In the news

What is thunderstorm asthma?

Thunderstorm asthma is a phenomenon whereby there is a sudden increase in the number of people suffering an acute asthma attack, shortly after the development of a thunderstorm.

Thunderstorm asthma usually occurs in spring or early summer due to a combination of unusual weather events including high levels of grass pollens in the environment. Thunderstorms, due to the wind and moisture associated with them, can cause these pollens to rupture into tiny particles which can then be concentrated at ground level. Here they can be easily inhaled into the lungs where they can cause an asthma attack in people who are pollen-allergic.

Thunderstorm asthma begins as a thunderstorm develops. The outflow winds of a thunderstorm can carry these particles ahead of the thunderstorm and as such, some people may experience symptoms shortly before a thunderstorm arrives.

Prevention is the key for those who are sensitive to pollen. The most important way to reduce the risk of an asthma attack is for those with asthma to take their prescribed medications regularly and have good asthma control. We recommend anyone with asthma who has springtime allergies to take regular preventative puffers at least during spring, even if they feel well. In addition, all patients with asthma should have a written action plan from their doctors. If symptoms of an asthma attack should develop, patients should enact their action plan early and seek medical attention if they do not improve. On days of very high and extremely high pollen counts, it may be advisable for those with significant pollen allergies to try to spend more of the day inside with the windows closed.

Thunderstorm asthma was first described in Melbourne in 1987 after an epidemic of asthma exacerbations following a thunderstorm in spring. Since then it has occurred four times in Melbourne - once in 1989 and again in November 2010. In 2011, there was an approximately ten-fold increase in the number of patients presenting to the Austin Hospital Emergency Department with an exacerbation of asthma. In addition, Ambulance Victoria enacted its emergency management plan after receiving over 300 calls relating to breathing problems during the 2011 epidemic. In November 2016, hospitals across Melbourne experienced a surge in the numbers of patients presenting to Emergency Departments with these same respiratory symptoms.

Further information is available at and Pollen counts are available at and they are also sometimes reported on the evening news.



Young Austin doctor Fiona Lander, an emerging leader

Young Austin Doctor an emerging leader
Doctor Fiona Lander deferred her medical internship to work in Mumbai, India researching the right to health.

In 2010, Fiona Lander deferred her medical internship to grasp the opportunity of a lifetime: to work in Mumbai, India researching the right to health.

The United Nations Human Rights Council had two years earlier appointed Mr Anand Grover as Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and he was to be her supervisor.

For two years, Dr Lander regularly undertook missions and consultations across the world to investigate how the right to health was being fulfilled in different countries. Dr Lander says her work focused on the legal right to health. "It was making services available to the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of the community and putting in place regulations and laws to secure that right," she said.

Now, as a medical intern at Austin Health, Dr Lander is being recognised for the work she undertook while based in India and her subsequent research. The 27-year old will take to the stage as an emerging leader this month as recipient of an Australian Leadership Award from the Australian Davos Connection (ADC). She will be the first junior doctor to receive the award. Dr Lander will contribute to the ADC Future Summit by outlining the issues she sees facing Australia; particularly, in regards to health and human rights.

It is the perfect blend of subject matter for someone armed with a double degree in medicine and law; international experience and a passion for problem-solving. "Medicine is a really good profession for people who not only enjoy helping others but who are interested and curious about problems and want to find ways to solve them. I've also realised that law can be a tool for affecting social change," she said.

And the social change Dr Lander would like to see involves empowering people. "My time in India convinced me that effective change is about equipping people in marginalised communities to make change for themselves rather than coming in and trying to change their lifestyles for them. I really think that going forward things like development aid and health-based assistance programs will start to take much less of a top-down approach and will be much more about empowering communities. A really good way of doing that is through human rights; giving people a right to something and if they don't get it, they can litigate, they can complain to the government, they can point to various areas of the constitution," she said.

Dr Lander says she is excited to win the award. "It is positive to see that my work in India is being recognised in this way. I am starting to have a voice in this particular sector. It is incredibly encouraging and has spurred me on to do more research and publish more," she said.

The Australian Leadership Awards aim to recognise and support the new generation of Australia's leaders.

The Future Summit is the nation's premier platform for the discussion of strategic trends and directions where Australia's business, government, academic and community leaders meet to develop actionable options for a sustainable, desirable and prosperous future.


Physiotherapist set to advance global spinal injury research possibilities

Dr David Berlowitz
Dr David Berlowitz will lead an Austin Health team to expand the Australian Spinal Cord Injury Register.

