Identical twin clowns with cystic fibrosis ‘fighting for every breath’ after grim prognosis

Brisbane 4000

When identical twins Peter and David Bissell were born with cystic fibrosis in 1973, they were not expected to live past three or four years of age.

Key points:

  • David Bissell has been in ICU since Monday night for liver issues, while twin brother Peter has liver cancer
  • Their history of health issues including a double lung transplant means it is too risky to operate
  • The pair have been entertaining Queenslanders for over two decades as clowns Peebo and Dagwood

Four decades and a double lung transplant later, the duo are facing their greatest battle yet with doctors telling them their latest health conditions are inoperable.

David, or Dagwood, was rushed to the ICU in an ambulance on Monday night with liver complications, while Peter, or Peebo, is battling liver cancer.

“Because of failing kidneys and their rejection and a lung transplant they [the doctors] aren’t able to offer me any chemo,” Peter told his followers in an update on Facebook.

Video: Peter shares an update on his condition from hospital (Supplied: Facebook)

(ABC News)

In an emotional interview from his hospital bed, Peter told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Rebecca Levingston they needed a miracle to survive.

“We’re [both] facing issues with the liver. Two weeks ago they discovered a couple of extra spots on the liver and … they can’t do anything for us,” Peter said.

“The kidneys are at a point where they can’t tolerate anything anymore … it’s pretty challenging when you hear that sort of news but we fight for life, we fight for every breath.

“We had that lesson for our 46 years on this planet, and when they say it’s inoperable and they can’t give you the treatment that you need you know you’ve run your race.”

‘Dad are you fixable?’

Peter said the pair were putting up the good fight having received stents earlier this week, but felt they were fighting a losing battle.

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Peebo: At the hospital with daughter Millie

“For us personally it’s a big mountain to climb and I can’t see anything coming out of it,” Peter said.

“We just want to make each day count. You don’t want to count your days but you’ve got to make them count.

He said the toughest part has been explaining his deteriorating condition to his 11-year-old daughter Millie.

“When she says ‘Dad are you fixable?’ … I say the medical team is working really hard to fix daddy,” he said, battling tears.

“I know her life will continue fine when mine doesn’t.

“Along the way we’ve had some marvellous medical teams, doctors surrounding us and nurses, medicines. And that’s bought us time.

“I guess that’s what it is, buying time.

“Me personally, I’m at that point where I’m not sure they can buy me anymore time.”

‘Suck the guts’ out of life

Despite their health hurdles, the much-loved and well-known entertainers have been bringing joy to Queenslanders for over two decades.

“I’ve never been one to focus on crossing the bridge until it comes … and it’s coming pretty fast. But we just try and paint a bigger smile on that face,” Peter said.

“We’ve had an awesome opportunity in our lifetime to create something beautiful with our clown characters Peebo and Dagwood.


Dagwood performing at a children’s birthday party in Brisbane. (Supplied: Dagwood and Peebo)

“[They’re] a couple of clowns who have allowed us to engage in a lot people’s lives and allow them to get around their worries and put smiles on people’s faces.

“I guess that’s what we love doing the best.”

It’s a craft that has stemmed from their many years spent in hospital wards, with David previously telling the ABC they learnt to be clowns while being in-patients as children.

“We have a lot to do with the oncology ward at the Royal Brisbane Hospital as we know first hand what it is like being a child in hospital,” David said in 2014.

Recalling their many hospital stays, Peter told Rebecca Levingston they had “always been defying the odds”.

“When we were born they only expected one and I was the afterbirth. We weren’t even supposed to survive the first night,” Peter said.

Video: Peebo and Dagwood spoke to Australian Story almost two decades ago.

(ABC News)

“So from that very first day back on August 19, 1973, we’ve been doing miracles every single day.

“Even the prognosis back then was ‘you’re lucky to pass toddler age’ and ‘you’re lucky to pass teenage-hood’.”

He said their struggle had taught them their most important life lesson, to “live life, love life and laugh and make everyday count and suck the guts out of it”.

“You may only know someone for five minutes in your lifetime, but you can put a smile on their face. And that’s what our clowning does for us,” Peter said.