An ophthalmologist dedicated to improving the eyesight of rural, remote and indigenous communities and also a formidable rugby union player with the Wallabies.
These have been the dual identities of Dr Mark Loane AM, who is set to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Griffith University later this week. Medicine has always been paramount in his life; rugby was there just to entertain himself, says the man who for the past 16 years has brought sight and hope to remote people as part of the Cape York Regional Eye Program.
The project uses a hybrid optometric/opthamological service to provide high grade eye services to 13 remote Cape York communities. It is so successful it is being replicated in other areas of Australia.
“Medicine was always my long term commitment and the thing that carried me through rugby,” says Dr Loane who captained Queensland to several distinctive wins over NSW in the 70s and also captained Australia for six tests between 1979 and 1982.
Often described as a ‘folk hero’ on the field, and having completed his medical degree while still a Wallaby, Loane retired from rugby at 28 to study ophthalmology. “I originally started in trauma and obstetrics but I had always had a strong interest in vision and to me, eyes really are the most beautiful and important thing we possess.”
It was this passion for eye surgery and Loane’s upbringing in Far North Queensland that led him and his team to get to work on indigenous patients with
complaints mostly comprising cataracts, age related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy – blinding caused by diabetes, a condition endemic in Cape
Asked about the progress he has made over the last 16 years, Loane is typically modest, saying he is not a believer in the Western idea of progress. “I like to do a job as well as I can but it is usually a team effort and sometimes the recognition of that can go missing.
“The aim for us has been to make sure that people receive a service up there that is as good as in any capital city and I think that we have achieved that. We have a turn up rate amongst the people of 95 per cent and that to me is an extra-ordinary compliment; obviously they trust us and that is really the greatest single reward.”