Patch Adams' Message To Aussie Clown Doctors

A look at the men and women entertaining some of the country’s sickest and most disadvantaged kids -- and what the real Patch Adams thinks about his work reaching our shores.

Just ahead of Christmas, the Northern Territory Clown Doctors received a funding boost. For 20 years, the Clown Doctors have been increasingly spreading laughter in children wards around Australia.

You’ve probably heard of the doctor turned clown Patch Adams. His famous style of treatment is now being used in 24 children’s wards across Australia.

“Often you end up with an entourage following you, and sometimes you end up with an apprentice, sometimes there is fear, genuine fear and you just hang back and read that,” clown Dr Bump told 10 daily.

Dr Bump is one of a handful of clown doctors who regularly visit the children’s wards at Alice Springs Hospital and Darwin Hospital.

The Indigenous population in Alice Springs account for less than 20 percent, although 80 percent of children admitted here at Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.

READ MORE: Girls Quest To Find Her Little Town A Doctor

“We have a higher incidence of respiratory disease, pneumonia, bronchiolitis and skin infections that cause abysses,” head of paediatric nursing, Sandi Tohi said.

Tohi says Alice Springs hospital sees a much higher number of patients presenting with rheumatic heart disease (chronic damage to the valves in the heart caused by repeated cases of acute rheumatic fever) when compared to the broader population.

“That’s linked to some of the circumstances that some of the families have to live in. It’s unfortunate that in this day and age there is such a high incidence here,” Sandi said.

“I get chest pains, they told me I have rheumatic fever,” 15-year-old Danika said.

She’s been in the hospital for weeks and is keen to leave, although she will need ongoing treatment for several years.

Kids like Danika have the worst health outcomes – and the $20,000 funding boost from the state government means there will be more laughs where it’s needed most.

Anaemia and untreated ear infections are also common illnesses that cause complications over long periods.

“Ear infections if they aren’t treated early and well they can lead to hearing loss,” CEO of Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance Nothern Territory, John Paterson said.

READ MORE: Indigenous HIV Rates Are On The Rise, Here's What's Being Done To Stop It

“Childhood anaemia due to a lack of nutritious food pockets is something our member services see often,” he said.

Paterson said treating these illnesses alongside community public service campaigns is a broader, more complex issue. While keeping hospitalised kids in good spirits, has a shorter and more immediate outcome.

“It’s a good Christmas present, does that mean we get extra rounds at the hospital? Fingers crossed,” said Dr Bump.

Patch Adams Legacy

The Humour Foundation’s Clown Doctor program is inspired by Hunter Doherty Adams who came to be known as Patch Adams. He was famously depicted by Robin Williams in the film by the same name.

However, Australian clown doctors are clowns dressed as doctors.

“I just gave some medical advice. I diagnosed a smile seven out of 10,” Dr Doo Dah said.

Dr Adams has continued his work and his methods continue to spread around the world.

“I think it’s funny that people think being loving, happy, and fun is somehow emulating me. To me, being loving, happy, and fun is all part of being a normal healthy human being,” Dr Adams told 10 daily.

Adams said “more laughter is needed everywhere,” especially in the face of inequality in both developed and developing countries.

“In a world where generosity and equality would reign, there would be no “disadvantaged” children.”

Paterson said the best health outcomes for Indigenous children is through our Aboriginal community controlled centres.

“Where we do comprehensive head to toe checks. If it's untreated and neglected the kids will end up at Alice Springs or Darwin Hospital.”

Tohi said many patients who come from remote town camps, tend to struggle more as they are not close to their community.

“Separation from family is a huge thing and that is where the clown doctors come in to provide joy and a distraction for the kids,” she said.

Contact the author

Featured image: Antoinette Lattouf