A man of many talents

Director of Burns Services at Sydney’s Concord Hospital Dr Peter Haertsch talks to AMP about his work, Simply Milk and His love for the great outdoors.

If he wasn’t a leading plastic surgeon and burns specialist, Associate Professor Peter Haertsch says he would be a full-time dairy farmer. Through his 220 hectare farm in Albion Park, New South Wales, he supplies processors with over 5,000 litres of milk per day and produces ‘industrial quantities’ of honey for his friends and family to enjoy.

From introducing a new breed of Speckle Park cattle to his existing herd of Holstein Friesians to ordering nucleus hives filled with Ligurian Bees from Western Australia, it is clear that innovation a central theme at Dr Haertsch’s farm.

With his latest venture, Simply Milk, the Associate Professor aims to package his upcoming line of dairy products in glass containers in order to reduce the potential environmental impact and protect the health of the individuals who go on to purchase from the range.

‘People are turning away in droves from plastic and are increasingly concerned about plastics and the leaching of chemicals from plastics,’ explains Dr Haertsch. ‘With Simply Milk, I want to do two forms of milk – homogenised and unhomogenised – skimmed milk, flavoured milk, cream, and maybe yoghurts, all in glass. Eventually, I would like to get into cultured cream and butter.’

Taking on The open Road

As a child growing up in Albion Park, Dr Haertsch expressed a keen interest in nature, something which continues in his life today through both his farm work and his appetite for exploration.

Marrying his love for photography and travel, Dr Haertsch has recently taken up caravanning around Australia with his new drone. ‘I love the Australian countryside and this is a very hands-on way of seeing it,’ he says. ‘I also love driving. When I was a young fellow I used to drive long distance lorries, bringing bricks here, there and everywhere!’

‘Last year, we visited Coober Pedy, Oodnadatta, William Creek, Coward Springs, Birdsville, Marree, Innamincka and Cameron Corner. We did 6,000 odd kilometres,’ continues Dr Haertsch. ‘This year, we’re going up through Central Queensland to Karumba where I’m going to spend a week or so barramundi fishing.’

Dr Haertsch’s wanderlust is by no means restricted to the land Down Under. He has just returned from a cooking course in Brindisi, Italy, and pays regular visits to his relatives in Switzerland. In late October, he will visit the Philippines with Interplast and in February he will make his annual trip to Maui for the Boswick meeting.

‘At this stage, I’ve ticked most things o my bucket list, but I’d like to revisit some places,’ says Dr Haertsch.

‘We do love Iceland and have been there several times. I certainly would like to spend some time there in the winter months when we can really enjoy the Northern Lights. They are an unbelievable phenomenon.’

While his perfect weekend would be spent on the farm, Dr Haertsch’s ideal escape involves a post-conference Budweiser and book on a beach in Maui. Along with launching the New South Wales Severe Burns Injury Service and establishing an Academic Chair in Burn Injury and Reconstructive Surgery at Sydney University, Dr Haertsch is most proud of having a supportive wife ‘because I couldn’t have achieved all I have without her’.

Like most of us, Dr Haertsch is still chasing that elusive work-life balance, but when asked what he would do had he more time to spare, Dr Haertsch replied simply, ‘More of the same’. AMP

Changing Lives

Specialist plastic and reconstructive surgeon Associate Professor Peter Haertsch is one of the most senior adult burns surgeons in Australia, director of Burns Services at Sydney’s Concord Hospital and head of the plastic surgery unit at the Wollongong Shellharbour hospitals.

In 2003, he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his work treating the Bali bombing burn victims and has since become a Member of the Order of Australia.

‘There are always challenges in reconstructive surgery,’ says Dr Haertsch. ‘One of the biggest challenges and one of the highlights of my career was dealing with a girl from Baguio in the Philippines with a horrible contracture of her face and neck. She was burned at nine years old and I was first introduced to her when she was 16. She had not been to school, was an absolute recluse and had been shunned by the community.

‘They tried to deal with the neck contracture in the Philippines, but were unable to even get her anaesthetised. When I saw her it was obvious to me that she needed to be in a facility in Australia. Through Children First, Interplast and the local health district in Sydney, I was able to bring her
here. I think I performed three lots of surgery on her in a month and then she went to Melbourne to have some work on her jaw. Three years later, there’s the photograph. That’s heart tugging stuff that.’

In 1979, Dr Haertsch convinced his family ‘to undertake a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain’ and relocate to England so that he could train as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. It was there that Dr Haertsch rst came in contact with gender reassignment surgery, a eld he now has more than two decades of experience in.

He recalls, ‘When I first came across gender reassignment surgery I wondering if it was some form of dangerous collusion with psychosis. But the more I thought about it, and the more I talked to my mentor Roy Sanders, the more I understood the nature of the torment these people were going through.’

Upon returning to Australia in 1983, Dr Haertsch recognised that gender reassignment surgeries were being performed here, but that the services surrounding such procedures were lacking. ‘There was no one o ering a 24/7 service with preoperative and postoperative care,’ he recalls. ‘They were all being treated by fly-by-nighters, to use that expression. People would get in it for a while, but disappear because they didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to follow these patients up long-term. I’ve done well over a thousand of these surgeries now.’


Associate Professor Peter Haertsch is a client of ProLENDING, specialists in medical nance and sponsor of this feature. ‘My dealings with ProLENDING have been exactly as I would have hoped for,’ says Dr Haertsch.