Daughter follows in footsteps of Mater’s cardiology pioneers

David and Wendy Thoreau moved from America to Townsville in 1992 to answer the community’s urgent call for cardiologists – and 31 years later their daughter has joined their profession too.

The Thoreaus met during medical studies at the University of New South Wales and worked together in Canberra, New Zealand, and the United States, before moving their family, including a future Dr Jennifer Thoreau, to Townsville.

“In the early ’90s, there was a lot of interest in starting a Cardiac Unit in conjunction with Intensive Care and Coronary Care Units here at Mater,” Dr Wendy Thoreau said.

“We flew to Townsville from the US to see if we’d be interested in moving here and setting up the service “.

They were impressed by the opportunities and returned the following year.

“We were lucky because we had contacts in New Zealand with people who were more than willing to move here for the sunshine and the lifestyle, so were able to build the team quite well.”

The Thoreau’s opened their practice in Dr Gary Lilicrap’s rooms on Fulham Road, and started caring for Mater inpatients from August 1992. From the start, they were actively involved in the planning of the new Mater Cardiac Unit.

Intensive care and cardiac anaesthetic services were planned and established by Dr John Stokes. There was a training program for ICU-CCU nurses established, and these Mater-trained nurses were enthusiastically involved in the project.

The combined Coronary (CCU) and Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the Cardiothoracic Ward (CTU), the Cardiac Catheterisation and Procedural Unit (Cath Lab) and the Cardiac Surgical Theatre were opened in June 1993. 

“Dr John Stokes ran the ICU for a long time and was incredibly engaged with both Mater and the community,” Dr Wendy Thoreau said.

“Back then, the units were based at the Fulham Road frontage with a combined ICU and CCU, so nurses and clinicians could oversee both areas.

“That was really the time when cardiac procedures became a possibility here. I still remember when we would have to send our first patients to Brisbane before the Cath Lab (cardiac catheterisation laboratory) and the cardiac surgical unit opened later in 1993.

“It was around this time that our daughter Jenny probably started coming in to do rounds of the wards with us.”

Dr Jennifer ‘Jenny’ Thoreau recalls sharing packets of hospital biscuits with the nurses on the wards between her parents’ rounds.

“I don’t think it was the biscuits that drew me to healthcare, but they definitely helped!” she said.

“I recall people often asking if I would follow in my parents’ footsteps. Initially the answer was no, but in the end it was the only thing that I found interesting.

“At every step of the way, I just followed the logical path: from high school, medical school was all I was interested in; then physician training and cardiology followed by a subspecialty in adult congenital heart disease.

“I will say there was definitely no career forced on me by my parents: if anything, seeing the long hours should have dissuaded me.”

Dr Jennifer Thoreau now practices as a general cardiologist with subspecialty training in congenital heart disease.

“Because of advancements in paediatric surgical intervention for congenital heart disease over the past three decades, there are a larger number of surviving adults with the condition. Patients may have had complex surgeries and spent their childhood in hospital; go on to need a transplant; or they may have even had no intervention and only need to be seen once every few years.”

“When the Cardiac Unit opened here, I don’t think any of us could have foreseen us all now working here or out of the same practice!”   

After three decades practicing in North Queensland, Dr Wendy Thoreau said it wasn’t just a new generation of cardiologists she was seeing.

“Within our practice, we have a database of over 40,000 people from over the past 30 years – and we are starting to see more of those multigenerational patients, especially with Jenny in the practice” she said.

“And hopefully we will see many more generations of each to come.”

Pictured: David Thoreau, Jennifer Thoreau and Wendy Thoreau. 

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