Top cardiologist retires after 43 years to focus on music

Dr Paul Garrahy. Source: Queensland Health

One of Australia’s highest profile cardiologists has announced his retirement following more than four decades of medical practice.

Dr Paul Garrahy has been lauded as an “icon and trailblazer” after stepping down from his role as director of cardiology at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital two weeks ago.

The move closes the book on a medical career that began in 1979 and involved the creation of one of the country’s top specialist units and establishing the hospital’s first cardiac catheter lab.

In a farewell interview on its website, Queensland’s Metro South Health Service said Dr Garrahy had been an “absolute gentleman of the industry with a vocal tone that suggests an ear for musicality”.

He said he had spent almost his entire career at the hospital, where he began his career as an orderly in the orthopaedic department before coming back for his internship.

But that wasn’t the only personal connection, he said.

“It was in my intern year that my 62-year-old father came in with a big heart attack and the treatment of a heart attack in May 1979 was phenobarbital morphine – he died within 48 hours,” Dr Garrahy said.

“So we’ve gone from basically watching someone die in May 1979 to discharging someone home after a successful angioplasty to live another 10 to 20 years of life in my professional career.”

“Before we had treatments like emergency thrombolysis and emergency angioplasty, the hospital mortality for a heart attack was 30 per cent, now it is two per cent. Things have certainly been absolutely revolutionised over the course of my career.”

Dr Garrahy left the hospital only to complete his cardiology registrar training, also spending four years working in the USA before coming back to PAH as a staff specialist in 1990.

“After becoming the director of the unit in 1994-5, we got the go-ahead to establish a cardiac unit at PAH and that was a turning point for this hospital,” he said.

“High level cardiac services were absolutely necessary for the move to the high acuity care PAH could provide. You can’t provide top level intensive care, vascular surgery and neurosurgery without top level cardiology and cardiac surgery.”

There were plenty of accolades. Dr Garrahy was recognised as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2019 Australia Day Honours for “significant service to medicine in the field of cardiology as a clinician, mentor, advocate and researcher”.

Now retired from medicine, he said he had joined an orchestra and planned to dedicate more time to playing the viola – also making good on his promise to his father to get a real job before undertaking to become a professional musician, according to the health service’s valedictory.

“Getting my hands back into shape in my new career is more challenging than my day job and my wife, who is now retired [as a professional musician], delights in letting me know when I’m doing it wrong.”

“I defer to her authority in this – she has 10 times more talent in her hands than I have ever had in mine.”


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