Austin Health physiotherapist Dr David Berlowitz is set to develop a research database with the potential to advance spinal cord injury research in the same way the Human Genome Project advanced our knowledge of genetics.

Dr Berlowitz has won a $50,000 grant to develop the Australian Spinal Cord Injury Register (ASCIR) into a more robust, collaborative, web-based resource that will provide the flexibility to facilitate a range of future research questions and programs.

Dr Berlowitz says the current database is limited.

"At the moment, it only records the existence of someone with a spinal cord injury and we need more information than that. We don't really know enough about the people who come through the Victorian Spinal Cord Service and particularly, we don't know how well they live after they leave us. By extending the existing registry, we can fill in that information gap," he said.

Dr Berlowitz will lead a team of Austin Health staff to build the register, to include information on a patient's injury data, bladder and bowel function, sexual function, degree of pain, cardiovascular function, pulmonary and endocrine function, skin and quality of life. He says the more we know how people are living with spinal cord injury, the better care we can provide.

"From a clinical point of view, we don't know the questions we are not asking. This registry will allow us to search for the ‘unknown unknowns'. We can benchmark across different services and we can also embed that process into clinical care so that every time we see a patient, it will add to that body of data and that rich information. It will allow us to understand what patients are missing out on," Dr Berlowitz said.

He said that information for the database will be collected using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) devised by the World Health Organisation.

The database will be internationally standardised so that within years, researchers will accumulate information from across the world. "We will be able to say that if you have rehabilitation in one country, you do better than in another and compare the reasons for this. We can't tell that at the moment," said Dr Berlowitz.

The $50,000 grant was provided through the $400,000 Institute of Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) 2012 Development Grants Program.


Changes to parking around the Austin and Mercy Hospital emergency entrances

Changes to the parking arrangements around the entries to the Austin and Mercy Hospitals
Austin and Mercy Hospital emergency departments remain open despite changes to the parking arrangements.

There are changes to parking arrangements around the entries to the Austin and Mercy Emergency Departments, including some fences.

Visitors should be assured that both EDs are open and all emergency services are operating as normal.

The changes are to allow for a crane to be put in for the Austin Hospital's ED/ICU Upgrade Project and will be in place until October 2012.

Five-minute parking remains available right outside the entrance to ED.

Additional 15-minute parking has also been made available; to access this carpark, turn right into the carpark as soon as you turn into the ED entrance driveway.

Recognised for a lifetime contribution to cardiology

Dr Jennifer Johns and Health Minister David Davis
Dr Jennifer Johns and Health Minister David Davis

Dr Jennifer Johns, medical director of Austin Health's Specialty Clinical Services Unit (CSU), has received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 Public Healthcare Awards.

The award recognises an outstanding career in health, achieved over a lifetime of service in the Victorian health system.

Over the past 35 years, Dr Johns has made major contributions to the field of cardiology through her commitment to research, medical and public education, support of female cardiologists and her high-level honorary roles with the National Heart Foundation (NHF).

Dr Johns' career began in 1976, when she graduated from Melbourne University with honours in Medicine and in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1984.

Dr Johns said she initially thought she would become a general physician. "I was torn between cardiology and haematology but six weeks into my first cardiology registrar position, I absolutely knew cardiology was what I wanted to do," she said.

Four years later, Dr Johns won a NHF Overseas Clinical and Research Scholarship and spent three years working at Massachusetts General Hospital in the USA, working with world-renowned clinical researchers Dr Herman Gold and Dr Robert Leinbach. The research she undertook while there, on the clot busting drug recombinant tissue-type Plasminogen Activator, rt-PA, led to intravenous thrombolytic therapy being used to treat blocked coronary arteries in acute heart attack. This treatment is still used in heart attack patients if the patient cannot be transferred to a cardiac catheter lab within two hours.

Dr Johns says it was an exciting time in cardiology. "Ground-breaking trials were informing the way we managed heart disease. You could see that what you were doing was going to make people better; it was exciting and satisfying," she said.

Dr Johns was then appointed as a cardiologist at the Austin and Repatriation Medical Centre and began her administrative leadership role in 1997 as director of Cardiology and the Cardiac and Thoracic Services CSU, which has evolved to become the Specialty Services CSU.

Whilst Dr Johns has run a private practice at Epworth Hospital since 1984, the public system is her passion. She says it has given her exposure to a variety of conditions and enabled her to learn from the experiences of colleagues in a range of specialties. "I love public hospital medicine. I love the collegiality and the support. The Austin provided the opportunity to advance," she said.

