real life

A thank you to Dr Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann: Your legacy will not be forgotten.

On May 30, Dr Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann left for work to begin another day of work as a cardiothoracic surgeon.

On a day when he was meant to save the lives of others, his own was cut short.

One moment of incomprehensible violence outside weary hospital sliding doors has ended in a family in mourning and a dad leaving his young children forever.

On that frosty Tuesday in South Eastern Melbourne, Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann simply requested a man stop smoking in the non-smoking area at the entrance of Box Hill Hospital, where he worked. He was then allegedly hit from behind in a brutal one-punch assault resulting in his immediate admission to hospital.

Overnight, the Pritzwald-Stegmann family would begin to see their beloved father and husband slip away. Though he had been clinging to life in the Alfred Hospital Intensive Care Unit, their hopes for recovery weren’t to be.

Four weeks after that punch, a heart-wrenching decision to end Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann’s life support was made. He was just 41 years old, leaving behind a wife and twin daughters. Twin daughters who should be saying goodnight to their father, not goodbye.

Following his death, there has been an outpouring of messages of support for Patrick, his family, friends and colleagues. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Shadow Health Minister Catherine King and surgical colleague Jill Tomlinson have paid tribute.

At a time when words would be understandably hard to find, the family has released a statement expressing their grief.

“Our family is devastated by Patrick’s passing. We are grateful for the compassion and support we have received from friends, colleagues and the broader community during recent weeks,” it reads.

Though they feel his loss most keenly, the family are not alone in mourning Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann, with messages of love and grief flowing across Australia.

His skill as a surgeon and an educator will be mourned by both his colleagues and patients, says Eastern Health’s chief executive Adjunct Professor David Plunkett, who describes his death as an “unbearable loss”.

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“Patrick was a passionate patient advocate, a generous teacher and had particular skill in thoracic surgery. His work was truly outstanding, and his commitment and dedication will be sorely missed by his colleagues, friends and patients,” Adjunct Professor Plunkett says.

“Patrick not only leaves a lasting legacy as a surgeon but as a decent and genuine human being dedicated to the wellbeing of others.”

After graduating from New Zealand’s University of Otago in 2002, Pritzwald-Stegmann undertook gruelling work to eventually become a fellow of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons in 2012, specialising in cardiothoracic surgery.

At the time of his attack he was working at the Box Hill Hospital, but was due to begin a new position with St Vincent’s Hospital.

Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann is credited with dedicating his life to saving the lives of others, with John Crozier of The Royal Australian College of Surgeons saying: “There are people who are alive in direct consequence of the skills he brought routinely to his daily professional practice.”

“Patrick’s commitment to the field of surgery will not be forgotten,” said the President of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons, John Batten.

Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy has described his death as “a day of deep grief and devastation for family and colleagues” and has expressed gratitude for Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann’s contributions to the community.

“Our compassion and care is now with his loved ones and friends enduring this devastation and heartbreak. So too it is with those that worked alongside him at Box Hill Hospital, and indeed all of those across our health system who considered Patrick a colleague. Our health system and community are the better for his contribution.”

Our thoughts are with his family and those who he loved and who loved him back.

Dr Pritzwald-Stegmann was a man who had so much more to give, so many more people to heal, help and make healthy again. So many more people to return safely to their own families. He was a man who truly made this world a better place. And for that, his legacy will not be forgotten.