A life of caring and a passion to give - local legend Harvey Coates
The reason Professor Harvey Coates gives his time, his talent, his art - and his money - to Telethon Kids was sparked by a boy and a girl whose opportunities to learn were unfairly halted by circumstance.
They were children of the Great Depression. A death in the family meant the girl left school at 14. The boy had to abandon his lessons around the same age. They were Harvey Coates' parents. Circumstance might have denied them an education but they were determined it wouldn't rob a second generation.
"I'm the first person in my whole extended family in Australia and New Zealand to ever go to university and my parents were the ones who struggled to put all three of their children through tertiary education. I felt I had to give back," he says, simply.
Consequently, Professor Harvey Coates, AO, Paediatric Otolaryngologist, has spent his extraordinary career changing children's futures. Tens of thousands of Western Australian children hear, sleep, behave and perform better at school because of the adenoid and tonsil surgeries performed by Dr Coates every week.
But this is only part of the doctor's contribution. For decades, Dr Coates has collaborated with researchers at Telethon Kids investigating causes and treatments for otitis media - a middle ear infection that's particularly prevalent among Aboriginal children. Where non-Aboriginal children might have three months of hearing loss in their first five years due to the infection, Aboriginal children average 32 months.
"It's just absolutely outrageous," says Professor Coates. "Kids who can't hear, struggle to speak and to learn. The consequences can be lifelong. We can't have the worst ears in the world in our Aboriginal population - of any population in the world - and not do something about it," he says. So, he is.
Harvey Coates' most recent work was a thesis looking at translating research findings and clinical research into action to facilitate change. While many of his research collaborations with the Institute's world-class investigators - including Professors Deborah Lehman, Peter Richmond and Jenefer Blackwell - have looked into scientific interventions to improve health, Professor Coates has also championed seemingly simple projects that have had a big impact. For example, the landmark study into the positive effect of swimming pools on the rates of middle ear infections in remote Aboriginal communities.
If Harvey Coates received his passion for learning from his parents, his views on philanthropy were cemented early in his career, during a residency at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in the United States. "The culture of giving in America, particularly at Mayo, was enormous.” It was a habit he adopted back in Perth, making donations out of his own Princess Margaret Hospital salary every month to Telethon Kids. Over twenty years, those contributions have added up to a significant six figure sum.
"My wife and I obviously haven't got the money that a lot of the local millionaires have," says Harvey Coates, "but you can make a difference by putting money in that way, slowly going out of your salary, where you don't even notice it going."
Notably, Harvey Coates served on the Board of the Telethon Kids Institute for 16 years, helping shape it into the successful research institute it is today. "It's just a passion to make a difference and in my opinion, it's more important than a lot of other projects that are going around because it's going to make a difference in these children's lives."
You might say his parents' investment in Harvey Coates' education has been paid back in good deeds. With interest.