydney Airport as every TV crew in the nation seemed to be there, thirsting for the story.

We took her home. Yes, that was 10 years ago, as Trudy reminded me the other day.

She is now the mother of a beautiful four-year-old son. She is fit and well, but has regular medical scans and checks.

I see her quite regularly. Carol has also maintained a friendship. We talk a lot about Trudy.

We have helped many kids with public appeals. They are all special to me.

But Trudy, she's the miracle girl. She's the one I will never forget.

I thank the Illawarra Mercury and the powers that be for giving me the opportunity to be involved in the saving of a human life.

A newspaperman can hope for nothing better than that.


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