Remembering Chris O’Brien
In his public life, Prof Chris O’Brien was a talented surgeon and a tireless advocate for the very best in cancer care. In private, however, he was much more – a charismatic magician, a steadfast supporter, a good guy. In this series of intimate conversations, those who knew him best describe the many facets of Chris O’Brien.
The Kind Professor
“All of the professors were very good to volunteers, but nobody was like him.”
Now 104, Dora Eisenberg started volunteering at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital when she was 75. That’s where she met Professor Chris O’Brien, and, she says, she remembers it like it was yesterday.
The Most Beautiful Man
“I’ve never had a doctor be so human, so kind, so understanding.”
Friend and supporter Lysiane Adolphe watched Chris O’Brien Lifehouse built from the ground up. Here, she remembers the man who inspired her to fight for his dream.
The Doctor’s Doctor
“He’d seen what they could do at the American Head and Neck Society, and he said we need that here in Australia.”
During more than a decade as colleagues and contemporaries, Associate Professor Chris Milross recalls the cases he and Chris shared, and the lasting impact the surgeon has made on the field of cancer care.
The Charismatic Magician
“Indeed, we only have Lifehouse because Chris died. It is only really because that platform that he used enabled this to happen, and [his wife] Gail has been at the forefront of that enabling process.”
It took great strength to turn his illness to good, and Chris didn’t do it alone, says friend and patient Paul Cave.
The Breath of Fresh Air
“Chris combined this incredible charisma with incredible intellect and humour… but also this compassion and responsibility that seemed to be innate.”
As patient advocate Gail O’Brien moves through the wards, she carries with her the knowledge of someone who has been touched with cancer. Ten years on from her husband’s death, Gail ensures that his legacy lives on.
The Consummate Educator
“One of the first things I noticed about Chris was that he was enthusiastic, interested, excited – all of that because he wanted to teach me and show me things.”
Once the intern to Chris’ surgical registrar, Professor Michael Boyer recalls the man who instilled in him a desire to dream big, and to never settle for second best.
The Persuasive Connector
“Regardless of who he interacted with he had this natural ability to put people at ease.”
Despite working with one of the most complex types of cancer, and undergoing treatment for his own illness, Professor Chris O’Brien always had time for the staff and volunteers around him, remembers Nadia Rosin from Beyond Five.
The Steadfast Supporter
“I achieved things [with Chris’ support] that I never thought I’d actually achieve.”
It was Chris who gained the funding to make nurse practitioner Justine Oates’ role possible. Now, she passes her knowledge onto a new generation of nurses.
“It was a Christmas party that was inclusive, because that’s what he did. The nurses, the allied health, the student doctors, the cleaner…”
He may have been a busy doctor, but Chris found time for every member of the team. Especially at the annual Christmas party, says nurse practitioner Sarah Davies.
The Good Guy
“Look, I’d love to be able to tell you that all the good guys recover, and all the bad guys don’t, but that’s not always the case.”
Facing an uncertain future after a diagnosis of tongue cancer, patient Brian Geach remembers the moment he met the surgeon that would change his life.