When Dr Johns became a cardiologist it was an unusual career choice for a woman but she persisted to reach the top of her field and has been not only a stellar example to female medical practitioners but she has also actively mentored young women to consider specialising in cardiology. Interestingly, Austin Health now has more female than male trainees in the Specialty Services CSU.

Dr Johns says life is a balancing act, particularly for women. "At the end of the every day for many years I had a conflict: was I going to stay at work that bit longer or was I going to go home to my family? For a time, I did go home every day by 5pm. I often had to work at home and in the evenings but I think getting home at the reasonable time was important with a young son," she said.

Dr Johns says receiving the award is humbling. "I am extremely grateful. I felt extremely honoured to be nominated by the hospital but to actually win it was beyond all expectation," she said.

An Austin Health Pharmacy-led project that reduced medication administration errors from 20 per cent to two per cent also won a 2011 Victorian Public Healthcare Award.

Concerns that patients were facing delays in having their new medications administered after being discharged to residential care facilities (RCFs) led Austin Health pharmacists to create the MedGap Project which won the category of Excellence in Service Provision.

The MedGap team introduced a semi-automated system to electronically produce a seven-day interim medication administration chart on discharge. The chart has successfully reduced medication delays and errors, increased communication and cooperation between hospitals and RCFs and reduced pressure on busy GPs.

Accidental scientist driven to greatness by her desire to help patients

Professor Ingrid Scheffer
Professor Ingrid Scheffer

Austin Hospital's director of Paediatrics, Professor Ingrid Scheffer, has been awarded the 2012 Asia-Pacific L'Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Laureate for her ground-breaking work in epilepsy.

Professor Scheffer has spent her medical career discovering new forms of epilepsy and the genes underlying different epilepsies. Her collaborative research team at The University of Melbourne and The University of Adelaide discovered the first gene for epilepsy in 1995 and subsequently 13 of the 23 genes currently known to cause epilepsy. This research has resulted in a complete reappraisal of the causes of epilepsy and the description of novel epilepsy syndromes.

Despite this level of achievement, Prof Scheffer says that she only discovered for herself that she was a scientist about five years ago. "I regarded myself as a clinician. My research was a means of understanding the causes behind my patients' epilepsy, to try to figure out what's wrong and how to help them and their families," Prof Scheffer said. "I have had the privilege of seeing my research translate back to helping my patients and their families - to me that's really valuable and important. I've already seen my work reap a lot of benefit for my patients here at the Austin and also for other people around the world, and that's what's really given me focus as a researcher."

Professor Ingrid Scheffer joins the ranks of only four other Australians who have won the award, one of whom went on to win a Nobel Prize. She sees the award not only as a great honour, but as a new role with responsibilities to mentor not only young women, but young clinicians who struggle to find a balance that allows them to work as both clinician and researcher. "Did you know that there are fewer than ten per cent female professors at The University of Melbourne? We need to encourage and grow bright young women into outstanding international scientists, whilst enabling them to have a degree of work-life balance. Women in science face additional challenges juggling a career and family, but if they are passionate about science, life can be incredibly rewarding," she said.

"Many medical doctors don't think about science, so it's also important to show young doctors the benefit of being a clinician-researcher, to show that you can balance clinical medicine, research and family. It makes for a very exciting and rewarding career with multiple roles that are intertwined and impact on thinking in each domain. It's a great privilege to be able to train and mentor young people, and to help them to learn to think as a researcher - as well as a clinician."

"Of course, I could not have done this without the contributions of my patients and their families, my fabulous research team, my family and my many collaborators around the world," she said.

Austin Health featured in Hospital & Aged Care magazine

Health & Aged Care magazine cover - Nov 2011

Austin Health's leadership in delivering world-class health information systems that put patients first is recognised in a front-cover article in Hospital & Aged Care Magazine.

(Article by David Hutchins, first appeared in Hospital & AgedCare Magazine, November 2011 edition, published by Yaffa Publishing. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

On borrowed time: featuring the work of the Austin'a liver transplant unit

On Borrowed Time - filmed at the Austin Hospital
The flyer for 'On Borrowed Time' - filmed at the Austin Hospital.

In December 2008, the famous Australian arthouse filmmaker, Paul Cox (Man of Flowers 1983, Lonely Hearts 1981, My First Wife 1984, Innocence 2000), received a liver transplant at the Austin Hospital.

