Compassion leads to research

04 Mar 2009

By The Record

By Anthony Barich
The compassionate and friendly nature of hospital staff prompted terminally ill Jean Tonkinson to donate her and her husband’s entire estate to the establishment of a foundation to help bowel cancer patients and research, assisted by St John of God Hospital Subiaco.

Jean Tonkinson

Welsh-born Mrs Tonkinson, who trained as a Registered Nurse at the University College Hospital in London and later worked at Royal Perth Hospital, was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer in 2007 after her husband John died of a rare abdominal cancer in 2000.
The compassionate care given to her husband by staff at Charles Gairdner Hospital and, since she was diagnosed herself, by staff of St John of God, has “amazed” her.
Given 18 months to live when diagnosed, she approached St John of God hospital, though she is not Catholic, to establish what would become known as the Jean and John Tonkinson Research Foundation. And when it was launched on February 18, she said her husband would “have a big smile on his face”.
The foundation’s work, she said at the launch, would combine her own love of medicine and scientific research with the love of education had by her husband, who taught at Scotch College for almost 30 years.
One of his students was Michael Levitt, St John of God Hospital’s director of medical services and chairman of the foundation.
Mrs Tonkinson said she felt sorry for the medical practitioner who first told her that she had cancer, and said that her immediate response was “that’s a bit of a nuisance”.
“I’ve had a marvelous life, so if I could imagine that, in 10 years time, some young people who shared my own love of science and John’s love of education would benefit from the work of the foundation, that would make me very happy,” she said at the launch.
Some 12,000 Australians are newly diagnosed with bowel cancer annually, and 5000 die from it a year.
The foundation will assist academic rigour, scientific endeavour and patient care, Mr Levitt said.
“Through ethical, cutting-edge research, we hope to better understand the nature of this deadly disease and to treat it more effectively,” he said.