Support us

Current News

Would you like to be kept up-to-date with news from Austin Health?

Austin Health supporter newsletter - Vitality

Click here to download Vitality Autumn 2019

Austin Health's latest Vitality Autumn 2019 newsletter includes CEO Sue Shilbury's message, you can read about a record year for liver transplants, world-leading research happening right here in our Intensive Care Unit and learn how you, our amazing community, give so much to help make a difference to patients coming through Austin Health.

A record year for liver transplants, thanks to you

More than 100 patients underwent life-saving liver transplants at Austin Health last year, made possible in part through your generous support for the Liver Unit over many years.

This is the first time 100 transplants have been performed in a single year in the Liver Transplant unit's 30-year history. The unit's Director, Professor Bob Jones, has been an integral part of the service since it first opened in 1988.

"We started out performing something like 15-20 transplants per year, and we thought that was a lot," he says. "So to get to the point where we‘ve done more than 100 transplants in a single year is an extraordinary change."

More than 700 liver transplants have been performed by the unit since the service began, including approximately 100 paediatric liver transplants, with world-class survival rates achieved.

Mother of two, Leah Hobbs, is one of the patients who received a transplant last year. She's forever grateful for the liver that saved her life.

Leah had liver failure, triggered by a rare genetic condition. A liver transplant was the only option left. Her mother had the same condition and was saved by a liver transplant 13 years earlier.

"I actually thought I was going to die," says Leah.

Leah was in hospital, gravely ill with liver failure, but was lucky to receive a new liver just in time. She's one of the incredible stories of survival due to the care of our Liver Transplant unit.

The number of transplants performed is unfortunately limited by the availability of organ donors, and currently the demand for donor livers outweighs supply. Leah sees herself as one of the lucky ones.

"What can you say really?" she says. "I have a life, and that's why it's pretty emotional. The donor and their family have lost a life. Thank you just doesn't seem to cut it."

Your support over many years of the Liver Transplant Unit at Austin Health has helped purchase equipment to improve patient care, helping us become a world leader in liver transplantation and saving thousands of lives. Thank you.

Find out more about our Liver Transplant unit

Register as an organ donor


World-leading research at Austin Health Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

Arguably producing the most amount of ICU research in the world, the Intensive Care Unit at Austin Health has a culture of ongoing learning and always striving for the very best outcome for patients.

“There are more than 100 publications that come out of Austin Health ICU each year,” says Dr Glenn Eastwood, Research Manager ICU.  “That is second to none for any other unit in the world.”

With internationally-awarded Prof. Rinaldo Bellomo at the helm as Research Director ICU, the world’s most highly published intensive care specialist of all time, it’s hardly surprising.  

Attracted to this vibrant research culture, Glenn arrived at Austin Health 10 years ago, managing not only his own PhD research but the many projects and trials already being undertaken by the talented and committed team in this busy intensive care unit.

“What I love about ICU is the teamwork and communication,” says Glenn.  “I feel most comfortable in the critical care environment and seeing the immediate impact of the team’s care is a rewarding experience.”

With various research projects happening at any one time (currently 11 projects) many ICU patients are given the opportunity to participate in a study, making a real difference to their care and often to their recovery. Sometimes these study findings change the way intensive care units around the world manage a particular aspect of care.

“We are reflective and critical of our own practice and not willing just to stay stagnant,” says Glenn.  “We’re always looking for improvements in care and studies remind us that there are multiple aspects of care that we can improve.”

Many patients in ICU are sedated, to help them receive treatment and recover, but this pre-disposes them to having cognitive dysfunction in the future – that is, difficulties in their ability to talk, walk, socialise and be pain-free. 

“We want to understand how to better sedate people to minimise the chances of cognitive dysfunction when they awake and go home,” says Glenn. “We can do this by using an electroencephalogram (EEG). This looks at the electrical brain waves and helps us to gauge the depth of sedation.”

“This type of monitoring is becoming available for use at the bedside and we hope to find funding to purchase one of these specialised machines so our doctors can make clinical decisions based on evidence.  In doing so, we would become a leader in Australia in this aspect of sedation management. A perfect example of how research supports practice.”

“Research has the greatest impact to influence intensive care practice locally, nationally and internationally because we build collaborations with other researchers and our work is published and read around the world. It’s a vital carry-over from doing great patient care that leads to improvements and changes in practice around the world.”

Your support has helped ICU clinicians and researchers at Austin Health conduct prolific research studies, making new discoveries which help improve patient care both here and around the world.  Thank you.

Find out more about the Intensive Care Unit at Austin Health


Just do it

For one so young, Phoebe Tagros is refreshing in the way she embraces the spirit of giving.  The 31-year-old Austin Health nurse is taking part in this year’s Run Melbourne on July 29 and  raising money to help the ward she works in.

For Phoebe, it’s an obvious choice.  Ward 12, at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, cares for patients needing neurological rehabilitation.  Phoebe is part of a closely-knit team of doctors, nurses, allied health specialists and psychologists who help patients, many of whom have had a stroke, improve their independence and quality of life so they can return to their community.

“There is so much teamwork between us and in my own little way I just want to help my team and my ward. Run Melbourne is an opportunity for me to help my workplace.”

Patients in Ward 12 often stay for several months and staff form strong bonds as they work with their patients to gradually re-gain their independence.

