Yeo, John Douglas

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MB BS 1956 MSurgery 1978 PRM FRACS FAFRM

John Yeo is a leader in the prevention and rehabilitation of people with spinal injuries. He was the Founder and Director of the Spinal Research Foundation in 1976.

After working as a Resident Medical Officer at both the Royal North Shore Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, John took up a position as Surgical Registrar (Orthopaedics, Urology and General Surgery) at Southlands Hospital in the United Kingdom. He also spent a year in General Practice in Saskatchewan, Canada, before returning to rural General Practice in Australia.

By 1965, however, he was already interested in spinal injuries and began working in this area as Senior Registrar in Paraplegia at Royal North Shore Hospital. In 1967, he won a Churchill Fellowship to study recent advances in the treatment of paraplegia and quadriplegia in the USA, Canada, Europe, the UK, Israel and India. Returning to Australia in 1968, he took up the position of Medical Director and Head of the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Royal North Shore Hospital, a position he held until 1992. He founded the Spinal Research Foundation in 1976.

Concurrently since 1988, he was the Medical Director of the Moorong Spinal Unit, Royal Rehabilitation Centre in Ryde, Sydney. In this role, he was also the Director and Chairman of the Awareness and Prevention Program for Schools. John has played an important role in education. He has been involved in postgraduate teaching of medical and nursing students, as well as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, ambulance officers, and in lecturing to university groups such as students from the Faculty of Arts and Education. In addition, John has worked with schools in an advisory capacity to raise awareness of safer ways for school children to carry heavy loads of books and bags.

John has held additional appointments at the Sydney Adventist Hospital and Dalcross Private Hospital, Sydney.

Alongside these appointments, John has continued his research into both the rehabilitation of people with spinal cord injuries and the promotion of prevention of spinal cord injury in the community. In addition, he has been integral to the development of various devices, including the Russell Extrication Device which is used for patients suspected of having spinal injuries, particularly after motor vehicle accidents. He also worked for some time on the development of sacral nerve stimulators to assist in emptying the paralysed neurogenic bladder. Working with the Department of Diagnostic Radiology, he has been able to use MRI investigation to analyse and identify pathology in recent spinal cord injury.

John also contributed to the launch of a “Safety” video by the NSW Rugby League in March 1990 and to altering the rules in Rugby Union to help reduce spinal injuries. This video was distributed to Rugby League Clubs and schools across the State to demonstrate adequate preparation and training necessary before games, and appropriate first aid for injured players.

Aside from his hospital appointments, he continues to have an active outreach practice. To date, he has visited hospitals in Nairobi, Singapore, Shanghai, Honiara, Port Moresby, Goroka, Mt Hagan, Sopas, Lai, Bougainville, Kenya, China, Fiji, South Africa, Solomon Islands, France, Japan and Noumea to advise and treat patients with spinal cord injuries. Over the past 20 years, he has been invited as a Medical Consultant in the medico-legal issues involved in adequate patient care of paraplegic and tetraplegic casualties in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Japan, France, South Africa and Singapore.

John has been involved in the care of over 3000 paraplegic and tetraplegic casualties. Currently, he remains an Honorary Medical Officer to the Spinal Injuries Unit at Royal North Shore Hospital, and a Rehabilitation Specialist at Dalcross Private Hospital.

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Yeo, John Douglas. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.