In On Borrowed Time, prominent documentary maker David Bradbury (Frontline 1980, Jabiluka 1997, A Hard Rain 2007) follows Paul throughout his cancer treatment, his wait for an organ and through his liver transplant surgery.

Featuring a who's who of Australian film and intellectual life of the past 30 years - including David Stratton, Phillip Adams, Chris Haywood and Gosia Dobrowski - Bradbury's tribute to the great director delves into Cox's outlook on filmmaking and life, particularly in the wake of his remarkable recent brush with cancer.

Find out where the film is being screened or pre-order the DVD now

A rising star in infectious disease research

Dr Ben Howden

Austin Health's Benjamin Howden has received the 2011 ICAAC Young Investigator Award from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), recognizing his research excellence in microbiology and infectious diseases.

Dr Howden, an infectious diseases physician and medical microbiologist, has been honoured for his research into antibiotic resistance in the treatment of ‘golden staph'. Dr. Howden's sophisticated clinical and molecular research program is addressing some of the most pressing issues in human infectious diseases medicine.

Dr Howden says developing a prevention strategy for ‘golden staph' is a difficult and challenging research task. "Golden staph seems to be able to outsmart vaccines. By focusing on how the immune system responds to antibiotic resistant ‘staph', we may find better strategies for dealing with it in the future. We are currently doing bacterial genomics which is basically the whole genetic sequencing of resistant and non-resistant bacteria and then finding the difference in order to understand how ‘staph' has become resistant to antibiotics."

Dr Howden says that even subtle changes in resistance levels can impact treatment outcomes. "We need to design new strategies for managing patients that are infected with these resistant strains."

Dr Howden's passion for infectious diseases seemed evident at a young age but it is the constantly evolving nature of infectious diseases that continues to interest him. "I always liked bugs and germs as a kid but what I love about it today is that infectious diseases is always changing. A lot of medicine on a global scale is about infectious diseases," he said.

While the award recognises Dr Howden's work, he is quick to acknowledge the team with whom he works. "This award is recognition of a team approach. I've worked with a lot of people who have contributed to this research," he said.

Professor Lindsay Grayson, director of Infectious Diseases says, "Without question, Dr. Howden is one of the rising stars in infectious diseases research-both nationally and internationally."

Joan recognised by the Premier for her 'exceptional contribution'

Joan Gillespie

Austin Health volunteer Joan Gillespie has won a 2011 Veteran Community Award as part of the Victorian Senior of the Year Awards for her exceptional contribution to the veteran community.

Ms Gillespie was presented with the award by Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, at Government House earlier this month along with twelve other winners.

Ms Gillespie she was "absolutely shocked" to learn she had won the award. "I was very proud; very embarrassed but very honoured too," she said.

Ms Gillespie has been a volunteer at Austin Health for twenty years. She travels about the wards three days a week on a motorised wheelchair with her tiny dog, Charlie, talking to patients. "I try to make patients feel better and feel happy," she said.

It was Ms Gillespie's work with Austin Health's veterans' psychiatry program that led to her nomination. The veterans, who have been touched and inspired by her tireless voluntary efforts to boost morale, were responsible for nominating her. One of the veterans described the effect Ms Gillespie has on the group in the nomination. "Every week I look forward to coming to ‘Repat' to have a chat with a lady who cheers most of the vets of all conflicts. I only know her as Joan, a shining light to all who know her," he said.

Ms Gillespie said she has a special relationship with the veterans. "They've got a lot to give, those vets. They like to talk to someone who is not a medical person," she said.

Ms Gillespie says Austin Health is like a second family to her. She contracted polio as a 5 month old baby and has received treatment at the Austin Hospital since the 1960's. Today, a portable respirator has freed her from thirty years in an iron lung. "I love this place. I love Austin Hospital with an absolute passion. I love all the staff. Everyone's special here in their own way," she said.

Olivia Newton-John flies into Melbourne to thank local family for $1 million donation

Bozena Zembrzusk, Olivia Newton-John and Carlo Montagner
Olivia Newton-John with local couple, donors Bozena Zembrzuski and Carlo Montagner

Olivia Newton-John flew into Melbourne on Friday 16 September to personally thank a local Melbourne couple, Carlo Montagner and Bozena Zembrzuski, for their extraordinary donation of $1 million - the largest personal contribution to date to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre.

"I was so excited when I heard the news," said Olivia Newton-John. "This is the first chance I have had to personally see Carlo, Bozena and the family to thank them for sharing our vision and making this inspirational gift."