“Many patients have gone from living a normal life to having a stroke and becoming completely dependent on us for their daily care,” says Phoebe. “One thing I love about working on this ward is that I get to share in their progress and know that I’ve helped to make a difference. It’s a really nice feeling.”

Even as we chat, Phoebe’s quiet and caring nature is apparent. It is clear she takes her work very seriously and cares about her patients.

“I feel like some patients become like family, I love to come to work and I look forward to seeing them.”

Since taking up running five years ago as part of a health kick, Phoebe is hooked.

“I love running, I’ve been running for five years, it’s therapeutic for me, especially when I’m stressed, I just want to run!  I did Run Melbourne last year and It was really fun, there were lots of people of different ages, there was a woman in her 60’s who became my inspiration on the day!”

Phoebe is running the 10km on July 29 and is so thankful for the opportunity to help her ward continue to provide exceptional care to patients.

“If you’re able to help, why not just do it?” – Phoebe Tagros

Support Phoebe and Ward 12 by making a donation here

You can enter Run Melbourne and fundraise for your department or area!  Run as an individual or create your own team with colleagues, family and friends. 
Learn more

Volunteering makes a big impact

Lily (left) and Mavis (right)

We are so lucky at Austin Health to have an amazing community of volunteers who every day give their time and energy to help in many ways. The effort of you, our supporters, makes Austin Health a special place.

At 93, Mavis is one of our oldest volunteers, and one of our longest serving!

In the recent Volunteer Service Awards, she received her 35 years of service certificate from Austin Health, together with Lily, who was awarded her 25 years of service.  Over the combined 60 years they have volunteered at the Heidelberg Op Shop, Mavis and Lily have helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for equipment at our hospitals. 

Thank you to Mavis, Lily and all the other hard-working volunteers who received awards.

If you'd like to be part of the volunteering community at Austin Health, click on the link below for more information.

Creative therapies a lifeline for spinal patients

'Mountains and Snow': “I love this drawing because it’s something I didn’t think I could actually do. I now realise that Art Therapy is not just about art, it’s about the therapy too. I’ve been able to talk about my experiences, thoughts and feelings as I’ve been creating my drawings.” Steven Ribarich

Relying solely on donations from you, the wonderful Austin Health community, the Creative Therapies program at Royal Talbot forms an incredibly valuable experience for many people with spinal injuries.

Art, music and gardening sessions are not usually a part of hospital treatment. But at Austin Health’s Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre (Royal Talbot) creative therapies are giving patients with spinal injuries a way to express their feelings and experiences, some of which may have been repressed due to trauma.

Steven Ribarich, husband and father of three children, recently became quadriplegic after a surfing accident.  After being airlifted to the Alfred Hospital, Steven underwent surgery before being transferred to Ward 3 North at Austin Hospital where he stayed for one month. Once stabilised, he moved to Royal Talbot for eight months of intensive rehabilitation where he had to learn many new skills, and re-learn many old ones too.

The trauma associated with an event resulting in paraplegia or quadriplegia is significant and life-changing. Everyday life becomes more about learning simple skills again like rolling over, sitting up, getting dressed – things that many of us take for granted.  Creative therapies offer a temporary escape from the reality of rehabilitation as well as assisting in processing and integrating trauma experiences.

“I participated in music, art, gardening and singing,” says Steven. “Creative therapies helped me psychologically as I was able to talk a lot while I was doing the task at hand.  I was able to talk and discuss issues about my injury.”

“It took my mind off the problem at hand and made me concentrate on other things,” says Steven. “It was something that I looked forward to doing as it was a bit of escapism.”

Research has shown that art therapy is able to access non-verbal parts of the brain that communicate in emotions, visual imagery and body sensations.  By tapping into primitive brain networks it can help establish new neural pathways.  Art therapy can help patients to express experiences they find hard to put into words (Lobban 2016)

Since returning home five months ago, Steven has remained heavily involved music while he works hard to continue his recovery and rehabilitation.

“Creative art therapy at Royal Talbot is extremely beneficial for the physical and emotional wellbeing of patients,” says Steven. “It creates a sense of worth and instills pride again.”


Serious hope for people with Alzheimer's

Human trials began in Melbourne in October for a new drug that has been shown to halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mice and reverse memory loss.

The study’s lead researcher, Austin Health Associate Professor Michael Woodward, said the drug had been found in mice to negate the effects of the toxic protein amyloid beta – which causes Alzheimer’s - and to improve memory.

“This new drug could slow or halt the human progression of Alzheimer’s, that currently affects 350,000 Australians, with one million projected to have this devastating illness by 2050,” he said.

Previous therapies have focused on trying to eliminate plaques caused by the build-up of amyloid beta in the brain.  This new approach focuses on how amyloid beta proteins link together to form clumps which bind to receptors responsible for communication between brain cells.  This binding process kills parts of the receptors and in turn, disables communication between brain cells.  The process of memory formation fails, and Alzheimer’s symptoms start to appear.

“This new therapy is about protecting cells from the effects of these amyloid beta clumps – a new and very refreshing approach,” said A/Prof Woodward.

The new drug, called CT1812, has been found in mice to shield the receptors from the effects of these binding clumps of amyloid beta proteins.  It does this by the drug itself binding to a receptor and changing the receptor’s shape so the clumps are either unable to take hold or are displaced.

