We are sad to see the passing of Dr James Rohrsheim

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James Alexander Loxton Rohrsheim

16 December 1972 – 16 June 2018

Aged 45 years

Beloved son of Graham and Margaret.

Dearly loved husband of Victoria and loving father of William, Olivia and Isabel.

Much loved brother of Michaela, Geoffrey, Heidi, Andrew and David.

James Rohrsheim died suddenly of an aggressive brain cancer in 2018. He departed the earthly world to its detriment and left a huge space in the life of his loving family, his patients and amongst those who were privileged to know him.

James was unique in his friendliness, sense of humour and resilience. In his short life he had accomplished much but his proudest achievements were his children – William, Olivia and Isabel. Close to the end he managed, who knows how, to travel to Orange to see William star in the state under-14s rugby carnival and achieve selection in the 2018 Sydney U14 Junior Rugby Union team.

James himself had a distinguished first-grade rugby record, playing Australian Schoolboys Rugby Union, and was an able athlete. He achieved straight As through and through in academia and sport. He always had a soft spot for his old school, St Peters College in Adelaide, where he had become a natural leader, team captain many times, and eventually school vice-captain.

His love of sport endured through life. Golf was always a passion, as was rugby. After his playing years he coached and refereed rugby and always enjoyed watching.

James came from a service family. His father Graham ‘Zork’ Rohrsheim flew in the fleet air arm and commanded the second flight of the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RAN HFV). This was a highly decorated unit that saw dangerous and meritorious service. Under this influence, James and two of his brothers served proudly in the Australian Defence Force ­–­ James as a medical officer in the RAN. He served on active service on HMAS ANZAC, enforcing United Nations Sanctions against Iraq in the Arabian Gulf. He was awarded the Australian Active Service Medal, the Australian Service Medal, the Afghanistan Medal and the Australian Defence Medal during his RAN service. James continued in the Reserve after taking up orthopaedic specialist training, often teaching young ADF officers on their EMST course.

He became determined to be an orthopaedic surgeon, said to be because of the inspiration of Dr Bill Parker, who was married to his mother’s cousin. He made the transition from Naval Officer to registrar, and did this with resilience and good humour, though it was not always an easy path. He achieved his Fellowship in 2009.

James was a gifted surgeon and absolutely lovely and caring to his patients. He naturally put his patients at ease through his friendliness, warmth, sense of humour and straight talking.  He completed the Exeter Hip Fellowship, a training ground for many colleagues, where he did well and found his area of interest and aptitude. He loved hip surgery.

Despite his success, he was of the rare breed that excelled in many things but remained grounded and modest throughout his life. For many of his orthopaedic colleagues the full picture of James emerged only in the eulogies given by loving family and friends at his all-too-sudden funeral.

Like many young surgeons, James worked hard in that period after fellowship to develop his practice, and this wasn’t easy. He travelled to Wagga, Orange and, from 2017, regularly to Grafton, where he had an appointment as a VMO. He also undertook locums in regional NSW and QLD. Although he did not like being away from family, he thoroughly enjoyed helping patients in country areas and being part of the local medical communities. James consulted at various locations in Sydney, including Bella Vista, Chatswood, Brookvale and St Leonards, and he was held in high esteem by general practitioners for spending time with his patients and patiently answering all of their questions. In December 2017 James was appointed as orthopaedic surgeon at Northern Beaches Hospital and was due to commence his appointment in October 2018. His practice was just starting to build, due to his hard work and genuine expert care, and his reputation establishing, when he became ill.

Some of the reflections from his friends and family speak best:

 “But let me tell you how good he really was. I can’t describe to you how natural an athlete he was. Balanced and effortless are the words that spring to mind. He could kick a footy a mile with either leg. He could run 100m in 10 seconds. He took out sports day time and time again. He stroked his rowing crew to victory at the Head of the River. His sport of choice was rugby of course – and he captained the school rugby team.” – Andrew Baggio.

“To be honest I’m not sure if he picked orthopaedic surgery or if it picked him. With his pedigree he couldn’t have been anything else.” – Matt Ball.

“James saw everyone around him as equals without a sense of hierarchy.” – Allan Young.

“James was a goer from the start, he was so full of energy. Dad would often say that James had been born with ants in his pants, because the guy could honestly not sit still.” ­– Geoff Rohrsheim.

“James has been a wonderful help to us during the last few years, both as a surgeon, and as a friend. I have worked as a hospital chaplain and I have never met a surgeon like James. He was never too busy to spend time with us when it was necessary, and even when it was not.  He was very much a people person.” ­– A patient.

My best recollection was seeing James coming out of the consulting room with both surgeon and patient laughing and smiling, and filled with joy and happiness.

That James was highly regarded, befriended and loved by many was evident at his funeral service. St Clements was full to overflowing as his family and friends remembered and celebrated a life well lived in so many domains.

James left us before his time and was taken with a suddenness that seems inexplicable and unjustified. As medical practitioners we too often see similar in the complex fabric of life, but it makes it no easier in a colleague and friend. He faced the final days with grace and courage and was surrounded by his dear family, his loving wife Victoria, his children, and his much-loved mother and siblings. They have also faced these times with dignity and they have been helped by the precious memory of James and his infectious smile and wonderful life. We think of their hardship and loss and offer support to them at this time.

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