Carlo Montagner and Bozena Zembrzuski say their donation to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre was inspired by a strong desire to "give back" to their local community.

The couple, joint founders of private pharmaceutical company, Specialised Therapeutics Australia, know that cancer touches many lives, including people close to their family.

"Both Carlo and I grew up in the northern suburbs and the Austin was a part of our lives as the local hospital. We have since used it many times with our children and wider family," said Ms. Zembrzuski.

Ms Zembrzuski explained it was whilst living and working in the United States that they became inspired by numerous philanthropic initiatives. She said the million dollar gift is a personal family donation, not a business contribution, and she hopes the donation will inspire further generosity.

"We encourage all Melburnians to help support the centre," Ms. Zembrzuski said. "We are great believers in giving back to the community when you are able. This is going to be a world class facility with a wonderful medical and holistic focus. We are proud to be contributing and helping to make the centre a reality."

In recognition of their donation, Ms Newton-John announced that the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre's day oncology ward will now be known as Montagner Zembrzuski Day Oncology when it opens in June 2012.

"I too hope that this gift inspires others to make a donation to our appeal," said Ms Newton-John. "We are so close to completing the Centre, and have had great support from government and the community. Thanks to Carlo and Bozena we now only have a few million left to raise!"

The Austin Hospital is already a world leader in cancer treatment and research. The Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre will bring under one roof the comprehensive cancer services, including world class clinical facilities and care, internationally renowned cancer research (in conjunction with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research) and of course the Wellness Centre, providing supportive complimentary care in a tranquil and beautiful environment.

Of the $189 million needed to fund the project, $181 million has been raised to date, of which $16 million was raised through the community, foundations and individual donations. The appeal's current fundraising target is to raise a further $8 million through donations from the community and corporate sector.

Please join Olivia and the Montagner Zembrzuski family, and make your donation today. Please call (03) 9496 5753 or donate online


Austin to host symposia on advancing healthcare through technology

Link to HIMSS conference website
Austin Health is hosting two symposia ahead of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference and leadership summit.

Austin Health will host two symposia on September 20 that will examine how new technologies can improve patient care.

At the Nursing Informatics Symposium, keynote speaker David Bloch, owner of VirtuAlameda in the USA, will conduct a workshop on using virtual platforms such as Second Life for patient education. 

Meanwhile, at the Clinicians IT Leadership Symposium, Austin's ICU Director, Associate Professor Graeme Hart will be participating in a panel discussion on how information technology can improve continuity of care for complex and chronic patients as they move across different care settings, while still maintaining standards of patient privacy and identity.

The two symposia are expected to attract some 120 of the world's leading thinkers in health information technology to the hospital, ahead of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference and leadership summit on September 21 and 22.

The symposia will also give the hospital the opportunity to showcas eclinical systems in use during ward tours to view some of the hospital's mobile technology at work, and during demonstrations of leading systems such as Cerner, Kronos, and its Scanned Medical Records system.

The hospital was approached to host the symposia through Janette Gogler, Assistant Director of Nursing Informatics. Ms Gogler said that the combination of the hospital's facilities and its advanced use of clinical information systems were what attracted the organisers.

"The Austin is definitely a leader in clinical informatics," Ms Gogler said.

"We've had Medtrak for nearly 10 years, electronic rostering for 20 years, many specialised clinical systems in use, and we would be one of the few health services with clinical informatics as a professional position. We're probably one of the most advanced health service in Australia in terms of our comprehensive use of clinical systems," she said.

The Nursing Informatics Symposium will be co-chaired by Ms Gogler, officially opened by Austin's CEO, Dr Brendan Murphy, and closed by Director of Nursing, Ann Maree Keenan. The Clinicians IT Leadership is to be opened by Professor Graeme Hart, Director of the ICU.

To register for either symposia visit


Grossmann's research recognised

Dr Mathis Grossmann

Austin's Mathis Grossmann has received the prestigious 2011 Mid-Career Research Award from the Endocrine Society of Australia (ESA) in recognition of outstanding research in endocrinology.

Dr Grossmann's work out of the Men's Health Clinic has been prolific. His observational and interventional clinical trials researching the effects of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) on men with prostate cancer have led to the development of national guidelines for the management of the endocrine side effects of ADT. These guidelines have been endorsed by the Australian Endocrine, Urological and Bone Mineral Societies and are now included in the National Health and Medical Research Council Clinical Practice Guidelines portal.