A selection of drugs similar to the one being studied, and CT1812 itself, were shown to reverse memory loss in mice bred to make excess amounts of the human amyloid beta.  This occurred after one month of treatment and memory improvement was sustained for six months.

Reference:  ‘New drug could slow or halt Alzheimer’s’, The Age, by Carolyn Webb, 17 October 2016.

Always striving to do better

Ass Prof Douglas Johnson

A committed group of Austin Health medical staff are working together to reduce waiting times for elective surgery and improve the care of patients who have major surgery at Austin Health. 

More than 10,000 people each year visit The Surgery Centre (TSC) at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital for elective surgery. Currently, any elective surgery patients who potentially need higher level care must undergo their surgery at the main Austin Hospital, which can mean a longer wait and a higher likelihood of cancellation due to emergency cases.  

A dedicated group of Intensive Care Unit doctors, anaesthetists, general and renal doctors, cardiologists and surgeons have formed a unique Perioperative Medicine Unit.  Together, they are working hard to identify higher needs patients, who with more intense management, can be safely operated on at TSC, reducing the demand for operating theatre space at the Austin Hospital. 

“Our perioperative collaborative is committed to providing excellent care to our patients,” says Associate Professor Douglas Johnson, Director, Department of General Medicine and part of the Perioperative Medicine Unit.  “There are thousands of patients undergoing surgery who might have multiple medical problems.  Our goal is to determine the risk of surgery, optimise pre-existing medical problems before surgery and decide whether TSC or the main Austin Hospital is the ideal place for their surgery.”

There is currently a fundraising appeal raising money for a portable cardiac ultrasound machine which will help this group of doctors to assess surgical patients more thoroughly, and identify more patients who can safely have surgery at Austin Health.

“Assessing the heart function and fluid status of patients with this portable ultrasound machine would enable our group of doctors to rapidly assess surgical patients before and after surgery,” says A/Prof Johnson.  “Before surgery we can use the information gained to help determine the risks of surgery, to help our surgeons determine what surgery is appropriate, to aid decisions regarding the type of anaesthesia given during surgery and whether patients can be safely managed at TSC.  The cardiac ultrasound machine would enable us to provide state of the art care to this group of surgical patients who need more intense monitoring and care after their surgery.”

“It would be quite unique to have access to a machine like this in a perioperative setting,” says A/Prof Johnson. 

Learn more about the appeal for the Cardiac Ultrasound Machine here.

Immunotherapy trial successes provide new hope in the battle against cancer


"It may sound a bit rough, but this is a really good time to have cancer. I'm really lucky to have got cancer at this time when these treatments are available" says Andrew Howard, 29.

While part of a six-month immunotherapy trial at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJ Centre), Andrew's tumours shrank at a "great rate" and nearly three years later, he is cancer free. For all the hope that immunotherapy provides, the fact remains that not everyone benefits from the treatments.

"There's a real task to try to identify the patients who are going to benefit from treatment, and to understand why others don't," Andrew’s oncologist and Medical Director of the ONJ Centre, Professor Jonathan Cebon says.

Jay Berzofsky, vaccine branch chief of the Centre for Cancer Research at the US National Cancer Institute suggests there are two issues involved: the types of cancer and the patient’s immune system.

“Among different types of cancer, it has been discovered that some cancers have a lot of genetic mutations that create differences from the normal tissues that the immune system can recognise, and are more likely to have benefit from immunotherapy because there are more targets for the immune system to attack,” explains Berzofsky. “For example, cancers like melanoma, lung and bladder have a lot of mutations, whereas prostate cancer tends not to have many.”

Another observation is that even within a particular type of cancer like melanoma or lung, maybe only 20-25 per cent of patients are responding. “It seems to relate a lot to whether the patient’s immune system is already trying to make an immune response that can be helped by these agents,” says Berzofsky.

Andrew calls himself one of the “lucky” ones.  He is just one of an increasing number of patients with so-called incurable cancers who have beaten the odds with immunotherapy. Since the first immunotherapy drug – ipilimumab, for metastatic melanoma – was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2011, a clutch of others have been approved to treat cancers including melanoma, lung renal cell carcinoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bladder, head and neck cancers.

“I was very lucky to have melanoma at this time because a few years ago I would have had little to no chance of survival,” says Andrew.  “I am very grateful for the dedication of all those in medical research who have given me the opportunity to get better.”

Source:  ‘Cancer doctors embrace drugs that boost immune system to beat disease’, South China Morning Post, by Jeanette Wang, 6 September 2016

Full article


Royal Talbot helps Paralympian on her journey

Photo: Simon Schluter Fairfax Syndication

Spending time at Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre is part of a recovery journey for over 800 inpatients and 8,000 outpatients every year, including a special 2016 Rio Paralympian.

Heading home after an eventing competition in Albury in 2013, talented equestrian rider Emma, then 21, suffered life-threatening injuries in a horror smash including a shattered spine and damaged spinal cord. She spent ten days in the Intensive Care Unit, three weeks in the Spinal Care Unit and then finally, the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre.  Emma had to learn to do everything again – from sitting up unsupported, to rolling over in bed, even putting socks on was a challenge.  Seven months after her accident, through sheer grit and determination, Emma found the strength to get back on her horse, but this time as a Para-equestrian. She set her sights on being selected for the Rio 2016 Australian Paralympic Team, and in July her dream was realised.  Emma and her horse Zidane finished fifth in the Grade 2 Individual Championship.

