Surgeon’s career inspired by his own life-saving operation


An icon of Bass Coast Health attributes his medical career to a pioneering operation that saved his life 60 years ago.

Dr Bruce Waxman OAM was one of the first children in Australia to undergo a heart bypass and was one of the early patients to survive. Without the surgery, to fix a hole in his heart, the then 12-year-old would have died.

Fast forward and he is now a doctor with an OAM after his name in recognition of his services as ‘a clinician, administrator and teacher’.

Dr Waxman is now Clinical Dean at BCH, supervising medical students here. Until February this year, he was Chief Medical Officer, having joined the organisation in that capacity in 2016.

“My motto in life is to ‘Make a difference’ and I’m making a difference by helping to improve the wellbeing of Australians through improving their health, and training the next generation of doctors to do the same,” he said.

As a boy, the prospect of facing such surgery was immensely stressful, particularly for his parents, as the procedure entailed using a heart-lung machine only developed in 1953.

“Of the first four cases on this machine, three died. During the surgery, my heart had to be stopped and its function was picked up by the heart-lung machine,” Dr Waxman said.

“As my surgery was postponed because of some poor surgical outcomes ahead of me, my parents were understandably anxious.”

The surgery was undertaken at the former Royal Children’s Hospital at Carlton on 2 August, 1961. Post-operatively, he was initially in an oxygen tent in the Intensive Care Unit, but left the hospital just a week later, setting him up for a career in medicine that has taken him to the United Kingdom and the United States and appointments with the Alfred Hospital, Austin Hospital, Dandenong Hospital and now Bass Coast Health.

“I initially wanted to be an airline pilot like my dad, but at the age of five I was found to be deaf in one ear and so then decided to be a doctor,” Dr Waxman said.

“I always enjoyed working with my dad around the house and on cars, and so wanted to do something with my hands, and the experience of surgery, during my research as a medical student, led me to decide to be a surgeon.”

His early research entailed operating on pregnant sheep to understand the development of the foetal lung and progressed to bowel surgery studies in the United Kingdom.

Dr Waxman’s connection with Wonthaggi stemmed from supporting his sister, Dr Ann Dashwood, settle into her first secondary school teacher assignment at the former Wonthaggi Technical School in 1969.

He was later a visiting surgeon at the former Warley Hospital at Cowes and befriended the Poxon family of Anderson. This year, Dr Waxman was also appointed as chair of the Accreditation Committee of the Postgraduate Medical Council of Victoria, which accredits hospitals to train junior doctors.