The mother of Dr Charlie Teo’s “miracle girl,” Amelia ‘Milli’ Lucas says the future of Australia’s medical community has been “robbed,” given the strict restrictions placed on the Sydney neurosurgeon.
In 2019, Milli became one of Dr Teo’s most well-known patients after he successfully removed 98 per cent of a brain tumour that had been dubbed inoperable and incurable by other surgeons. The other two per cent was removed by German doctors through alternative treatment.
Although Milli tragically passed away on January 4, 2021, Ms Smirk told news.com.au she feels “devastated” and “disappointed” for patients and their families who no longer have access to potentially lifesaving surgery.
Since August 2021, Dr Teo has been barred from operating in Australia, despite daily requests from desperate patients. Rules imposed by the Medical Council of NSW mean Dr Teo is unable to perform high-risk procedures unless he has written approval from a second independent neurosurgeon with more than 20 years of specialist experience.
These conditions will remain in place until September 30, when they will be subject to review.
“Why? Just why? I wish they’d leave him alone and let him do this job. He helps people – that’s all he does,” she said.
“I know the neurosurgeons in Australia think he’s a cowboy and think he takes things just that little bit extra … but that should be left to the patient to choose.”
Ms Smirk is adamant that patients should be able to have the final say over their treatment, and it’s an opportunity she’s grateful that her daughter had.
“A neurosurgeon could go: ‘No, I’m not going to do it because in three months time it’s going to be back in and you’re going to be dead anyway’ but if someone wants to do it and live that three months, why aren’t they given that choice? Charlie gives you that choice,” she added.
“He doesn’t mince his words and he doesn’t give anyone false hope, he just gives them real hope.”
She said the rules which have limited Dr Teo’s operating ability also “robbed” the “medical industry” and future research as well. Since the neurosurgeon has been barred from operating in Australia, Dr Teo has continued teaching, lecturing and performing pro bono surgery internationally.
“I feel sorry for the people in Australia who want to be a neurosurgeon and aren’t able to learn from the best in the world.”
‘He gave us an extra few years’
Ms Smirk knows first hand what it’s like to be faced with an unimaginable decision. When the family approached Dr Teo in 2019 she says they were in a state of “despair”. Milli initially underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment after she was diagnosed with an aggressive Grade VI Glioblastoma brain tumour in 2016, however the tumour reappeared in a deadlier position in 2019.
While most surgeons nationally and globally refused to operate on Milli, Dr Teo agreed to take the risk. That moment “changed” everything, she said.
“Nothing was ever going to save Milli,” said Ms Smirk.
“We all knew that but he gave us an extra few years – she wouldn’t have had that and we wouldn’t have had that without him.”
In the end, however, the decision to proceed with the risky procedure was left to the 12-year-old.
“He looked Milli in the eye and said: ‘You might not ever wake up and this is what will happen if things don’t go right. Do you still want this operation?’”
“And she said: ‘yes’. Charlie then goes: ‘Well, that was positive’ and she goes: ‘Because I trust you.’”
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Dr Teo said he’s struggled with the restrictions he’s received from Australian medical authorities.
“It’s very difficult not to get an overwhelming feeling of frustration and sadness when they’re crying on the phone, saying ‘We just want your opinion, my son’s dying’,” said Dr Teo.
“And, you know, quite conservatively, at least five patients a week could be cured, or their lives could be extended, with further surgery.”
Appearing on 2GB on Monday, he described the pushback from the medical community as “gang warfare”.
“Unfortunately, all the neurosurgeons and other doctors are ganging up and not allowing me to operate at various hospitals,” he said.
“It at all started from nameless faceless, cowardly people who just went to the media, made all these allegations and made up stories about me to try and destroy my reputation,” he added.
“If I’m really as bad a surgeon as they say I am … come out and say it.”
‘Milli was dignified, courageous, happy’
Dr Teo operated on Milli twice during her life, including a second procedure performed months before her death.
Reflecting on his career and Milli’s life in June 2022, Dr Teo said her legacy was “simple but enlightening”.
“She was an exceptional example of how to make the most of one’s life,” he said.
“Milli was dignified, courageous, happy, considerate and determined. She was an engaging and beautiful soul.
“When I think about each time I saw her, she was always smiling. I loved her dearly.”
More than a year after her daughter’s death, Ms Smirk says Dr Teo still regularly keeps tabs on her family.
“He’s the only person who was involved in Milli’s care who still rings us to see if we’re ok,” she said.
“He’s a real person, he’s got the biggest heart.”
The Perth woman is currently facing her own cancer battles, however her tumours have responded well to immunotherapy.
“We’ve got some positivity there but everyday is a challenge. Especially without her. She was incredible.”