"We've experienced some incredible highs and lows but ultimately it has been the most amazing experience of my life and a privilege to have worn the green and gold uniform and forever be known as a Paralympian," says Emma, pictured here with her horse Zidane.

A day in the life of a perioperative nurse

Each day, Austin Health’s perioperative nursing team swipe their way into a secret world the rest of us may never get a chance to see. They’re a committed team that fit their lives around the need to sustain or save the lives of others. Although integral to every surgical patient journey, their work is mostly invisible due to the effects of anaesthesia.

“You never know what’s going to happen, what’s going to unfold for the day. The staff all have the training and skills to deal with it if all hell breaks loose, but they still provide the utmost care to the routine cases. It’s about that consistency of care."  Xxxxx , Preoperative Nurse

Once surgery begins, the perioperative nurses support the surgeon, while the anaesthetic nurses support the anaesthetist. The nurses are in charge of all the instrumentation. They make sure that every instrument that goes into theatre is counted and accounted for before and after surgery; that they have the correct patient, the correct procedure, the right body part.

However, they’re always ready to act in rapid response when a patient deteriorates, and it’s in an emergency that the perioperative nurses come into their own. In the last week, they’ve responded to unexpected haemorrhages, airway difficulties and anaphylactic reactions. In each situation, everyone has a role. People seem to materialise in theatre with the right equipment, almost as if the team can communicate telepathically.

Once surgery is over, the patient moves into Recovery. Their care is taken over by a Recovery nurse, who will continue to monitor them until they are well enough to move into a ward. They complete the circle of the incredible nursing care team operating in the secret world of Austin Health’s operating theatres.

Thank-you to Austin Health’s perioperative nurses for all they do to care for patients. 

Story reproduced from an Austin Health digital story.

Everything old is new again

After operating for more than twenty years and contributing in excess of $1 million to help patients and families, the Diamond Creek Op Shop has undergone an expansion just in time to fill the fabulous new space with stock for Christmas!

If you haven’t made the trip to Diamond Creek to visit the Friends of Austin Health Opportunity Shop, now’s the time!   In addition to expanding into the neighbouring building to provide more space, it was decided to also renovate the original shop.  The result, after six months of building work, is a large, spacious shop with the capacity to stock larger items – like furniture and paintings.

With Christmas just around the corner, the shop is well-stocked for gift ideas at very reasonable prices.  With a team of helpful Friends of Austin volunteers who will welcome you with a warm smile, make sure you drop in for a visit and a spot of Christmas shopping!

The Diamond Creek Op Shop is open Mon – Sat from 9.30am until 4pm.  Closed Sundays.  42-44 Main Hurstbridge Road, Diamond Creek, VIC, 3089.  Telephone 03 9438 2426.

A place of compassion, dignity and peace

Palliative Care staff Madison, Carmel, Shanna and Obsa

For patients with a life-limiting illness and their families, the Palliative Care ward at Austin Health offers comfort and care in a time of extreme stress and sadness. 

Palliative Care is located in the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, has 21 beds and an average of 62 admissions per month (nearly double that of 2011).  In 2011 there were an average of 85 referrals per month, today the average is 120 referrals per month.

“Our family will be forever grateful for the wonderful compassion and dedication palliative care nurses extended to our family.” Jan

“Thank you for looking after my beautiful son. It feels like a lifetime ago but we lost him only ten and a bit weeks ago.  As his family, we appreciate everything you all did, especially his beautiful wedding thrown together in the most loving and caring way in a couple of hours. Respect.” Laura

“What a group… doing the best for our loved ones in their last days - what remarkable admiring people you are to do such a job.” Kate

“Such critical work! Thank you for delivering excellence daily.” Peggy

Palliative Care is in need of new and replacement equipment, items such as commode chairs, falls safety mats and audio visual items, to better support patients and their families. You can find out more HERE.

“Being able to provide new equipment for patients will mean our staff can focus on providing the best nurturing and sensitive care.  Families will be able to spend precious time with their loved one who will have access to equipment giving them comfort and relaxation.” Hilary Hodgson, Nurse Unit Manager, Ward 8 South, Palliative Care

Please make a donation today HERE.  Every gift matters and will help us purchase important equipment for the Palliative Care ward to ensure staff are able to provide the best care possible.

Thank you.


A new Centre of Excellence for Victoria

Physiotherapy staff helping patient Lindy work towards a full recovery. Lindy went on to complete a 50km charity walk!

A campaign has begun to develop a new Centre of Excellence in Respiratory & Sleep Medicine. The new Centre will accommodate increasing patient demand and the pursuit of clinical and research excellence, and will drastically improve accessibility for patients who have breathing difficulties.

The Department of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine (DRSM) provides medical care to patients with lung disease and/or sleep disorders.  The DRSM provides services that are delivered to the Austin, Repatriation and Northern Hospitals, and throughout the community.

Currently located on the top of the hill at the extreme western end of the Austin Hospital precinct, its physical separation from the main Austin Hospital acute and emergency medical facilities presents challenges for patients and staff alike.  It’s difficult for patients with breathing issues to easily access, and the facilities are over twenty years old making it a struggle for our dedicated doctors and nurses to provide the very best in care and treatment.

