Ob­stet­ric pi­o­neer and men­tor be­gan as a coun­try GP

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - General Appointments -

COLL Fisher, who died sud­denly on Jan­uary 9, was a hum­ble coun­try doc­tor who be­came one of Aus­tralia’s most re­spected ob­ste­tri­cians. He was di­rec­tor of Ma­ter­nal-Fe­tal Medicine and Clin­i­cal Di­rec­tor of Ob­stet­rics at Syd­ney’s Royal Hospi­tal for Women, where he worked for 35 years un­til he re­tired in 2003. He was an in­ter­na­tion­ally known ex­pert in han­dling high-risk preg­nan­cies, and one of a three-man team who pi­o­neered grey-scale ul­tra­sound tech­niques now used world­wide.

Fisher was also a re­spected clin­i­cian and teacher who de­liv­ered 3527 ba­bies in his private prac­tice and was in­volved in the de­liv­ery tens of thou­sands more pub­lic pa­tients over a 40-year ca­reer..

Cuth­bert Colling­wood Fisher was named by his doc­tor fa­ther, Ernest, af­ter Lord Nelson’s deputy at the Bat­tle of Trafal­gar — a man known for his re­li­a­bil­ity, loy­alty and benev­o­lence. Coll Fisher fol­lowed his fa­ther and older Coll Fisher MBBS (Syd­ney), FRACGP, DDU, FRACOG, FRCOG 1935— 2008 brother, Eric, into the fam­ily gen­eral prac­tice in the west­ern NSW town of West Wya­long af­ter study­ing at Scots Col­lege, the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, and com­plet­ing a two-year in­tern­ship at Syd­ney’s Royal North Shore Hospi­tal.

But af­ter four years as a coun­try GP, his de­sire to im­prove his ob­stet­ric skills took him to the Royal Hospi­tal for Women in Syd­ney. He planned to work there for two years and then re­turn to West Wya­long. But, as his brother said at the funeral ser­vice: ‘‘ The Royal knew qual­ity when they saw it, and he re­mained work­ing there un­til he re­tired.’’

By 1977 Fisher had com­pleted his spe­cial­ist stud­ies and be­came di­rec­tor of the RHW’s fe­tal in­ten­sive care unit.

In sub­se­quent years he pub­lished more than 30 ar­ti­cles, edi­to­ri­als and book chap­ters and emerged a na­tional author­ity on pre-na­tal di­ag­no­sis, fe­tal mon­i­tor­ing, rhe­sus dis­ease, fe­toscopy and high-risk ob­stet­rics.

He was an ad­viser to gov­ern­ment at both fed­eral and state lev­els, and held a variety of po­si­tions in the Royal Col­lege of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists, and its suc­ces­sor, the Royal Aus­tralian Col­lege of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists, of which he was found­ing sec­re­tary.

His prac­tice fo­cused on high-risk preg­nan­cies, in­clud­ing his pi­o­neer­ing work with moth­ers and ba­bies with HIV, and hun­dreds of calls of sym­pa­thy have come from women cred­it­ing him for their suc­cess­ful preg­nan­cies.

But Coll Fisher is per­haps best re­mem­bered as a men­tor and teacher. For­mer stu­dent Daniel Chal­lis told the funeral ser­vice that Fisher was known to his stu­dents as ‘‘ cool Coll’’ for his abil­ity to re­main un­flap­pable in the face of life-and-death emer­gen­cies and his ca­pac­ity to calmly ap­praise and and de­ter­mine the best course of ac­tion.

Chal­lis said Fisher also had a spe­cial skill in pa­tiently in­struct­ing stu­dents and in­still­ing con­fi­dence by al­low­ing them to take the lead in treat­ing their pa­tients, in­ter­ven­ing only when re­quired.

‘‘ He was equally adept at car­ing for the wives of gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and sub­stance­abus­ing sex work­ers with HIV and, quite re­mark­ably, treated all his private and pub­lic pa­tients equally,’’ Chal­lis said.

‘‘ All the staff knew he would sup­port them if there was an ad­verse out­come, as long as they had done the right thing. He taught us that we could not save ev­ery baby, and that was OK too.’’

Fisher ab­horred lazy or de­fen­sive ob­stet­rics, and railed against un­nec­es­sary use of cae­sarean de­liv­er­ies, urg­ing col­leagues and stu­dents to let na­ture take its course. He was a great sup­porter of mid­wives, and of­ten re­minded his stu­dents that they did 90 per cent of the work in labour wards.

Fisher was pas­sion­ate about opera and the cin­ema. He was also a keen sports­man who, as a young man, ex­celled at rugby and cricket.

He re­tained a keen in­ter­est in both sports in later years and was at the Syd­ney Cricket Ground with son Robert to watch Aus­tralia’s con­tro­ver­sial vic­tory over In­dia in the days be­fore his death from a heart at­tack.

Coll Fisher is sur­vived by his wife of 46 years Gil­lian, three chil­dren, four grand­chil­dren, and his brother and sis­ter.

He leaves be­hind a liv­ing legacy of gen­er­a­tions of ob­ste­tri­cians work­ing around Aus­tralia and the world who trained un­der his steady hand. Matthew Franklin

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