Clarity of vision

17 August 2017

Cardiologist, Dr Rosemary Hackworthy, has developed her skills alongside the great advances in imaging technology. Once the only female cardiologist in Sydney, she has helped pioneer important imaging research.

Dr Rosemary Hackworthy

Dr Hackworthy has been part of the evolution of non-invasive imaging.

Not many 12 year olds would be able to predict their adult profession, but Dr Rosemary Hackworthy (MBBS ’76) knew she wanted to work in medicine when she was a young girl. “I was always interested in the medical side of things and I liked science subjects at school, so I aimed in that direction,” Dr Hackworthy says.

Now a widely respected cardiologist, she commenced her medical training in 1970 when it was still unusual for women to enter the medical profession. “When I completed my formal training the only female cardiologist in Sydney was retiring after some 30 years of practice, so no other females had trained or worked in cardiology in Sydney in all those years,” she says.

Throughout her career, Dr Hackworthy has worked with many pioneers of cardiology. “The timing of my career was amazing – I started studying just after Harry Windsor performed the first heart transplant in Australia [in 1968], and I worked at St Vincent’s Hospital in the early 1980s as an intern, resident medical officer and cardiology registrar during the time of Victor Chang [MBBS ’63 BSc(Med) ’61],” she says.

Over several years spent at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in the United States, her research and clinical work looked at treating heart attacks with drugs that dissolve blood clots, known as thrombolytic therapy. Even today, these ‘clot buster’ drugs are still the primary treatment for heart attack in country areas that lack a catheter laboratory.

A major turning point came with the development of cardiac imaging technology, which meant heart function could be seen without the need for an angiogram (which involves injecting an iodine contrast agent through a catheter inserted into an arm or leg artery into the heart).

“My research into thrombolysis compared heart function in people who had or hadn’t had their blocked coronary artery opened early,” Dr Hackworthy explains.

This was at a time when there was no cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), “When I started practising in the early 1980s we were using echocardiogram M-Mode machines, which to a layman looks like squiggly lines on paper,” Dr Hackworthy says. “It was rudimentary compared to current imaging. To be able to now see some of the structural anomalies and movement is pretty amazing.”

While Dr Hackworthy acknowledges the importance of her research in thrombolytic medicine, it is her work in non invasive methods of predicting the unblocking of arteries, called reperfusion, of which she is most proud. “Everyone is still using that criteria,” she notes.

Today, her focus is on clinical medicine, with consulting rooms in Newcastle NSW, which she shares with her husband, David Hardy (PhD ’97), a sonographer. “I have been in my practice for 26 years and I have patients who have stayed with me all that time,” Dr Hackworthy says. “It is very rewarding.”

Her advice to anyone considering a medical career is straightforward: “Go into medicine because you are genuinely interested. You should be honest with yourself and do what you are passionate about – only then will you have the discipline to achieve.”  

Written by Dr Kerry Little
Photography by Max Mason-Hubers

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