‘Bestie’ scientists celebrate 80 years of supporting little lives


Two scientists whose friendship was forged in Mater’s South Brisbane pathology laboratories are celebrating an incredible 80 years of helping to save critically ill babies.

Avis McWhinney and Colleen Voroteliak are supervising scientists at Mater’s Chemical Pathology Lab and last week both received Mater Long Service Awards recognising the 40 years of service each has given to patients.

The best friends were acknowledged for making a difference to some of the state’s littlest lives.

Avis supervisors the testing for complex genetic conditions to enable babies and children to receive life-saving treatment to slow or stop the progression of their condition.

Avis, 60, said she enjoyed working at Mater and was attached to ethos and values of Mater.

“The Sisters of Mercy inspired a lifetime commitment and dedication to ensuring the best outcomes for patients and staff,” she said.

Avis, a grandmother of five, said she worked in a team of 20 and assisted with a range of tests, some which could only be performed through Mater Pathology.

She said one of the most common tests her team runs is on critically ill infants or newborns, screening for inborn errors of metabolism.

“Inborn errors of metabolism are rare genetic disorders in which the body cannot properly turn food into energy, so it can put infants in a very critical condition,” Avis said.

“Although they only affect approximately one in 500 live births in Australia, these metabolic diseases play a major role in the survival of a baby in the first few days and then the development and quality of life of a child once they get older.”

Avis said testing for metabolic diseases was performed through looking for various different genetic defects within the body’s biochemical pathways. Only Mater Pathology and Pathology Queensland offer this type of complex testing in Queensland.

“Finding a diagnosis for a metabolic disease can be very difficult. Essentially, it is our team’s job to pinpoint a diagnosis as accurately and as quickly as possible to ensure these little patients can get the help they need,” she said.

One of the areas Colleen supervises is thyroid function tests, as well as pregnancy tests, electrolyte, liver, cardiac marker and renal tests which are essential in assisting medical staff diagnose and manage patient treatment and outcomes.

Avis and Colleen said throughout their careers, technology in the lab had changed significantly leading to better turnaround times for results and better patient diagnosis.

“We had to collect the blood from patients when I first started, now there is a whole phlebotomy (blood collection) team to perform collections,” Colleen said.

The Brisbane besties said they share similar values and have been the strength for each other during family hardships, work challenges and significant life events.

“I’ve been at Mater for 40 years because it’s about the people – the kindness, support, and friendships,” Colleen said.

“I have worked with some incredible people, from our chemical pathologists, chief scientists, fellow scientists, scientific assistants and housekeeping staff – everyone has always shared knowledge, supported each other and worked as one team to support patient care and staff wellbeing.”

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