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15 November 2017

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Global honour for leading cardiologist

Global honour for leading cardiologist

Professor John Ormiston has been recognised for his outstanding contribution to cardiology.

As a school leaver in the 1960s, John Ormiston (Sargood and Williams 1961-1965) did a year of voluntary work in Fiji. It was the start of a lifetime of service and he went on to be one of New Zealand’s leading interventional cardiologists.

Every day Professor Ormiston treats heart patients.

“It is extremely rewarding. You relieve a lot of people of pain or shortness of breath and sometimes we save lives.”

He turns 70 in December but retirement is not on his radar.

“I am enjoying what I am doing, and the nurses always say when I have a heart attack I am going to dial ‘0800-John Ormiston.’ So I don’t think I am losing my skills.”

John spends half his time at a large private practice, Mercy Angiography in Epsom, which he founded 28 years ago; and the other half at Auckland City Hospital.

His high standing in the field was recognised in Paris earlier this year when he became the first southern hemisphere recipient of an Ethica Award, for a select few who make an outstanding contribution to cardiology.

“It is a huge honour, not only for me but it reflects the quality of cardiology in New Zealand.”

The award acknowledged his ground breaking research which has been extensively published in medical journals. He founded interventional cardiology research at Greenlane Hospital more than 20 years ago, and is Medical Director at Mercy Angiography. He is internationally known for his bench testing of cardiological devices.

He explains how stents work and advises how to use them in difficult situations like branch points in arteries. Over many years, he has also done a lot of research and testing into dissolvable stents. He spends his days carrying out these medical procedures using stents, dramatically improving the health and quality of life of his many heart patients.

Professor Ormiston grew up in the country near Raglan and attended primary school in Te Akau before arriving at St Paul’s as a boarder in 1961. He was in Sargood House then went on to be Head Prefect of Williams House.

The school went through a rough patch in the 1960s. “I was at St Paul’s when it was going through very difficult times. We had four or five headmasters in my time there and it was really tough.”

“But there were a lot of teachers who really cared about us and I think that makes a big difference.”

He made life-long friends at school. “Some of the people I met then I am still very friendly with and we have kept in touch.”

He did a gap year after school, an unusual move at the time. “I spent a year doing a voluntary service in a remote village in Fiji and taught English. Reg Hornsby, the St Paul’s Headmaster at the time, encouraged us to do things like that.”

Being a country boy John thought he would be a vet, so he went to Massey University for a year. “But at the end of the year I decided I would apply for medical school and got in, so I went to Otago medical school until I graduated.”

He finished as top student for his year at medical school. There was a year spent in Wellington, then 18 months in the United States on a National Heart Foundation Scholarship, before arriving at Greenlane Hospital in Auckland, which was a leading heart hospital.

He worked alongside pioneering heart surgeon Sir Brian Barratt-Boyes. “He was legendary and a superhero and did amazing work. He was a very inspiring and charismatic leader, and one of my inspirations. I saw a lot of him and looked after some of his patients.”

John became a consultant as part of the team pioneering inflated balloons in narrow arteries to unblock them. He says the field has changed a lot over the last 40 years.

“Plain balloon treatments had limitations, then we got stents which greatly improved outcomes, but still had limitations, and then we got stents covered with a drug which made renarrowing really uncommon.”

He says there have been enormous developments in the field of cardiology.

“Not only stents, but now we can replace the aortic valve, rather than having the chest cut open under general anaesthesia, we can do it through a hole in the groin under local anaesthesia. There is a lower death rate and a lower stroke rate than conventional surgery. It is an unbelievable advance.”

Work is a major part of his life, and so is family.

John is married to Diana Lennon, a professor in paediatrics. They have lived in Herne Bay for more than 35 years.

“When we bought the house the bank manager didn’t want to lend us money because he said we should live in Remuera. But it turns out he was very wrong about property values in Herne Bay.”

“I have two boys, young men, and they have wonderful wives, so now we have grandchildren and I very much enjoy spending time with them.”

The couple have travelled extensively, as well as walked and cycled many of the major tracks in New Zealand. John used to be a keen skier, although not now, due to a problem with his hip.

Mercy Angiography is currently building a new facility on Auckland’s North Shore, so John wants to see that through to completion. “I don’t foresee retiring in the immediate future.”

John continues to be a significant financial donor to the school and speaks with fondness about his time at St Paul’s in the 1960s.