Australian of the Year: Dr Geoffrey Thompson, medical pioneer #AOTY2020

Australian of the Year: Dr Geoffrey Thompson, medical pioneer #AOTY2020


When I was a boy of eight, I fell in love with aviation. I wanted to be a pilot. At age nine, I broke my arm. I wanted to be a doctor. How could I combine
those two for good? After wonderful years at school and university training in Adelaide, I enlisted for the Air Force, aviation medicine, of course. Eventually the Air Force
took me to Darwin and on Christmas Eve of 1974 Cyclone Tracy struck my town. 90 per cent of the town
was devastated. There was no running water, no power, no communication. People had died. We did not know how many and we had to evacuate that town. I found myself in charge of the supervision of
Darwin’s evacuation despite having lost
everything we owned. We saw things that young doctors
had never seen. Tetanus, snakebite, loss of eyes because of
flying debris. We were without running water, without power. Diabetics were becoming unconscious. Epileptics were having convulsions because during that time their medicine was lost. It’s not often that you see
big, tough Aussie men run up and hug each other
in the streets and say ‘thank God you’re alive’. And so it was a matter of walking around the debris-strewn
streets seeing if our friends were
still there. Following my Air Force experience my next adventure was the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Much of our work with the RFDS was to serve Aboriginal communities. As its originator said, ‘Providing a mantle
of safety over the inland’. I grew to love the
people of the outback. There were many amazing experiences in the flying doctor service. We would use the station ute with a mattress in the back
as an ambulance, and on one occasion I recall
struggling in turbulence, in a small aircraft, delivering a baby. A real challenge both for me, for the nurse on board, and might I add
for the young mother. The next highlight in my life, which continues to this day, is to help in the care of our amazing
Australian Paralympians. They don’t see themselves
as particularly special. They train every bit as hard
as our able-bodied athletes. But sport for them is a bonus. To have a broken back,
or cerebral palsy, or to be blind, is their challenge. Sport is their bonus. The captain of our wheelchair rugby team said to me ‘doc, we’re not
really disabled, we’re just differently-abled’. In my practice now I care for many military, elite athletes,
masters athletes, would-be active people. It’s my burning desire
that Australians will grasp the opportunity
to regularly include daily activity
in their lives for their life. Because exercise is medicine.

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