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New paediatric surgeon crosses oceans to join TUH team

Published:  23 February 2024

Townsville University Hospital has welcomed its newest paediatric surgeon to the team after farewelling beloved community stalwart Dr Bhanu Rathnamma in late 2023.

Irish-born surgeon Brendan O’Connor relocated to sunny north Queensland from Ireland alongside his wife, Aussie-raised nurse Sophie O’Connor, to take up the mantle at Townsville University Hospital.

Dr O’Connor knew that he knew he wanted to be a paediatric surgeon from his second day of medical school.

“My mum worked in a special needs school with children with profound learning disabilities, so having loved working there during school holidays my plan was to become a child psychiatrist,” he said.

“But, on my second day at medical school I was in the anatomy dissection lab and started learning anatomy; I thought it was really cool and that’s how I decided I wanted to be a paediatric surgeon.

“My parents always taught me to treat people how you would want a member of your own family treated and that is what I have based everything I do on.”

The fateful decision to take up paediatric surgery led to the Irish surgeon and Australian nurse crossing paths while working at a hospital in Melbourne and a love story which spans continents, countries, and hospital wards.

Mrs O’Connor was working as a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Children’s Hospital when she met Dr O’Connor
“Before I met Sophie, I had no plans to move to Australia for the longer term – but things change,” he said.

The couple had different journeys to careers caring for the community’s smallest and sickest patients. Sophie always wanted to be a nurse but became a qualified tax accountant first.

“I was miserable, so I went back to university and did nursing before I got my first assistant in nursing job in NICU and just never left,” she said.

“I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I love working in NICU because the patients can’t advocate for themselves.

“They are reliant on the medical care they get, and the job is complex because they can’t tell you what is wrong.

“We have the privilege of being the person to advocate and provide that support and care for them."

Townsville University Hospital Director of Paediatric Surgery Dr Harry Stalewski OAM said he was thrilled to welcome Dr O’Connor to the team.

“We now have a highly skilled team of four talented paediatric surgeons who are passionate about helping the smallest members of our community recover from illness and injury,” Dr Stalewski said.

“Dr O’Connor has travelled more than 15,000 kilometres to join us here in Townsville and is an excellent general paediatric surgeon with a great interest in thoracic paediatric surgery.

“Our hospital team is also stronger with the arrival of his partner Sophie who has joined our specialist neonatal nursing team.”

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