The medical community was well represented in this year’s Australia Day honours
Dr Timothy Mathew
Awarded an AM (Member in the general division of the Order of Australia)
Improving Australia’s kidney health
Dr Timothy Mathew has witnessed a transformation in the way kidney disease is managed in the 50 years since he graduated from medical school. When he was a registrar at Royal Melbourne Hospital in the 1960s, kidney dialysis and transplantation were unheard of.
“I remember well patients dying of kidney failure and there was really nothing we could do. To have dialysis and transplantation was very exciting and transformed the treatment pathway for kidney disease”, he says.
Dr Mathew last month received an AM (member in the general division of the Order of Australia) for his services to medicine in the field of renal disease and transplantation through research and advocacy roles, and to Kidney Health Australia.
He is currently medical director for Kidney Health Australia, but spent most of his career as a clinical nephrologist in the public hospital system. He worked in the department of nephrology at Royal Melbourne Hospital and spent 25 years as director of the renal unit at Adelaide’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“In the ’60s and ’70s transplantation had a 50% to 60% success rate. It’s particularly pleasing to have seen that increase to the point that it’s now at 90% to 95%”, he says.
Dr Mathew has had some impact on improving that success rate through his involvement in developing two agents to prevent kidney transplant rejection. He saw drugs go from initial Phase I studies in the laboratory, to large human trials in which he worked as principal investigator, to being used by clinicians to treat patients.
Dr Mathew has also held several administrative roles, including chairing the Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee for 8 years and sitting on the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee.
“I had the desire to be more involved in the central control of these things, and had the belief that clinicians ought to be involved”, he says.
In the past 10 years, Dr Mathew says there has been a “major shift of emphasis” in the management of kidney disease, from a reactive to a more preventive approach, which has seen greater involvement from general practitioners.
Through his work with Kidney Health Australia he has enjoyed contributing towards educating GPs to better manage chronic kidney disease.
“It’s been very rewarding and I hope that it will have some impact.”
Professor Kathryn North
Awarded an AM (Member in the general division of the Order of Australia)
Genes for muscle performance
Neurogenetics researcher and clinician, Professor Kathryn North, is best known for her work on genes that improve muscle performance in elite athletes, but she hopes her discovery will also help pave the way for new therapies for inherited disorders like neurofibromatosis and muscular dystrophy.
In acknowledgement of her achievements in the field, Professor North has received an AM (Member in the general division of the Order of Australia) for service to medicine in the fields of neuromuscular and neurogenetics research, paediatrics and child health as a clinician and academic. She was also acknowledged for her service to national and international professional associations.
Professor North initially trained as a paediatrician, but says her interest in neuromuscular and neurogenetics research started while she was still a medical student.
“I was halfway through my undergraduate degree when I did a research year on the causes of birth defects. After that I became addicted to research and quite fascinated by both genetic and neurological disorders.”
As her career progressed, she opted to subspecialise in these areas. First, she trained in neurology and became particularly interested in the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis.
“I set up a clinic in that area and within 6 months I had over 200 patients. It’s considered a rare disorder, but there was just so much need”, she says.
Professor North then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Harvard Genetics Program in the United States, which led to her work on neuromuscular disorders.
When she returned, she established the neurogenetics service at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, which now cares for over 2000 patients and their families. She also continued her research work, focusing on inherited neurological disorders including neurofibromatosis and muscular dystrophy.
Professor North says she loves the mix of research and clinical work: “It’s the combination of clinical work with patients that keeps us focused on what’s important; the basic research helps us understand what’s going on and the clinical research drives better therapies. It’s a powerful approach to medical research”, she says.
“We’ve also been able to set up major national and international networks in both of the fields in which I’m involved and we’ve made major strides in Australia being considered an international leader in neuromuscular work.”
Although her work on genes and their influence on muscle performance of athletes has drawn the most international attention, her patients also stand to benefit, she says.
“I worked on discovering what makes muscle perform at its peak so that we can apply this knowledge to how it modifies disease.”
Dr Kerry Moroney
Awarded an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia in the general division)
Four decades of rural service
When Dr Kerry Moroney arrived in Narrabri, a country town in north-west New South Wales, to practise as a GP anaesthetist, he figured he’d stay for about 5 years.
That was 42 years ago, and last month he received an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia in the general division) for service to rural medicine, and to the community of Narrabri.
Those years have been action packed, according to Dr Moroney, who has done 25 000 anaesthetic procedures, delivered 2000 babies and conducted 200 autopsies in the town in that time.
He says it was the friendly community as well as the breadth of work he was able to do in Narrabri that hooked him.
“If I practised in the city, I wouldn’t be allowed to do obstetrics and anaesthetics as a GP,” he says.
The move to Narrabri wasn’t the most obvious career choice initially, says Dr Moroney, who was born in Sydney, studied in Sydney and trained in Sydney.
“I became very interested in anaesthetics and I began my training as a specialist — and then it dawned on me that I’d been spending most of time with patients who are asleep — boring! I thought it would be better to become a GP so I could see people, and do anaesthetics at the same time.”
It was around this time, he says, that he spotted an advertisement in the Medical Journal of Australia for an anaesthetist in Narrabri.
Though he didn’t have a clue where Narrabri was, he had just bought a new car, and he had yet to run it in, as was customary back in the ’60s.
A trip to Narrabri to check out this potential new post seemed as good a way as any, and the city-trained doctor soon found he loved the work he was able to do in the country.
Dr Moroney has also been very active in a number of professional and community groups including the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and the Narrabri Rotary Club over the years.
Although the OAM recognises Dr Moroney’s service to the town, he says the town has also been very good to him, and the nomination was an especially touching gesture.
“It’s nice to feel wanted and to know that you are valued in the community. I’ve spent 42 years — my whole professional career — here, and this means that some people think that I’ve made a difference in that time.”
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