Clowning Around: the Peebo and Dagwood story
Wednesday, October 14, 2009, 5:35 pm | Reported by Jessica Muller
The 36-year-old identical twins are cystic fibrosis sufferers who have both had a double lung transplant. They will motivate you with their outlook on life but you will take a backward step when they tell you about the cold, hard truths they face. They will inspire you to live life to the fullest and they will make you laugh until you cry. They live by the adage that laughter is the best medicine.
Known as Peebo (Peter) and Dagwood (David) in the clowning world, the duo have been beating the odds since they were born. Born to their proud parents, Narelle and Bob Bissell, Peebo and Dagwood arrived eight weeks premature suffering cystic fibrosis.
Doctors told Narelle and Bob the boys wouldn’t make it through the night. As a result, their parents didn’t give them names. But in true Bissell fighting spirit, they made it through the night.
Still nameless, their parents decided to name them after their doctors Peter and David.
“We are just glad our doctors weren’t females,” the boys joke.
Peter and David had an older sister, Tonya, who also suffered from cystic fibrosis. After a decade long battle with the disease, she succumbed to a severe cold which led to her death at 27 years of age.
Cystic fibrosis is surprisingly a relatively unknown disease considering it is the most common life-threatening, recessive genetic condition affecting Australian children. It affects a number of organs in the body – especially the lungs and pancreas - by clogging them with thick, sticky mucus and repeated infections can cause death.
Unfortunately, there is no current cure for Cystic Fibrosis.
A life worth living?
“Our parents were told, (36-years ago) someone with cystic fibrosis’ life expectancy was three-four years of age…there wasn’t a lot known about it, there wasn’t the medicine, the facilities or the treatment to keep us alive,” David said.
“When we got to three they said there’s a good chance they won’t make it to teenagers. We got there.
“Then our parents were told we wouldn’t make it to adulthood. We got there.
“Then they said if you get to 30 you’re doing well.”
The 36-year-old twins know their battle with the disease has helped them mature more quickly. They have had to take ownership of the disease and learn life lessons fast. They are aware of what the distant future holds for them, but until then life’s like a slippery slide.
“It could be a quick slide down, a gradual slide or have dips on the way … once you’re on it, you’re on it … there is no going back,” says Peter.
“You can sit back saying ‘poor me, poor me’ … we wouldn’t be here today if we had that attitude …you’ve got to suck the guts out of life.”
“I always thought I was going to live till I was 80 … that’s my mentality … reality is otherwise … especially while growing up going into hospital and seeing all your other friends who were sick, passing away, reality check for me saying that this illness is serious and I could go at any time,” says David.
Both Peter and David showed their first symptoms of the disease in their late teens. Peter had a chest infection and coughed which caused a blood vessel to rupture.
“One night I started coughing up blood … I didn’t know what had happened … I ended up in an ambulance and in hospital … It became quite a common occurrence,” Peter recalls.
Over a 10-year period, David remembers visiting the hospital over 100 times.
Four years ago, the twins entered the most critical stage of their fight for life. They both needed a double lung transplant, and were given a 30 per cent survival rate.
David recalls his darkest hour: “I only had half an hour to live when I finally received the transplant … The four days before it I couldn’t sleep – they kept me alive with oxygen and massages … I remember on the day of my transplant they came in and said we found a set of lungs but we won’t know till 3pm in the afternoon. I had to wait … I just made it through … I had a lot of thoughts going through my mind … towards later in the afternoon it was a struggle … I thought if I don’t get these lungs I won’t survive.”
The major problem with transplantation is new organs don’t last a lifetime. Peter and David’s lungs are only expected to last between three and eight years. They could get rejection at any time and the chances of having a second double lung transplant each is very slim.
“It’s a funny illness … If you saw us in the street you wouldn’t know we have a life threatening illness,” Peter says.
“People used to ask as how we are. We say fine. It’s easy for us to say we are good … people never understand it. Even our closest friends don’t understand the severity of it.”
Smiles on the horizon
They say having a life outside cystic fibrosis and outside of hospital is the key.
Enter, Peebo and Dagwood. Professional clowns who have been in the industry over 12 years. They always clowned around before taking up the profession.
“We were always joking around and used to love making people laugh … we used to be clowns without the make-up,” Dagwood says.
When they were hospitalised, they used to have great pleasure in making other cystic fibrosis patients laugh.
“We used to put electronic fart machines behind doors so when doctors and nurses walked past it, it would go off … and everybody would just start laughing,” Dagwood recounts.
It wasn’t until a family friend asked them to do a show at their daughter’s party did they consider it. They knew a few magic tricks and Dagwood knew how to ride a unicycle so they agreed to do the show. Their first show was very amateurish.
“I remember I didn’t have a red nose, so I had an old deodorant cap that was cut in half and had drilled holes in the sides for string … I also wore football socks and Flintstone slippers as my costume,” Dagwood said.
In the beginning of their clowning career, the boys would regularly source clothes from op-shops and ladies section for bright costumes.
“I remember an old lady in the women’s section just looked at us and said ‘the men’s section is over that way’… We said ‘oh no we’re right’ and she just stared at us,” Dagwood recalls.
Nowadays, every weekend around Brisbane you will find Peebo and Dagwood performing at birthday parties and you will hear their cow horn on their cow-mobile blasting around the streets.
Life is busy for the twins: they are role models for Cystic Fibrosis Queensland; they are motivational speakers; they have just produced their first children’s CD and are in talks with various stations to have a television segment.
When they aren’t busy clowning, you will find the brothers down at Sandgate enjoying life at the waterfront with their wives and children.
The clowns are inspirations and in many ways they have gotten a second chance at life. Their motto they live by is ‘Live life, love life and laugh’, and it is one that we could all take on board