The rehabilitation team at Greenwich Hospital faced a formidable challenge when Australia’s oldest working artist and national treasure Guy Warren needed help with his stroke recovery last year.
Warren, who turns 101 in April, was left dizzy, seeing double, and experiencing depth of field problems – devastating symptoms for one of the nation’s most celebrated painters.
It was all due to a stroke, which shocked Warren upon diagnosis, having only stumbled in the courtyard of his lower North Shore home one morning in September.
“My son told me afterwards that I had complained of feeling dizzy and lacking energy that morning, but I don’t remember any of that.
”It must have affected me more than I thought,” he said.
Until the stroke event, Warren had been enjoying a busy centenary year, displaying his work at five separate exhibition events including showings at Sydney’s King Street Gallery on William.
His knees were, by his own account, “stuffed from arthritis”, but he was still driving.
As well as winning the Archibald Prize in 1985, Warren had renewed prominence last year as the subject of the winning Archibald Prize portrait by Peter Wegner in the award’s 100th year.
“[I was] bloody busier last year than I have been all by life. And the Archibald Prize excitement was all part of that,” Warren said.
“It was all too good a story that the prize had been going 100 years and the winner of the prize was a portrait of a 100-year-old artist. The media just went mad about it and could not resist it.”
On admission to Royal North Shore Hospital last year, a clot was found deep in the right side of the talented artist’s brain, confirming a stroke.
Desperate to aid Warren return to his spritely self, the team at Greenwich Hospital’s rehab therapy team, coordinated by senior staff specialist Associate Professor Andrew Cole (pictured with Warren in the top image), worked to improve his sight and motor function so he could get back to what he loved as soon as possible.
Cole notes that in assisting stroke patients, no two patients are the same.
“We always tailor a program to meet the specific needs of the person,” he said.
“In Mr Warren’s case, he had three major issues – his need to see clearly again, fix his depth of field problems, and he had to recover properly his mobility.”
“His thinking mechanism, interacting and talking was not affected by the stroke, so the therapists were able to talk through with him what was going on.
“When we can work together closely with the patient on the right therapy, we can really make it work,” he said.
Their approach was multidisciplinary, with Warren’s recovery aided not only medical doctors, but a team of allied health support, led by occupational therapist Rebekah Choong.
Dr Andrew Montague, HammondCare’s general manager of health and palliative care said the Greenwich rehab team helps with neurological, musculoskeletal and cancer diagnoses and their treatments; rehabilitation after falls and fractures; reconditioning after surgery; orthopaedic treatment and more.
“The key to successful rehab is to listen to patients, hear their needs and get them on the road to regaining independence,” Montague said.
Warren and Cole reunited on March 2 at his studio, surrounded by half-finished canvasses and sketches, to discuss his recovery six months on.
While Warren has been suffering depression and has not yet resumed painting, he is confident he’ll be working again soon.
“I am not going too badly now – I’m really bloody lucky to still be here,” he said.
Born in Goulburn, New South Wales on April 16, 1921, Warren’s distinctive interpretation of landscape and human form is a signature of his work – some of it inspired by his time in Papua New Guinea rainforests during his World War II service.
For more about Greenwich Hospital Rehabilitation Services, click here.
HammondCare, an independent Christian charity, offers hospital care, residential care and community services.