Australia's Own Patch Adams Loses His Battle With Cancer

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A pioneering Australian doctor who sought to use laughter as a form of medicine has passed away after succumbing to his own battle with cancer.

Dr Peter Spitzer, a general practitioner who worked in Bowral, was co-founder of The Humour Foundation, an Australian charity which seeks to explore and promote the benefits of humour as part of the treatment process.

The Foundation is best known for it 'clown doctors', who visit wards around the country bringing hope, spirit, and a sense of fun to families facing their darkest hours.

In an eerie coincidence, the news of Dr Spitzer’s death comes at the same time as that of American actor Robin Williams.

In 1998, Williams portrayed American doctor Hunter Doherty "Patch" Adams in the eponymous film about Adams, whose social activism and work as a clown doctor paved the way for the Humour Foundation and work of Dr Spitzer.

It was a meeting with Adams that helped inspire Dr Spitzer and co to bring humour based care to Australia in the early 90s.

Founding Chairman and Medical Director of the charity, Dr Spitzer also pursued related research, including a 2011 study on the impact of humour therapy in dementia care.

Aside from establishing and helping to run the charity, Dr Spitzer did much of his work as ‘Dr Fruit-Loop’, a clown doctor who entertained children with magic, jokes, and no less than 30kgs of props.

Dr Spitzer as Fruit-Loop

In a profile of Dr Fruit-Loop on the Clown Doctors website, Dr Spitzer reflected on the more serious aspect of his clowning, describing his “favourite moment” as follows:

“Whilst using clowning, magic and music, witnessing a boy utter his first words after a serious motor vehicle head injury. A powerful and emotional moment filled with smiles, hugs and tears of joy. Truly a transformational time for all.”

A post on the Clown Doctors facebook page authored by Foundation CEO Melinda Farrell described Dr Spitzer as a “shinning star and master court jester”.

“No one will be able to fill your big clown shoes. The number of red nose transplants, "cat" scans and funny bone diagnoses you have delivered over the last 17 years is countless,” Farrell said.

“You forged the way, through a marriage of art and medicine, for the beautiful work of the Clown Doctors to begin. Over 1,000,000 lives have been touched since, and Clown Doctors now bring smiles and laughter to over 150,000 sick children and their families around Australia every year, when they need it most.”

Farrell said Dr Spitzer’s commitment to gaining the trust and respect of hospital staff and managers was what enabled the Clown Doctors to become a regular fixture in so many wards.

Elizabeth Koff, Chief Executive of the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, said Dr Spitzer’s work would live on.

“As the founder of the Humour Foundation, and as Dr Fruit-Loop, he brought joy to many thousands of children and their families. We shared his holistic approach to healing and staff will remember many jokes shared over the years,” she said.

Dr Spitzer died on Friday after being diagnosed with cancer in December last year.

He in survived by his two children.

On Monday, the Clown Doctors facebook page shared Dr Spitzer’s favourite joke:

“What do you call a chicken crossing the road? Poultry in motion.”

If you would like to help continue the work of the Clown Doctors, please donate here.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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