In addition, fragmentation of the DRSM services over multiple sites (currently six locations across the Austin Hospital and Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital campuses) requires patients to be transported back and forth between two medical campuses, costing time and money and greatly inconveniencing patients who are already in a fragile state.

As the acknowledged hub of respiratory and sleep medicine in Victoria, a new integrated facility will allow the DRSM services to be housed under one roof.  It will ensure Austin Health is able to provide optimum patient care while ensuring ease of access for all patients in a high quality, state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence in Respiratory & Sleep Medicine.

The new Centre will improve patient experience, minimise risk to vulnerable patients, enable expansion of research capacity and accommodate the projected patient increase of 16 per cent forecast for the next decade.

The challenge before us is to fund a significant portion of this project!  The total project cost is $4.9 million.  Fortunately $3.1 million is already funded. But the remaining $1.8 million still needs to be raised, and we will be engaging with the generous philanthropic community to help us establish this vital new Centre. 

Please contact Head of Philanthropy, Leigh Wallace on 03 9496 2147 if you would like to find out more about this urgent and much-needed project.

Ninety years of volunteer 'Friends'

Friends of Austin Yumi Tong and Annie Keitzmann

From humble beginnings in 1925, the Auxiliaries and Friends of Austin have been contributing to the comfort and welfare of patients and staff for ninety years.  Staff and volunteers came together recently to celebrate their 90th Anniversary and share some wonderful memories.

The Friends of Austin comprises many wonderful volunteers who actively run and staff the Diamond Creek and Heidelberg Op Shops, the Austin and Royal Talbot Gift Shops and some who perform the role of Volunteer Driver – transporting elderly and mobility-challenged outpatients to and from their medical appointments.

Over many years, the Friends of Austin have been instrumental in providing extra funding for medical equipment and ward improvements, such as refurbishments, and even providing bed linen! In fact, in the 1920’s much of the linen required by the wards and operating theatres was made and mended by the Auxiliaries.

President of the Friends of Austin since 1985, Beverley Briese OAM, says an extraordinary $340,000 has been raised in the last two years.  “This has been used for the purchase of highly specialised surgical equipment,” she says.  This year the equipment funded comprises two Laparoscopic Towers (for performing minimally invasive surgery), a Nerve Integrity Monitor (helping surgeons to reduce the risk of nerve damage during surgery) and a Defibrillator (delivering a therapeutic dose of electric current to the heart).

It was clear from the enthusiastic and chatty audience at the 90th Anniversary function that the Auxiliaries and Friends of Austin are synonymous with friendship, caring for others and hard work for a greater good. 

One of the challenges going forward is the diminishing base of volunteers.  Elaine Levine, Retail and Auxiliaries Co-ordinator, says “I will be actively working to recruit, train and retain new volunteers. We’ll be raising the profile of retail volunteers at Austin Health – we want everyone to know how beneficial and essential volunteers are to the organisation.”

Would you like to become a Friend of Austin and volunteer your time in one of our shops? Elaine would love to hear from you! You can contact her on 03 9496 6341. 

Genetic tests give life-saving choices to Tracey's daughters

Chelsea (17), Destiny (15) and Tracey Hamilton

Identical scars on their necks will forever remind the Hamilton girls of the life-saving care their family has received.

Genetic testing revealed Tracey Hamilton, 39, and her four children all have genetic mutations that increase their risk of thyroid cancer.

Unfortunately Tracey has already developed thyroid cancer but the testing has meant her two eldest children Chelsea, 17 and Destiny, 15 were able to have their thyroids removed before cancer developed while their siblings London, 3 and Riley, 2 will have the same operations as soon as they are old enough.

The Sunbury family was one of the first to benefit from the launch of Genetics in the North East (GENE) - Victoria's clinical genetic service hub encompassing Austin Health and Mercy Health in Heidelberg and Mercy Health in Epping.

The new service hub provides public clinical genetic services such as medical diagnosis of genetic conditions and genetic counselling, as well as genetic testing for patients and their families in north-east Victoria. This includes regular clinics in country areas meaning rural patients no longer need to travel to the city for public genetics services.

Genetics underpins many adult medical conditions including breast cancer, cardiac issues and diseases of the nervous system as well as rare childhood disorders.

Testing is vital for the prevention, diagnosis and management of inherited conditions as people with specific genetic mutations are more at risk of that disease than the general population.

Tracey said the service had been ‘life-saving' for her family. 

"Without a doubt it has changed our lives," Tracey said.  “We are so very lucky because now my girls won't pass it onto their kids. The genetics clinic will be involved if they want to have children, they will have IVF and be safe.”

The launch of GENE has created a significant expansion of the genetic service in the north-east, with an increase of five staff to 21 staff across the Epping and Heidelberg sites.

Dorothy gives a living legacy.

Dorothy Nowell
After many years of loyal support, Dorothy Nowell has generously made a living bequest to Austin Health.

A true local, Dorothy has lived in Ivanhoe for 43 years – all of her married life.  Her daughter attended local schools and Dorothy is an active member of the St James Church where she plays the organ regularly during services.  An engaging and lively lady who is an accomplished pianist, Dorothy and her husband Geoffrey have their support commemorated on a paver in the Austin courtyard at the main hospital entrance.

Dorothy laughs about the many times she has needed the Austin Hospital. “I am so thankful for my local hospital.  They have always been so caring and lovely to me during my many visits,” says Dorothy. “It’s wonderful to be able to do something to help others.  The Austin Hospital has helped me many times and I feel honoured that I can give something back.”

