A Doctor

The Impact of a GP, Who Died Far Too Young

You didn’t have to know Dr Peter Dunne to like him. A mad keen runner who believed in staying healthy. A medico with a comic touch. A husband and father, with a heart of gold.

“I was looking for a bulk-billed GP many years ago and his name popped up,’’ one of his patients tells me. She remembers falling ill on the eve of a big USA trip, and visiting him.

“I was crying in his office and he showed me a Google map of the White House and around that area and tried to calm me down by telling me where I could go and what I could see,’’ she says.

The consultation ran over time, and that bothered neither of them. “He basically said everything was going to be all right. And I went away and it was an amazing trip. I went to the places he pointed out to me and I brought him back an Obama doll to thank him.’’

One patient, with one story, among hundreds and hundreds of others about a Brisbane medico found dying on the street, at the age of 53.

Police will allege a driver recognised Dr Dunne, out on his pre-dawn run, and deliberately ran him down. That’s for the court to determine.

I didn’t know Dr Dunne, but how can this go barely noticed in a city we fondly label a big country town? Once upon a time, alleged murders made headlines.

Dr Dunne’s death shouldn’t be a few paragraphs, or a couple of minutes squeezed between ads on television.

It was a normal Monday morning in February for Dr Dunne, when tragedy struck. Even at 4.30am, warmth had crept into the day, and he was shirtless. He carried a torch to illuminate the cul de sac as he powered through the quiet leafy suburb of Tarragindi.

What happened then will unfold in court – but neighbours found him lying on the road, semi-conscious, shortly after.

He sat up, and said a couple of words. But that’s when emergency services believe head injuries became obvious. Later, in hospital, while tubes worked overtime to keep him alive, he was found to have bruising to his eye socket, a broken ankle, significant skull fractures and brain injury.

This was a Brisbane father who devoted his life to making other people well; an experienced general GP who also specialised in opioid dependency.

Drugs are our 2019 hell. And his experience just in that field sets us all back.

Dr Richard Kidd, who liked him from the moment they met in the early 1990s, says the area of addiction and opioid dependency is a speciality the medical profession needed. “There aren’t many doctors who do it,’’ he says.

Dr Kidd say Dr Dunne always put the patient at the centre of his consultations. It was never about money or time management.

Patients agree, crying while relaying the warmth of his voice, and his ability to make them laugh, and see a way out of their pain.

“He made me laugh and feel at ease during difficult times. Not many doctors have that gift,’’ one tells me.

“I saw him for six years as my doctor and methadone prescriber,’’ another says. “He was the most caring, giving man I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing as my medical professional. He always had a joke to tell and positive outlook on life.’’

All his patients knew of his passion for running, including marathons around the world. At a suburban park run last Saturday, the black armbands marked respect for their missing mate.

But his real legacy will be in those who owe their lives to him, and there’s a long queue. Like this patient: let’s call him Dave.

In one consultation, because Dr Dunne thought it was good for Dave, they listened together for 16 minutes to Tubular Bells, by English musician Mike Oldfield.

During another consultation, the phone rang, and Dr Dunne broke into fluent German; a skill he’d honed during a year in Austria with his wife and children.

“He helped me get my life together and I will always be grateful for that. I would like his family to know he helped me so much, it’s hard to explain. We just bought our first house and we wouldn’t be here without him.’’

Dave’s not the exception to any rule. One patient drove from the Gold Coast when she needed to see a doctor, so she could see Dr Dunne.

All lives are equal and Peter Dunne wasn’t special because he was a medico. It was because he touched so, so many lives.

One patient remembers how happy the doctor was when he found out she and her husband had finally become pregnant through IVF. He was just as upset when it ended in miscarriage. “He would take into account not only your physical ailments but mental and emotional health as well,’’ she says.

Another patient is in tears as she explains how he paid her bill out of his own pocket once. “This is a terrible, terrible, senseless loss to the community. We are so much worse off. He helped the needy and forgotten. He saved my life once.’’

That was Dr Peter Dunne, and that will be his ongoing defining legacy.

Photograph of Madonna King

Madonna King is a leading journalist and commentator. An award-winning presenter of 612 ABC Brisbane, she has authored 12 books and now works across radio, television and online.

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