Dr Grossmann says the guidelines are an important step forward in managing potential adverse side effects for patients. "ADT is a type of therapy that reduces the level of male sex hormones called, ‘androgens' in the body. This therapy can bring with it significant side effects such as osteoporatic fractures and type 2 diabetes. The guidelines I developed go some way in helping to define how best to monitor and manage these side effects," he said.

Dr Grossmann also conducted one of the largest cross-sectional studies of men with type 2 diabetes showing that testosterone levels are commonly reduced in these men.

"Low testosterone levels have been related to poor health outcomes in diabetic men but whether testosterone treatment is helpful or harmful is not known. To help answer this important question, we are now conducting a clinical trial of testosterone therapy," said Dr Grossmann.

In August, Dr Grossmann travelled to Perth to deliver a plenary lecture about his research at the Endocrine Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting, where he also received his award.


Austin doctors blitz FRACP exams

Dr Anita Singh with her first born child, Anishka, breathing a sigh of relief four weeks after successfully sitting the FRACP exam.
Dr Anita Singh with her first born child, Anishka, breathing a sigh of relief four weeks after successfully sitting the FRACP exam.

Two Austin trainees are being hailed as "superwomen" after passing Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Physicians (FRACP) clinical exams six weeks after giving birth.

Dr Anita Singh and Dr Katie Landy are amongst a group of 26 Austin/Northern candidates who have successfully passed their exams contributing to Austin Health's ninety three per cent pass rate compared with a nation-wide pass rate of seventy per cent.

Co-director of Physician Education, Dr Scott Patterson says the two doctors deserve a special mention for what they put themselves through. "I call them both superwomen. I don't know why they had to make life that hard for themselves but they were amazing!"

The FRACP clinical exam occurs in the final year of basic physician training. It is the culmination of three years of study following a junior doctor's internship. Both written and clinical components must be passed in order to enter advanced training in an area of interest.

Preparation for the exam is gruelling. Trainees work as hard as they did for their final year medical school exams. Dr Patterson says trainees have almost no spare time in the lead up to the exams. "It's always been regarded as a bit of a monster. They are studying for 18 months and working 50-60 hours a week, so basically every waking minute, they are preparing," says Dr Patterson.

The exam requires candidates to travel interstate for a rigorous assessment. "Examiners assess whether you are someone who can practice independently in general medicine without supervision and know when to ask for help," says Dr Patterson. "How well can you get information from the patient; formulate a list of issues; and prioritise them?"

Approximately 60 Austin Health senior medical staff and advanced trainees support the trainees. Dr Doug Johnson, also co-director of Physician Education says the results are a reflection of Austin's excellent training program. "There's a great culture of teaching and supporting our junior staff in their area of interest. The trainees do practice exams and cases with staff from different specialities to increase their exposure to patients and learn from the experts. We hope these results encourage our medical students and interns who are considering physician training to stay at the Austin or come to the Austin because we provide a really comprehensive training program," he says.

Dr Singh agrees that support from Austin staff and her family helped her get through her exam just weeks after the birth of her first child. "It was one of the toughest things I've done in my life: going through all those sleepless nights and then getting up in the morning and studying for the exams. The support at Austin was absolutely amazing. I don't think I could have passed without it," she says.


A new enterprise for people with acquired brain injuries

Acquired Brain Injury patient Angus Stewart uses his woodwork skills to make and sell disability aides for new social enterprise, River Enterprises
Acquired Brain Injury patient Angus Stewart uses his woodwork skills to make and sell disability aides for new social enterprise, River Enterprises.

Three years ago, Angus Stewart was an 18 year old commencing a pre-apprenticeship in woodwork. He stepped outside for a run with one of his best mates and his heart stopped for 26 minutes, leaving him with an acquired brain injury.

Today, Mr Stewart hopes to use his woodwork skills to make and sell disability aides for a new social enterprise, River Enterprises, based at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre.

A group of participants with acquired brain injuries (ABI) and volunteers will design and produce the aides and also market and administer the business.

Armed with a $5,000 grant from the City of Booroondara and business plans completed by the Faculty of Business at Swinburne University, River Enterprises kicked off in June.

"The idea grew out of Victoria's only specialist woodwork class for people with ABI which runs at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre. There is high demand for an extension beyond therapy programs such as these . The beauty of this program is that it is a self-sustaining model. It is run by volunteers and its profits are reinvested back into the business," says Alec Babos, linking leisure specialist in Community Integration and Leisure.