Dorothy’s bequest is a living bequest which means she donates the money now and is able to see the results of her support.   Her donation is contributing to a significant medical research project that will give access to cutting edge medical imaging technology for studying bones.  This will enable researchers to conduct high resolution bone analysis, leading to significantly advanced treatment of osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and bone cancer.

Double celebration at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital

Robert Winther celebrating 50 years at HRH
Originally named the 115th Heidelberg Military Hospital, the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital (HRH) was established in 1941, during the dark days of World War II, to provide medical services for our servicemen and servicewomen who were in need of hospitalisation and care.  75 years later, more than 500,000 patients have been cared for at the hospital.

On March 10 over 200 people gathered at the HRH to celebrate 75 years of care and support.  It was a fitting tribute to a hospital which has shown significant respect and regard for veterans and all that they have sacrificed for their country.  Austin Health CEO Brendan Murphy spoke warmly about the legacy of HRH, including the extraordinary commitment and contribution of Robert Winther, Veteran Liaison Officer who had just notched up 50 years of service to the hospital.

"Rob is unique and hugely valuable to Austin Health,” Dr Murphy says.  “He is tireless in his work for the whole organisation but particularly for the Repat campus and the welfare of Veterans.  He is loved and respected by all of us and we can't begin to contemplate that one day he might retire.''

Rob, 68, can't contemplate retirement either.  "I love my job - it's my job and my hobby,'' Rob says.  "I have a great group of people I work with and we want to be here until we drop.
This hospital has such a feel about it, it rubs off on you. You only need to look around to know why we're here supporting patients,'' he says.

The HRH 75th Anniversary also marked the launch of the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital Endowment Fund. The fund has been created to support the ongoing patient service and heritage needs of the hospital.

Providing health services for eight local government areas, representing approximately 1.28 million people is a great task, and supporting the needs of so many people with innovative programs required ongoing financial support from the community. With support from individuals, families, businesses and community groups, the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital Endowment Fund will help provide a long-term solution to meet the health needs of thousands of Victorians who are treated at the HRH each year.   

For more information please call the Veterans Liaison Officer Mr Rob Winther OAM JP on 03 9496 2324 or the Fundraising & Development Department on 03 9496 5753.

“As an ex-serviceman who served in Vietnam, I have witnessed the work first-hand of the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.  Your generous gift will help continue the fantastic work of ‘the Repat’ now and beyond.” Graeme McSolvin, RSL Member, Vietnam Veteran, HRH Endowment Fund Ambassador.

Give happy, live happy

Volunteers Beverley Briese OAM and Lois Whitten
For nearly 90 years volunteers have been an integral part of Austin Health. Through their hard work and dedication our auxiliaries have contributed millions of dollars to the purchase of vital equipment for the hospital.

Have you thought about donating your time?

We are currently looking for volunteers for The Austin Gift Shop for a minimum of four hours a week with a commitment of at least twelve months.  Volunteers are a highly valued presence throughout the hospital and they enhance the patient and visitor experience.

The Gift Shop is open Monday to Friday from 8.30am – 3.30pm and is located on Level 3, Harold Stokes Building (near the exit to Burgundy Street).  A wide selection of merchandise is sold at the Gift Shop including clothing, stationary, jewellery and homewares.

“10 years ago I had a Lymphoma removed with subsequent chemo and a blood transfusion – the hospital  saved my life! As a result, I volunteer to give back to the hospital.” Lois Whitten

For more information about volunteering in The Austin Gift Shop please contact:
Elaine Levine, Retail and Auxiliaries Coordinator
Tel: 03 9496 5753 or email

The Surgery Centre needs you!

Zofia had a knee replacement at TSC

The Surgery Centre (TSC) at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital treats more than 10,000 people every year.  From cancer surgery to joint replacements, many patients are in pain and distress and are in desperate need of life-changing surgery.

We spoke to Joe, Zofia and Bev - three patients who have had recent surgery at TSC.

Learn more about their stories here.

Changing lives - nerve transfer surgery for spinal cord injuries

Plastic Surgeon Natasha van Zyl and Dr Andrew Nunn (pic courtesy of Heidelberg Leader)
A specialist team at the Austin Hospital is changing lives of patients with quadriplegia following spinal cord injury by giving them back the use of their hands through world-leading nerve transfer surgery.

Most of us take for granted our ability to eat, hold a drink bottle, use an ATM card, turn a key in a lock, scratch our head – even hug our loved ones.  Unfortunately for people with quadriplegia, simple tasks such as these are not possible and a severe loss of independence is the result.  For some of these patients, nerve transfer surgery can offer hope of regaining use of their arms and hands.

In nerve transfer surgery, nerves that no longer function due to spinal cord injury (in this case, nerves that control the arm and hands) are re-routed to working nerves which then connect up with the paralysed muscle.  With intensive rehabilitation and occupational therapy, muscles are bought back to life and hand function is restored.   

The Victorian Spinal Cord Service team at the Austin Hospital was one of the first teams in the world to introduce the nerve transfer technology for spinal cord injuries.  They were also the first worldwide to do multiple nerve transfers simultaneously to reconstruct upper limb function in quadriplegics.  Since 2012 they have performed over 100 nerve transfers, and Austin Health is the only place in Australia where there is an established program of nerve transfer surgery for spinal cord injury.

