mivision frequently reports on Australian and New Zealand eye health professionals who, quite rightly, receive accolades, awards and applause for their work. Then there are those who have found their passion outside work, achieving success, sometimes even international acclaim, for what they do after hours.
It is fair to say that if you want to work as an eye health professional, you need a high level of intelligence, a liberal measure of academic excellence, and a huge dollop of self-discipline. Without these three things, you won’t even get entry to optometry or ophthalmology, let alone be able to complete the demanding courses of study.
It is no surprise that when someone with these qualities finds a passion outside their chosen profession, they’re driven to excel.
There are those whose professional qualifications are almost a footnote to their talent. Names like musician Sophie Koh, comedian Rachel Sommers and former cricketer Geoff Lawson – all optometrists – come to mind.
It is no surprise that when someone with these qualities finds a passion outside their chosen profession, they’re driven to excel…
Then there are those still firmly entrenched in the eye health sector, who balance their demanding day job, with extraordinary extracurricular activities. They reported their leisure activities balanced demanding careers; and often gave them a “point of connection” with their patients and clients.
Some have hit a level of excellence that has brought them national or international attention. Some are just in it for the enjoyment. All are doing things we find extraordinary.
Early morning paddling
Dr. Luke Maccheron: Ophthalmologist; Surfski Paddler.
The alarm goes off just after 4am so that Dr. Luke Maccheron can get in an hour and a half of ski paddle training before the early morning kid-wrangling that comes with being a father of four children, ranging in age from newborn to eight.
“There’s usually not much sleeping to be had anyway,” Luke chuckles, obviously referencing his new baby
son’s nocturnal habits. Then it is off to his ophthalmology practice, the Brisbane North Eye Centre… or perhaps to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital where he is a visiting sub-specialist. Or, as when mivision spoke to Luke, it is a journey to Cape York for an eye health outreach to the isolated town of Weipa – a trip he does once a year.
Even by the standards set by a profession known for its high-intensity workload, Luke has a busy schedule.
As you would expect for someone whose sub-speciality areas of interest are cataract, corneal transplant and anterior segment surgery, Luke’s day job can be mentally draining. Ski paddling is the perfect foil.
“I do it to keep fit and have fun. And it is a really good counterbalance – the physicality of it against the mental aspects of work. Plus I think it sets a good example for my kids by staying fit (Luke has an eight-year-old daughter and sons aged six and two, as well as the latest addition, now just a few months old).
Luke trains for an hour and a half, five days a week and competes in various races often run by the Surf Life Saving Association, including the 20 Beaches Ocean Classic in Sydney, where he was almost wiped out by an unmanned ski, in an event won by Olympian Clint Robinson.
Another adrenaline rush came while paddling off the Gold Coast when a “massive shark” broke the surface of the water within 10m of the group. “I was expecting everyone to head for the beaches but they seemed unperturbed by it… perhaps they were counting on the fact that they were quicker paddlers than me.
“In my job, I spend a lot of time sitting or inert. This gives me physical fitness and helps my posture – it’s like ‘adventure pilates’.” Conversely, the discipline of ophthalmology has allowed him to approach his sport with a scientific attitude to improving his technique.
Another benefit is “socialising with a broad range of people that I wouldn’t otherwise meet because they’re outside of ophthalmology… we have a good laugh even though it is competitive”.
But, perhaps most importantly for a busy Dad, paddling is “protected thinking time”. What does he mean by that? “I can’t be interrupted by children!”
Albert Lee: Optometrist; Paralympian; Movie Extra
Marathon man, wheelchair racer, record-breaking sailor, Sydney 2000 paralympian, movie extra, trick water skiier … just some of the accomplishments Albert Lee has managed to squeeze in alongside his day job.
Albert was an optometry student in Sydney when he fell under a train in 1983, losing both legs above the knee.
Despite the life-changing event, he finished his degree with the same cohort with which he started. That same determination has seen him seize life by the throat ever since.
“Because of my accident, I don’t let opportunities pass…. You’ve got to take it; take life and grab it,” he urges.
A middle-of-the range sportsman before his accident, Albert was introduced to wheelchair sports as part of his rehabilitation and to help him regain confidence.
He took up athletics, wheelchair racing and swimming, then was introduced to water skiing, representing Australia in disabled waterskiing championships and winning gold in trick skiing.
He tried a few fun runs, progressed to half marathons, and then completed two full marathons.
Because he was competing in so many wheelchair sports, he was recruited to join a sitting volleyball team, and was selected for the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.
Asked if he won a medal at the home Paralympics, Albert laughs: “We were an amateur team playing against professionals – they wiped us!” Albert goes on to explain that sitting volleyball, which requires little more than a net and a ball, is a major rehabilitative sport in war-torn countries, where there are a lot of amputees.
In 1994, Albert tried sailing, competing in a number of offshore races, including the Sydney to Hobart. He continued sailing for a number of years and in 2003 set the record for circumnavigating Australia,
non stop and unassisted, with a seven-person disabled crew. The trip, in a single hull yacht, took 37 days, one hour and 23 minutes.
Albert is also on call as a movie extra. His speciality? Playing the guy that is blown up, writhes around in agony, then dies. He’s appeared in The Matrix, The Pacific and will be in the new Mad Max movies.
“They look for amputees… I get offered jobs all the time… I may as well make use of my physical attributes,” he says.
Albert has eased back on the extracurricular activities a bit lately – perhaps because he’s busy on eye health missions to remote outback Australian communities (as profiled in mivision’s June issue).
