Strength of SCHN Allied Health celebrated

The road to recovery felt daunting for 12-year-old Hunter when an infection abruptly brought his active lifestyle to a standstill. But this fear was transformed into courage through the support of physiotherapist Melani Suriyarachchi, an invaluable partner in his multidisciplinary treatment team.

Hunter was diagnosed in 2021 with Barmah Forest virus, a viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes, and subsequently experienced long-term effects of chronic pain and chronic fatigue. He was in constant pain, found it difficult to walk, and usual activities became challenging or not achievable.

For the next 18 months, Hunter needed regular treatment at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH), to manage his pain and rehabilitation. It was in this time that Hunter and his family formed a special bond with Melani.

“Melani’s extraordinary ability to connect with Hunter left an indelible mark,” Nathalie, Hunter’s mum, said.

Her expertise was equally remarkable, her knowledge was a beacon of hope, and her transparency in explaining medical details made us feel like informed partners in Hunter's recovery. We trusted her implicitly.

“Melani's initial assessments were meticulous and she conducted comprehensive evaluations to pinpoint the precise areas of concern. She realised that Hunter's pain was not merely a physical issue; it was also affecting him emotionally, and so she utilised her expertise to create a customised rehabilitation plan that addressed both dimensions of his well-being.

“As time passed, Hunter not only regained his health but also his confidence. Our family felt not only relief but also profound gratitude for Melani's unwavering support.”

The chronic effects of Hunter’s condition meant he needed to take a step away from doing what he loved most: sports. Once he voiced his eagerness to return to play, Melani was highly perceptive and made a tailored approach to support his needs.

“Melani acknowledged Hunter’s determination and her approach was a delicate equilibrium of encouraging him while ensuring he didn’t overexert himself,” Nathalie said.

“It was hard for him to understand the idea of pacing, but Melani got him to enjoy yoga as a form of exercise to build him back to more high-impact sports. He has been able to return to soccer, cricket, and golf! We are so proud of him.

“Melani’s skill in seamlessly combining her physiotherapy expertise with a deep understanding of a child’s emotional needs made her an invaluable partner in Hunter’s recovery.”

In recognition of Melani’s profound impact on Hunter and his family’s experience, she was awarded the inaugural Allied Health Consumer Award at the 2023 Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) Allied Health Awards in October.

The annual SCHN Allied Health Awards acknowledge and celebrate the passion, dedication, and exemplary contributions of the Network’s allied health workforce of almost 900 staff.

This year, the Network received 60 nominations across 16 allied health disciplines from consumers, colleagues, managers, and board members.

The Consumer Award, local recognition of the achievements of an allied health worker as nominated by families the Network cares for, was introduced due to the high number of these nominations coming from consumers.

Congratulations to the 2023 winners:

  • Allied Health Educator of the Year - Dr Soheil Afshar, Clinical Neuropsychologist, SCH
  • Aboriginal Allied Health Professional of the Year - Brodie Walters, Social Worker, SCH
  • Allied Health Assistant/Technician/Support Person of the Year - Caitlin Webb, Allied Health Assistant, CHW
  • Allied Health Researcher of the Year - Dr Natalie Fairbairn, Senior Occupational Therapist, Occupational Therapy Department and Research Officer, Grace Centre for Newborn Intensive Care, CHW
  • Early Career Allied Health Professional of the Year - Lachlan Stevens, Social Worker, SCH
  • Allied Health Leader of the Year - Clare Klimes, CARPA Allied Health Manager, CHW
  • Allied Health Professional of the Year - Judy King, Art Therapist, Bear Cottage
  • Allied Health Consumer Award – Melani Suriyarachchi, Physiotherapist, SCH

Bobbi Henao Urrego, Director of Allied Health at SCHN, congratulated all winners and nominees.

“We have such a dynamic allied health workforce at SCHN. I am tremendously proud of our allied health staff and the incredible work that they do day in and day out,” she said.

“It’s clear each day that our allied health workforce is making an incredible difference in the lives of our patients and families, which is also representative of the number of consumer nominations we had in the awards this year. Thank you, to all our allied health workers, for your continuing commitment to children and young people’s health care.”

All winners, with exception of the Consumer Award as it is an SCHN-local award, will be eligible for nomination to the 2023 NSW Health Excellence in Allied Health Awards.