“The benefits to patients are life-changing, and occasionally even life–saving, when patients have given up hope of leading a meaningful life without the use of their hands,” says Austin Health plastic surgeon Natasha van Zyl.  “They get back some of the independence they have lost and live a fuller life. Having improved hand function allows the person to do more as a parent, a partner and at work and this translates into a greater sense of self-worth and satisfaction with life.”

Nerve transfer surgery ideally should be done within 6-12 months of the initial spinal cord injury because after this time the de-generation of nerve endings and muscles affects outcomes.  The team treat patients from all over Australia.  They are hoping to increase national awareness of and access to the service so they can help more people with spinal cord injury.

For more information about the Victorian Spinal Cord Service or nerve transfer surgery please call 03 9496 5220.

Unlocking the mysteries of the mind.

An example of PET scanning
 A world-first trial into a rare genetic form of early-onset dementia could lead to an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

Approximately 200 Australians suffer from the rare Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer's Disease (ADAD)

Austin Health, alongside the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, is one of three Australian sites participating in the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network Trial (DIAN-TU), which tests drugs that could prevent, delay or possibly even reverse Alzheimer’s changes in the brain.

 Associate Professor Michael Woodward OAM says the combination of our drug trials and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning expertise make Austin Health one of the world’s leading dementia research centres.

 PET scanning is integral to the DIAN-TU study.  Using small amounts of radioactive material, the scanning highlights the existence of amyloid plaque build-up in the brain – a substance that is thought to cause the damage that ultimately leads to Alzheimer’s.  Antibody medication can then target the build-up of amyloid protein to potentially prevent Alzheimer’s from developing in the first place.

 Austin Health’s Professor Chris Rowe is one of the world’s pioneers in PET.  Prof Rowe says the study is unique because it is among the first to attempt treatment in people who don’t have dementia symptoms.

 “It will hopefully prove what has been a hypothesis – that amyloid causes Alzheimer’s – but also that amyloid is potentially a way to diagnose dementia early so we can stop people from getting it in the first place.  If this works, we’ll have an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease not only for people with this rare young-onset form but also for Alzheimer’s patients more broadly.”

 Trial results should be known in two years.

 The Medical and Cognitive Research Unit at Austin Health is the largest dementia clinical trials site in the southern hemisphere.  Currently we are conducting 27 trials with patients with various stages of Alzheimer’s disease. 

 To find out more about these trials visit:

STOP PRESS: Michael Woodward receives Australia Day honour.

Ass Prof Michael Woodward

Associate Professor Michael Woodward has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his long and distinguished contribution to health, especially in the area of dementia research.

  • "If this works, we'll have an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease not only for people with this rare young-onset form but alsof or Alzheimer's desease patients more broadly."

Record-breaking year for the Renal Transplant Unit

Eleanor Canning, Assoc Prof Frank Ierino and Veronica Reid
Austin Health’s involvement in an Australian-first series of kidney transplants capped off a record-breaking year for our renal transplant unit. 

Hundreds of staff across Austin Health, Monash Medical Centre, the Royal Melbourne and NSW’s Westmead, Prince of Wales and John Hunter hospitals were involved in the exchange on November 19, 2015 which has given seven transplant recipients a new lease of life.

Austin Health had one transplant-donor pair.  Forest Hill mother Veronica Reid received a kidney while her sister Eleanor Canning donated one of her kidneys.

Veronica was suffering from end-stage renal disease.

“I am so grateful.  If the transplant didn’t happen I would probably be on dialysis by now,” Veronica said.  “I used to feel like there was cement in my body.  I always felt heavy and tired.  All of the symptoms have totally gone now which is great,” she said.

Austin Health Renal Transplant Unit Deputy Director Assoc Prof Frank Ierino said he felt fortunate and proud to be part of the exchange.

“To see our health system working in such a collaborative way is just fantastic,” Assoc Prof Ierino said.  “It’s a great thing to see patients having the opportunity to have a renal transplant where they would otherwise be on a transplant list for long periods of time.”

The Australian Paired Kidney Exchange organises organ transplants when a person in urgent need of a kidney, has a loved one willing to donate their kidney but has an incompatible blood or tissue type.  The recipient-donor pair’s details are placed into a pool and are matched with other donor-recipient pairs until each is matched with a suitable swap.

Assoc Prof Ierino said thanks to initiatives such as the Australian Paired Kidney Exchange and the work of the Organ and Tissue Authority he was confident that Austin Health’s renal transplant program would continue to grow.

Gifts from the community make it possible for us to purchase new equipment helping us to better support people in need of our care.  If you wish to support Austin Health’s renal transplant program please visit

Helping people breathe easy

Dr Mark Horrigan (second from right) and the Cardiac Team

Pulmonary hypertension is a severe type of high blood pressure with serious health and survival outcomes for patients.  The arteries that carry blood from the heart to the lungs become narrowed, making it difficult for blood to flow through the vessels.  As a result, the blood pressure in these arteries - called pulmonary arteries - rises far above normal levels.

The heart has to work much harder, trying to force the blood through to the lungs.  If the pressure is high enough, eventually the heart can’t keep up, less blood circulates through the lungs to pick up oxygen and heart failure is the end result. 