Asked how he packs all these adventures in around a job and family, all while doing a Masters in Community Eye Health, he’s modest: “It’s a long history. It is not as if I’m doing it every day of the week. I finish one thing and I start another. Every opportunity opens up another opportunity.”
Creations Too Good to Eat
Aimee Patten: Optometrist; Cake Decorator
Aimee Patten has to constantly apologise to her patients for her brightly-coloured hands… the stubborn traces of dyes used in the icing for her magnificent cake creations.
“But it’s a point of connection,” she says, admitting that her hands are currently a bold shade of red, “our practice has a lot of elderly patients, and a number of people say they make cakes for their grandchildren. It starts a conversation; a way in to discussing what they need their glasses for.”
Aimee, who works at OPSM in Adelaide’s eastern suburb of Firle, started decorating cakes in 2011 because she wanted to make her own wedding cake. She took some lessons; loved it and has since become an exhibitor and contestant in country shows.
“It’s nice to have that sort of creative outlet. I can think of something and use my imagination to create it.”
Cake decorating requires attention to detail and patience, qualities, Aimee says, she also needs as an optometrist.
Since the arrival of her baby Eve (who has just turned one), finding the time for her hobby is difficult.
“Because I’m working and have a baby… it’s a challenge trying to balance everything. I’m time poor! It could take weeks for make a wedding cake. I can only do it at night-time after the baby is asleep.”
“I entered cakes in the Royal Adelaide Show last year. Eve was one month old, we were renovating and moving house. I’d entered the Show well before and then found I just didn’t have time!”
Yet still she managed to enter a stylish wedding cake, decorated with orchids so detailed, they look real.
Aimee’s creations will be on display again at the Royal Adelaide Show this month – while she was still planning her entries when she spoke to mivision, the plan was to enter a three-tiered wedding cake, birthday cake, and a novelty cake.
“I quite liked making an Avengers cake (for a recent birthday party), I might enter one of those,” she said.
Dr. Henry Lew: Ophthalmologist; Art Historian; Author
At the beginning of his career, Melbourne ophthalmic surgeon Dr. Henry (Harry) Lew was intrigued by an article in Scientific American. It explained how the retina sees things, proving experimentally that the retina responds to lines.
He realised that some of the really great painters instinctively knew this, and incorporated it into their art.
“This is how I got seriously interested in art,” he explains. Also a keen scholar of history, art became his vehicle for studying history, leading to the publication of a book on Australian artist Horace Brodsky, then a second on Derwent Lees.
He’s since become a world authority on the two artists, and the author of a further three books, The Five Walking Sticks, on the life of Maurice Brodzky, possibly Australia’s first investigative journalist; The Stories our Parents Found Too Painful to Tell on the Holocaust, and Lion Hearts, A Family Saga of Refugees and Asylum Seekers, a biography of his father, Lonek Lew.
“I’m constantly busy. I’ve always got an idea for something else,” Harry says, “and the books I write will be a family curiosity… my grandchildren will be able to pick up one of my books and read it.”
Attention to Detail
Cheyne Harvey: Optical Dispenser; Artist
Time gets away from Cheyne Harvey when he stands in front of his easel.
“It’s kind of an escape. The family has gone to bed and then you lose yourself in it and time has no meaning. Suddenly you realise it is the wee hours of the morning.”
Cheyne believes the attention to detail required for his “photo realism” art is a natural fit with his day job – an Optical Dispenser at Eyecare Plus in Cranbourne, in Melbourne’s south-east.
He says having a passion outside of work also makes it easier to connect to the people coming through the practice. When patients find out about his art, they often discuss their interests. “There’s a connection on a personal level when talking to my patients at work.”
And, with patient-staff relationships being such a central pillar of practice development that can only be a good thing for his employers, optometrists David and Carol West.
Cheyne said he has done a few portraits, was “never happy with landscapes” but has found his niche in painting cars using pastels and is now venturing into acrylics on large canvases.“I just loved it and haven’t stopped.”
He has a strong following from car club enthusiasts, who commission him to paint their “pride and joy”.
“I try to get a certain level of photo realism to what I do, but I do change it a little, to make the cars look stronger – a bit ‘tough’. I give them a point of difference.”
Digital Art in Little Square Boxes
Mark Cushway: mivision Editor / Publisher; Social Media ‘Influencer’
While not an eye health worker, mivision editor Mark Cushway is an integral part of the profession. mivision has an impressive reach across the Australia and New Zealand eye health sector, but Mark has an even bigger global audience who know him primarily by his Instagram “handle”, @mark_pc.
With more than 41,000 followers, Mark’s “minimalist digital art in little square boxes” is receiving international attention. Selected as a Suggested User by Instagram, he has been profiled as one of only eight “stylish, under-the-radar” accounts to follow by the US edition of Vogue magazine.
London’s Guardian listed his work in a feature on urban photographers; the Sydney Morning Herald included him in a feature article on the artistic merits of the Instagram community and most recently was listed as one of 27 photographers “doing Instagram right” by UK’s Amateur Photographer, regarded as the world’s premier weekly photography magazine. A selection of his work has also been included in a glossy coffee table book on mobile photography.
For Mark, being an Instagram “influencer” is a chance to connect and collaborate with like-minded artists across the globe. But he also uses his status to promote issues he is passionate about.
One of Australia’s longest-living people with cystic fibrosis, Mark recently launched a campaign to alert Instagram users to CF Australia’s main fundraiser: 65 Roses Day. By encouraging popular Instagram photographers to mention 65 Roses Day in their posts, the message reached around 1.5 million Instagram users across the globe.