The fact that River Enterprises is run by volunteers makes it more affordable but it also brings its challenges. "Volunteers are the backbone of the venture but it also means our growth potential hinges on their recruitment. Without them, we can't take on more participants. We can't grow," says Mr Babos.

A recent article in the Sunday Herald Sun attracted potential volunteers and donations from the community. "We've got responses from people who are potential volunteers and we've also had offers of donations of wood but we need more people to spread the word," he says.

For Mr Stewart, River Enterprises allows him to return to a passion he had before his accident. "They have everything that I could want for woodworking in the shop; all the machinery and all the hand tools all there in the one place," says Mr Stewart. "I think the enterprise is a good idea; being a little more responsible for what happens in the workroom can only be a good thing," says Mr Stewart.

Contact Alec Babos on 9490 7558 if you would like more information.

Thanks to Eltham Timber and Hardware and AA Timber in Eltham who regularly donate hardware supplies and timer.


Health and Rehabilitation Centre launch

The Health and Rehabilitation Centre pumped with energy last Tuesday, as patients and staff gave demonstration classes to the Minister for Health, David Davis, before he officially opened the facility.

The Minister toured three key areas including the Community Rehabilitation Centre treatment gym, the Kokoda Gym and the hydrotherapy pool and chatted with patients along the way.

Maureen Peters, who suffered a stroke last year which affected her balance and co-ordination, says the gym and pool in the Centre, have helped improve her health. "The doctor suggested I do it. He's such a wonderful doctor I'd do anything he told me. The whole thing is really wonderful; more than you can imagine - that we'd be looked after that way. I couldn't speak more highly of the physiotherapists. The equipment and the pool is everything you could want," she says.

Irene Heymig, who is 86 years old and uses the Centre twice a week, says the Centre is a social place. "We are all talkative. I try not to talk too much because after all, you are there to do your exercise but I love it and I would be most upset if I couldn't do it anymore so it must help me! At my age, you are pleased, if things stay the same. You don't expect to get better as long as you stay the way you are. Using the Centre, it definitely doesn't get worse!

Cathy Nall, director of Physiotherapy, says the hydrotherapy pool is a marvellous asset. "At 34 degrees, it is much warmer than a normal pool. The pool is also finely tuned for its chemistry and pH levels. Interestingly, the pool is fully automated. Our physiotherapists will be able to look at the pool chemistry remotely, from their own computers," she says.

Patients might use the pool for therapy following a range of joint replacement surgery; an episode of acute back pain or conservative management of osteoarthritis. Ms Nall says patients will work in the pool to improve their muscle strength and range of movement. "The resistance you get from the water helps build strength. Also, where you might feel pain walking on land, you are partially supported in water so it may not be as painful. Also, the warmth means that people can be more flexible in the water and exercising in water is not so hard on joints," she says.

Austin Hospital surgeons give Hinch life-saving transplant

Professor Bob Jones speaks to the media following Derryn Hinch's liver transplant
Professor Bob Jones speaks to the media following Hinch's successful liver transplant.

Surgeons at the Austin Hospital performed life-saving liver transplant surgery on prominent radio broadcaster Derryn Hinch in the early hours of Wednesday July 6.

Bench to bedside brain research inside new facility

Brendan Murphy (Austin Health CEO), the Hon. David Davis (Minister for Health), Tim Daly AM (Austin Health Chairman), Professor Geoffrey Donnan (Florey Neuroscience Institutes director), Mr Charles Allen AO (Florey Neuroscience Institutes Chairman) and Craig Ondarchie (Member for Northern Metropolitan)
From left: Brendan Murphy (Austin Health CEO), the Hon. David Davis (Minister for Health), Tim Daly AM (Austin Health Chairman), Professor Geoffrey Donnan (Florey Neuroscience Institutes director), Mr Charles Allen AO (Florey Neuroscience Institutes Chairman) and Craig Ondarchie (Member for Northern Metropolitan)

Nearly 200 clinicians, researchers and collaborators gathered with local, state and federal politicians, people with an interest in brain disorders and community members to formally open the Melbourne Brain Centre on Friday 24 June.

Inside the centre, one piece of research will use specialised imaging to investigate the possible expansion of the use of the clot-busting drug tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) when treating stroke patients. Currently, the drug can only be used to treat patients within four and a half hours from the onset of stroke. Researchers will be investigating how to expand this time frame to ensure more patients can receive treatment into the future.

Professor Geoffrey Donnan, director of the Florey Neuroscience Institutes says the new facility is a great development for Australian neuroscience. "This is the perfect place to do, what we say, bench to bedside research. We make discoveries in laboratories and we translate the results into clinical outcomes.

