Churack family’s generous gift a major boost for chronic pain education

07 Mar 2024

By The Record

The University of Notre Dame Australia expresses its deep gratitude to Geoff and Moira Churack who have donated $5 million – the largest gift in Notre Dame’s history – to help advance education of chronic pain. Photo: UNDA/Supplied.

The University of Notre Dame Australia expresses its deep gratitude to Geoff and Moira Churack who have donated $5 million – the largest gift in Notre Dame’s history – to help advance education of chronic pain.

The Churack family initially donated $1 million to the University in 2013, which established the Churack Chair of Chronic Pain Education and Research, in partnership with St John of God Subiaco Hospital.

The family have now given an additional $4 million to permanently endow the Chair, ensuring its mission to improve the lives of people living with chronic pain can continue in perpetuity.

Notre Dame Vice Chancellor, Professor Francis Campbell, thanked the entire Churack family – including daughters Simonne, Emma and Danielle – for their vision, compassion and extraordinary generosity.

“On behalf of our School of Medicine in Fremantle, I cannot thank the Churack family enough for this remarkable act of kindness,” Professor Campbell said.

“This is truly a gift of hope for the more than three million Australians who live with some form of chronic pain and are desperate for a breakthrough that could help to reduce their suffering.

“This gift will ensure the Churack Chair can continue to focus on improving education and awareness about chronic pain, particularly among medical professionals. A PhD study funded by the Chair found that Australian medical students spent just 20 hours on average learning about the causes and treatment of pain during their training.

“Notre Dame’s School of Medicine has since amended its syllabus to include a much stronger focus on chronic pain, which includes having our students spend time within St John of God Subiaco Hospital’s innovative pain management service.

“These are important developments that ensure our graduates enter the workforce equipped with increased levels of knowledge, empathy and compassion to be able to assist those living with chronic pain.”

During his working life, Geoff Churack owned and operated several highly successful car dealerships across Western Australia. In more recent years, he has been fighting his own battle with chronic pain, living with the debilitating condition known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

There is no cure for CPRS, which leaves sufferers in almost constant and, at times, excruciating pain. After his diagnosis, Mr Churack said he was surprised by how little his doctors knew about chronic pain and the long-term impacts it can have on mental health and wellbeing.

“It became clear to me in those early days that the problem begins in medical schools which have traditionally placed very little emphasis on teaching their students about the physical and emotional impacts that chronic pain can have on a patient’s life,” Mr Churack said.

“That is why I reached out to Notre Dame, knowing that they operate one of Australia’s leading medical schools in Fremantle, to see what we could do together to improve research and training in this areas.

“We were very fortunate to have secured renowned West Australian pain specialist, Professor Eric Visser, as our inaugural Chair, and we have already achieved a great deal under his leadership.

“But there is still so much more that needs to be done, which is why my family and I have decided to invest these additional funds to enable Eric and his team to continue their efforts for many years to come.”

During his working life, Geoff Churack owned and operated several highly successful car dealerships across Western Australia. In more recent years, he has been fighting his own battle with chronic pain, living with the debilitating condition known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Photo: UNDA/Supplied.

Professor Visser said he was honoured to have been appointed as the inaugural Chair in 2015, and was extremely grateful to the Churack family for the faith and trust they have placed in him personally.

“The impact of chronic pain on the broader community is immense, with estimates that it costs the Australian economy up to $35 billion each year in lost productivity,” Professor Visser said.

“But it is the human cost for those individual suffers that is even greater, with pain making it impossible for many to carry out even the most basic of household chores, or even get out of bed.

“It is why research and education is so vitality important and I am extremely grateful to the Churack family for their commitment to furthering our understanding in this area.”

St John of God Subiaco Hospital Chief Executive Officer Tina Chinery said that as one of Western Australia’s leading providers of pain management care and services, the hospital plays an important role in developing the next generation of medical professionals coming through Notre Dame.

“Our pain management team includes the largest cohort of accredited pain specialists in Western Australia, who very much enjoy sharing their knowledge, skills and experience with Notre Dame’s medical students,” Ms Chinery said.

“It gives those students exposure to the latest diagnostic and treatment options being used by specialists who are leaders in their field. We very much look forward to this important partnership continuing into the future thanks to the support of the Churack family.”

Geoff and Moira Churack family with daughters Simonne, Emma and Danielle. Photo: UNDA/Supplied.

Mr and Mrs Churack’s daughter Simonne Ventouras paid tribute to her parents, describing their $5 million gift as an incredible legacy that was already making a real difference to the lives of people living with chronic pain.

“My sisters Emma, Danielle and I are all so incredibly proud of mum and dad and we all look forward to working closely with the Chair into the future to ensure it continues to deliver high-quality education outcomes in this important area of medicine,” Mrs Ventouras said.

In addition to training medical students, the Churack Chair supports research by masters and doctoral students from the University. Staff also work collaboratively with other leading research institutions on clinical trials and other projects. Professor Visser is currently involved in the largest ever study of potential treatment options for CRPS, which is testing the efficacy of a new medication and brain re-training techniques. He also teaches at Notre Dame in addition to running his own private practice.

To learn more about the Churack Chair of Chronic Pain Education and Research, please Click Here.