It affects mainly adults, and is more common in women, particularly younger women.  The average life expectancy for patients attending the Pulmonary Hypertension Clinic in the Cardiology Department at the Austin is three to five years.

Symptoms include severe and debilitating breathlessness – meaning patients can barely walk, stairs are impossible and patients often need an oxygen cylinder 24/7.  Shortened life expectancy is one of the most devastating outcomes of pulmonary hypertension.

Olive Nelms was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in 2012.  An energetic and independent lady, Olive began to experience unusual breathlessness – from dancing (which she loves) to pulling the garbage bins up her driveway.  She recalls learning about the seriousness of her condition:

“I heard the life expectancy for untreated pulmonary hypertension was two years and eight months,” says Olive.  “According to that statistic, I could have been dead by now.”

But Olive is doing well with the support and treatment of an expert team of doctors, led by Dr Mark Horrigan, Head of the Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratories at Austin Health. The Cardiology Department at Austin Health is a centre of excellence for the management and treatment of this debilitating condition. 

“Unfortunately there is no cure, but treatment is all about management of symptoms and prolonging life by using medication,” says Dr Horrigan. 

Patients currently undergo a diagnostic test in the Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratory to measure pressures in the heart.  Based on results from this test, doctors then formulate an effective drug therapy program for the patient. 

There is a diagnostic tool – called the Metabolic Cart - which can give far more detailed information about the heart and lung function of each patient, leading to a greater understanding of the usefulness of a patient’s current drug therapy program.

The Cardiology Department currently does not have this piece of equipment. 

“The Metabolic Cart would give us a far more detailed and sophisticated view of each patient at rest and especially under the added stress of exercise conditions”, says Dr Horrigan.  “This has enormous implications for the patient’s drug therapy program as more specific diagnosis allows us to tailor and monitor their medication much more effectively.  In some cases therapy can prolong life significantly.”

We are currently raising funds for the Cardiology Department to help purchase a Metabolic Cart at the cost of $35,000.  If you would like to help the Cardiology Department to be able to purchase the Metabolic Cart please complete the gift coupon attached to this newsletter and send it to the Fundraising & Development address listed on the coupon.

  • "I heard the life expectancy for untreated pulmonary hypertension was two years and eight months."

    Olive Nelms, pulmonary hypertension patient

Surprised? Give now.

Your support can help make a life-changing difference to people like Olive.  Help our cardiac team to improve the statistics and give patients with pulmonary hypertension a longer and better quality of life.

  • "I heard the life expectancy for untreated pulmonary hypertension was two years and eight months."

43 amazing supporters receive thanks from Denis Walter OAM

Lyn & Ray Blackbourn accept their 30-year award from Denis Walter
Loyal supporters of Austin Health joined for a morning of appreciation and friendship at the annual recognition event on November 12.

Guests enjoyed a scrumptious morning tea of scones with cream and jam, yummy slices, and tea and coffee, while learning about how their ongoing support has and will continue to make a real difference.

Denis Walter OAM, Media Personality and Austin Bequest Patron, was proud to present 43 long-time  supporters of Austin Health with certificates of recognition.  He was especially honoured to present Ray and Lyn Blackbourn with their certificate for 30 years of ongoing support. 

Special guests baby Charlie and his mum Vanja along with Liver Transplant Surgeon Graham Starkey – who you may remember reading about from a recent Liver Transplant article, were also there to thank the recipients for their support. Vanja shared her moving story of saving her son Charlie from liver failure with the support of Austin Health Liver Transplant Surgeons by donating part of her own liver to him.

Graham explained how important state-of-the-art  equipment is in improving the outcomes for patients and thanked caring supporters for their commitment to Austin Health, which has helped to purchase key pieces of equipment across the hospital. Their generosity has and will continue to change lives.

A bright young advocate for diabetes education

Sonia Mennilli and Liz Baker Award sponsors
280 Australians develop diabetes every day!  That’s one person every five minutes.  Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia; increasing at a faster rate than other chronic diseases such as heart disease or cancer. 

Diabetes education is a critical link between people diagnosed with diabetes and the doctors treating them.   Professor George Jerums from the Endocrine Centre for Excellence at Austin Health says “With the increase in incidence of diabetes in the community the doctors need extra help to educate patients.  Our diabetes educators play a critical role in teaching patients about diabetes and how to manage it.”

Each year an Austin Health nurse is awarded the Liz Baker Memorial Diabetes Education Certificate Scholarship to study and obtain a post-graduate certificate of Diabetes Education. 

Liz Baker was a diabetes educator who worked at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital for seven years.   Sadly, Liz died unexpectedly at the age of 42, and the scholarship was created in her honour.

The scholarship awarded in 2015 (for study commencing in 2016) was made possible thanks to the generous support from:

• Abbott Australasia Pty Ltd
• Eli Lilly Australia Pty Ltd
• Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd
• Sanofi Aventis Australia Pty Ltd

This year’s award has been presented to Sonia Mennilli who has worked in the Renal Dialysis Unit for 16 years.  Sonia is passionate about working with people with diabetes and feels education is crucial.

“The majority of our renal patients suffer from Type 2 Diabetes which is reversible,” says Sonia.  “I am passionate about delivering the key message to patients that it is never too late to change your lifestyle.  We need to empower them to learn to be proactive, change their habits and improve their life by being more healthy and active.”

Sonia commences study for her Certificate of Diabetes Education at Mayfield College in March 2016.