It is said that behind every great man, there is a great woman. I met one such woman today. Her name is Gail O’Brien.
To Australians this story is well known. Dr. Chris O’Brien was a gifted physician and surgeon who specialized in head and neck surgery. Thanks to a popular reality television show about doctors and patients at Sydney’s historic Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Dr. O’Brien also became a celebrity who shared the life and death stories of his patients with millions of viewers. How ironic it was that this highly respected and well loved physician was destined to fight his own very public, three-year battle with brain cancer. In the process, Chris O'Brien and his family experienced the best and worst of cancer care in Australia. Through that experience Dr. O'Brien saw cancer with a new lens and even while fighting the disease, set out on an ambitious project to fund and build an entirely different kind of cancer care facility in New South Wales.
When Dr. O’Brien died on June 4th, 2009, the plans for a new cancer center were firmly in place. And although he never got to see the fruition of those plans, his wife Gail and a team of dedicated fund raisers, political and business leaders, architects, builders, clinicians, researchers, and so many others never lost sight of the dream.
This afternoon, during the center’s very first day of patient care, it was my great honor to receive a private tour of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer center hosted by Dr. O’Brien’s widow, Gail.
Lifehouse is a 240 million dollar independent, not-for-profit public benevolent institution. As an integrated center for cancer care, it will provide a comprehensive cancer treatment service incorporating clinical care, complementary therapies, and emotional support services. It will also forge ahead with clinical research that will reduce the impact of cancer on Australians everywhere. Furthermore, it will help foster the development of the next generation of inspirational cancer clinicians and researchers.
Lifehouse makes a strong statement for the future. The gleaming nine story glass and stone structure is a contemporary work of art among the historic buildings that make of the campus of Royal Prince Alfred and the adjacent University of Sydney. Lifehouse offers every available therapy and technology in a setting that is truly a healing environment. From complementary treatments like massage, acupuncture and meditation, to the most advance pharmaceutical, surgical and radiation therapies, Lifehouse provides care and cure for patients and families struggling with cancer.
None of this would have happened, had it not been for the life-changing and life-ending experience of one of Australia’s finest physicians and surgeons, and the continuing love and support of the very brave woman who stood by his side and to this day continues to champion his cause—to establish an integrated cancer treatment center so that patients would no longer have to navigate the different elements of treatment on their own.
I’d like to thank Gail O’Brien for spending so much time with me this afternoon on what had already been a very busy day for her. I’d also like to thank Microsoft partner Slainte, provider of much of the amazing ICT technology that runs Lifehouse, for helping to arrange today’s visit. For all those in Australia now living with cancer, and for all those whose life might one day be touched by cancer, there is a place for hope, care and cure thanks to a visionary and very inspirational physician named Dr. Chris O’Brien.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft