TELETHON Kids Institute (TKI) director Professor Jonathan Carapetis is one of WA’s newest Members (AM) of the Order of Australia.
Prof Carapetis was acknowledged on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list on Monday.
“It’s the sort of thing you don’t expect and don’t hang out for; it’s a lovely surprise and an acknowledgement of the work of a whole lot of people over many years,” he said.
Prof Carapetis was appointed for significant service to medicine in paediatrics, particularly the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of rheumatic heart disease (RHD), a preventable condition caused by an abnormal immune reaction to strep infection of the throat and skin.
He decided to focus on paediatrics after taking to the round during his rotations as a medical student.
“As soon as I got to the children’s hospital in Melbourne, it felt like the right place to be,” he said.
“Everyone was so nice, no one was in coats and you’re dealing with kids; they’re all innocents. When kids get sick it’s not fair, and the parents are suffering with them.”
When Prof Carapetis started to get involved in research, he realised his work could benefit children beyond those he saw one-on-one in a clinic.
“I love being a doctor because you can see patients and make them better; when I got exposed to research, it made it clear you can have a much bigger impact,” he said.
Prof Carapetis began looking at Aboriginal health issues, and contacted a mentor in Darwin, where his wife had previously worked.
“We spent a couple of weeks in Darwin and I decided that’s what I wanted to do. The rest is history,” he said.
The TKI director, who established the END RHD Centre of Research Excellence, has just returned from Geneva where RHD was on the agenda for the World Health Assembly.
Prof Carapetis said he felt lucky to inherit the director position at TKI from Fiona Stanley six years ago, and said the impending move to Perth Children’s Hospital would usher in a new era of child health in WA.
“We’re packed with researchers and support staff, and we’re here to make a difference and focus on outcomes. These people come here because they’re passionate,” he said.