Warne, Garry Leigh AM

  • Garry Warne profile pictures

    Garry Warne was born in Bendigo, Victoria on August 10th 1944. He graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1968 and spent five years at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, two of which were as Assistant Endocrinologist. He gained his MRACP, later converted to FRACP, in adult medicine. A late decision prompted by becoming a father made him think of switching to paediatric endocrinology, which was fortuitous because Dr Norman Wettenhall, who had established endocrinology at RCH, was close to the age when he would have to retire but he had not found a successor. Garry started attending Dr Wettenhall’s outpatient clinics as an observer while still working at the adult hospital. He found that paediatric endocrinology was a fascinating field, still in its early stage of development, and saw in it an opportunity for him to contribute. He decided to take the risk of giving up adult endocrinology and applied for a job at RCH.

    Consultant endocrinologist and the creation of the Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes

    In 1974, six years after graduation, he was once again a junior resident medical officer, but at RCH. After a year he was accepted as a fellow in paediatric endocrinology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, and spent 2½ years there carrying out laboratory research in the very new field of foetal steroids, supervised by Professor JSD Winter. He returned to Melbourne in 1977 and was given a full time appointment as Assistant Endocrinologist, with half his salary coming from the Research Foundation. In 1980, Dr Wettenhall retired and Garry was appointed Endocrinologist. In 1983 political pressures on the very vulnerable Endocrine Clinic made the need for greater security clear and Garry approached John Court with a proposal for the Diabetic Clinic to join with endocrinology to form the Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes. Dr Court graciously agreed, the new department was established and Garry was appointed as the foundation director, a role he retained until 1999.

    Clinical and laboratory research

    Garry established the endocrinology laboratory, focusing on steroid hormones and cell culture. The referral of a key patient with a familial intersex condition led to the development of techniques for studying the androgen receptor, which in turn attracted referrals of intersex patients, children with adrenal disorders and children with variations of pubertal development. In his laboratory research, he enjoyed excellent collaborations with Professor John Funder and Professor Jeffrey Zajac. The group won a series of NH&MRC grants and a number of their students obtained their PhDs. Over 150 papers, both clinical and basic, and a textbook co-edited with Prof John Hutson and Prof Sonia Grover, were published. George Werther joined as Garry’s assistant in 1982 and research expanded along with his interests.

    RCH International

    In 1993, the signing of the Cambodian Peace accord, negotiated by Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, evoked a powerful emotional response in Garry for reasons he finds difficult to explain and he found himself reading everything he could about Cambodia and South East Asia. He started visiting SE Asia and was made to feel very welcome by his new-found colleagues. He persuaded the Novo Nordisk company to sponsor a scholarship to bring budding paediatric endocrinologists from ASEAN countries to RCH Melbourne for a year at a time. In 1995 he travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam to meet a candidate and was the first Australian paediatrician to visit the National Hospital of Pediatrics there. He went back there less than a year later and gave a course of 10 lectures on paediatric endocrinology. He was invited to come back every year, and did so for the next 16 years, making more than 50 visits to Hanoi in all and taking many RCH colleagues with him to give lectures. He also visited India and Indonesia many times, as well as a number of other Asian countries. He developed a wide network of contacts that would prove invaluable later on.

    In 1998, John de Campo, then CEO, and Glenn Bowes, then Director of Medical Services, proposed to Garry that a new department should be created around his Asian interests and Royal Children’s International (initially called Children’s Hospital Asia-Pacific Alliance, or CHAPHA) was established, with Garry as foundation director. In 1999 he stepped aside from his leadership role in endocrinology.

    RCHI projects in Vietnam

    In 2003, RCH received a visit from Irish-American philanthropist, Charles (Chuck) Feeney, the founder of The Atlantic Philanthropies (AP). Garry was one of four people invited to make a presentation to him. Mr Feeney had long been interested in Vietnam and he chose RCH International as the entity he wanted to support. A number of very large grants followed. AP asked RCHI to prepare the health services plan and functional design brief for a complete rebuilding of the National Hospital of Pediatrics in Hanoi and also to prepare a comprehensive 5-year staff training plan. Subsequently, RCHI was commissioned by AP to implement this education and training program, which had many components and which was cross-disciplinary. 

    AP also asked RCHI to develop a 5-year staff training program that ultimately involved 117 staff belonging to the cardiovascular unit at the Hue Central Hospital. These doctors, nurses, technicians and managers received their training at five different centres, two in Vietnam, two in Australia and one in France. 

    These enormous projects involved large numbers of RCH staff from many disciplines, as well as experts who were engaged as consultants and a very fruitful collaboration with the Nossal Institute of Global Health at the University of Melbourne. In addition perhaps as many as 100 Vietnamese health professionals came to Melbourne for short or long-term training. Both projects were completed successfully and deep friendships between RCHM and the hospitals in Vietnam were formed. Susan Carden, RCH ophthalmologist, obtained her PhD for work done on retinopathy of prematurity as part of one of these projects in Vietnam.

    International assistance to Aceh following the Asian tsunami

    The Asian tsunami on Boxing Day, 2004, created a humanitarian crisis in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Professor Graeme Barnes made contact with an Indonesian colleague of his at the Gadja Mada University in Yogyakarta and offered help from RCH.  Negotiations with World Vision led to major grants being made to RCH. RCHI and Trevor Duke from the Department of Paediatrics became involved and the project to assist the rebuilding of medical services and infrastructure in Aceh, implemented by health professionals from Yogyakarta under the guidance of advisers from Australia, was developed. It continued for three years, with Garry as project director and with essential project management expertise being provided by the Nossal Institute for Global Health.

    Intersex and gender dysphoria

    Meanwhile, Garry’s continuing clinical activities led to the establishment of parent and patient support groups, the publication of literature about complex conditions for lay readers, the making of a teaching video on communication in relation to intersex conditions, the co-founding with Campbell Paul of the Gender Dysphoria Clinic (2003) and the development with A/Prof Lynn Gillam and Dr Jacky Hewitt of ethical guidelines for decision making on children with intersex conditions.

    Honours and awards

    Garry was awarded the People’s Health Medal by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health in 2005, the Minister’s Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement (Victorian Public Healthcare Awards) in 2007, the Australasian Paediatric Endocrine Group’s Norman Wettenhall Medal for excellence in research and innovation (2008), the Royal Children’s Hospital Gold Medal (2008) and in 2010 he was made a Member in the Order of Australia. He is an honorary life member of APEG, ESA, ISPAE and AISSG (Australia)

    Since retirement

    Since retiring in 2012, Garry has held appointments as Honorary Emeritus Visiting Medical Officer at RCH, Professorial Fellow, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne (until May 2020), Esteemed Honorary Research Fellow, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Honorary Secretary, RCH Alumni. He sits on the board of Children’s Rights International. He and his late wife Elaine have three children and five grandchildren. He enjoys choral singing, photography, drawing, walking, travelling, cooking and seeing friends. His partner, Linda Kent is a professional musician. He considers that he was just lucky to have been in the right place at the right time on a number of occasions.