Australian doctor, Richard Schloeffel, was amongst those to receive an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in this year’s Australia Day honours list. This prestigious award was granted for his service to medicine in the field of chronic and infectious disease.
Dr Schloeffel’s background includes having worked in rural practices for more than a decade, and five years working in the developing world, including Papua New Guinea, China, India, Bali and Eastern Europe. For the last twenty years, he has been specialising in complex and chronic disorders, especially ME/CFS, as well as tick-borne, Lyme-like disease. He is particularly known for his work with children and adolescents.
Dr Schloeffel’s citation includes recognition of his role as President of the Australian Chronic Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases Society (ACIIDS); the education he has provided to GPs, patients and the public about ME/CFS and Lyme disease for almost 20 years; his work with the Tick Borne Disease Research Unit at the University of Sydney; and the protocol for the management of ME/CFS and Borreliosis and co-infections (Lyme disease) in Australia which he authored.
Chronic Lyme (and Lyme-like) disease is not recognised by the Australian government, so this makes Dr Schloeffel a controversial figure. Indeed, his award did not pass without criticism. Emeritus Professor John Dwyer said:
“He may be well intentioned but the bottom line is this award is not about him. It is about the fact that we live in the most scientific of all ages, but unscientific nonsense is peppering healthcare and to uphold someone who doesn’t have those principles will confuse people.
“It’s a bit like giving someone a PhD for their anti-vaccination work.”
Dr Schloeffel rejects this view of his work, claiming, “I’m not alternative, and I’m not a homeopath, but I look at all aspects of medicine including diet and meditation to take a holistic approach for my chronically ill patients.”
Dr Schloeffel had some thoughts for his critics: “If these doctors who are my detractors would look at my patients, they would realise that many have been misdiagnosed, and do fall within evidence-based medicine that my detractors haven’t studied.”
Unsurprisingly, Dr Schloeffel’s patients paint a different picture of his work from that of Professor Dwyer. Claudia Heath, whose son has been in Dr Schloeffel’s care for many years, offered this reflection:
“With his vast knowledge and holistic approach, Dr Schloeffel has been able to help so many, including my son. Without him, our lives would have been so very different. He has given my son and our family the confidence to know that he will not be abandoned, that he is completely believed and that whatever challenges he faces, Richard will always be there to help. Even his surgery itself is designed for his patients, with air purifiers, temperature controls, beds and rest areas. After each appointment, my son is buoyed by his kindness and thorough care.
But more than this, he has the passion and commitment to follow through in ways that most would not have the courage, let alone the boundless time and energy, to try. He found and treated my son for underlying infections no one else was testing for. Yes, he is ahead of the hard science at times, and some prefer to wait and hope, but he proceeds with extreme caution and expertise. With an illness with so little in the way of answers, how else are the answers going to be found? We are so grateful and congratulate Dr Schloeffel on this well-deserved award.”
Whilst ME/CFS and tick-borne, Lyme-like disease remain controversial and under-recognised conditions in Australia, this award provides validation for Dr Schloeffel’s tireless efforts for his patients, as well as for the conditions he treats.
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