Our particular expertise here at the Austin Hospital at this facility is stroke and epilepsy. The facility is embedded right on the hospital campus. We already had research that was of absolutely world class standard and what this does is enable researchers; it brings them all together into one fantastic space, and enables them to take another step to produce work that is of even better quality. So it's an ideal opportunity," he said.

The Melbourne Brain Centre at the Austin Hospital is a powerful partnership between Florey Neuroscience Institutes; The University of Melbourne; the Mental Health Research Institute; and Austin Health. In collaboration, the partners will work and think together in this new state-of-the-art facility; sharing skills and techniques and transferring knowledge in order to advance our understanding of brain disorders.

Dr Brendan Murphy, CEO of Austin Health says it is exciting to be a part of this important work. "We are really looking forward to working closely with, and indeed as part of, this centre to provide a unique clinical interface to neuroscience research. Clinically based research into epilepsy and stroke and many other conditions will be made so powerful by the location of this facility within our health service," he said.

Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson and Minister for Community Services, Jenny Macklin formally opened the building with special guest, Minister for Health, David Davis also speaking formally to the gathered crowd about the importance of the new facility.

The Coral-Balmoral building formally opens

The Hon. Mary Wooldridge, Minister for Mental Health, Dr Brendan Murphy, Austin Health CEO, and the Hon. Hugh Delahunty, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
The Hon. Mary Wooldridge, Minister for Mental Health, Dr Brendan Murphy, Austin Health CEO, and the Hon. Hugh Delahunty, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

The Coral-Balmoral building at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital was officially opened on Tuesday 21 June by the Minister for Mental Health, Mary Wooldridge and Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Hugh Delahunty.

The new $15.5 million facility brings together the Veterans' Psychiatry Unit and Post Trauma Victoria under one roof in a purpose-built facility.

Associate Professor Mal Hopwood, clinical director of the Psychological Trauma Recovery Service says the opening, which was attended by nearly 100 people, was imbued with an appreciation of the service's place in history. "The Ministers spoke of the importance of the Repatriation Hospital to Victorian veterans and in particular, the trusted role of the mental health unit," A/Prof Hopwood said.

Professor Hopwood says the building enables seamless transition between the different components of the service. "We've got spaces in the new facility which are really good for teaching and research activity now; improving how we diagnose and how we trial new interventions, be they medications or psychological treatment. Many people are telling us that they welcome the quality of the new facility; the nice external spaces in the building and the general improvement in fabric compared to the old building," said A/Prof Hopwood.

The name of the building commemorates those Australians who fought in the Vietnam War. The battle of Coral-Balmoral began on 12 May 1968 and was the largest military engagement by Australian forces during this war.

As a logistician in the Vietnam war, David Catterall's role was to support tanks when they needed repair. Mr Catterall recalls the surprise of being caught up in the engagement. "We became involved in the rocket and mortar fire applied to fire support base Coral on the night of 22nd and 23rd May. I hadn't expected to be involved in battle but because the tanks had to operate a considerable distance away from the taskforce base, an element of the store section needed to go with the tanks. We had to go much further forward with the tanks than we ever thought we would. We were surprised to be involved in the combat area and therefore came across things for which we had been trained but which we ultimately never really thought in our own minds would happen. " he said.


AFL match to raise funds for Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre

Jim Stynes and Olivia Newton-John at the MCG
Melbourne Football Club president Jim Stynes with Olivia Newton-John at the MCG

Olivia Newton-John will perform live at a special Melbourne-Carlton AFL charity match on May 27 to help raise money for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre.

"I'm incredibly excited at the opportunity to perform in front of a big crowd in my home town of Melbourne and urge all footy fans to come along and give generously so we can now help complete the O," she said.


Those attending the match are encouraged to fill their pockets with spare change and make a donation via one of the collectors patrolling the MCG on the day. Alternatively, donations can be made via or via telephone on 1800 220 210.

For those unable to attend the match, the host broadcast network Channel 7 will provide special fundraising support through their telecast, including Olivia's live performance.


A VIP package for the match is available, with all proceeds going to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre. The package includes entry and a reserved seat for the match, a pre-match cocktail party, access to an exclusive viewing area for Olivia's pre-match concert, a VIP gift pack and a photo with Olivia on the MCG. Tickets are $500 and bookings can be made by calling (03) 9496 5753.


The first stage of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre is due to open in 2012, with final stages in 2013.


Media release archives - 2009 and 2010