When a team from Curtin University, including Senior Research Fellow Katie Ellis, won the 2016 Dr Louisa Alessandri Research Grant it was an emotional moment for Dr Alessandri’s mother, Phyllis Alessandri.
“Over 12 years ago, Katie won a scholarship from another program set up in Louisa’s name, the Louisa Alessandri Memorial Fund Scholarship. It was amazing to see Louisa’s legacy come full circle,” Mrs Alessandri said.
The Louisa Alessandri Memorial Fund Scholarship was set up by the Institute for Child Health Research (now Telethon Kids Institute) in honour of Dr Alessandri, who died in 1997 at the age of 34 from complications relating to muscular dystrophy.
The scholarship supports students with disability to achieve their career aspirations by providing funding for course fees, equipment, interpreters, transport or other costs related to further study.
Louisa’s family, friends and former colleagues continue to raise funds for the scholarship.
“Katie told me that if she hadn’t received the original scholarship, she may not have continued studying. The scholarship gives students with disability the confidence that someone believes in them, and Katie’s story really endorses what we are doing,” Mrs Alessandri said.
Dr Alessandri was one of Perth’s most respected child health researchers. In 1984, she completed a double major in microbiology and pathology at the University of Western Australia before gaining a PhD in epidemiology in 1989 under the mentorship of Professor Fiona Stanley. Dr Alessandri went on to work with Professor Stanley at the Institute for Child Health Research in the field of maternal and child health, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
“Near the entrance of the Fiona Stanley Hospital there is a portrait of Fiona and it incorporates images and stories about people who have influenced her life and career, including Louisa,” Mrs Alessandri said.
From 1993 to 1997 Dr Alessandri was also a Board member of the Disability Services Commission and worked closely with former Disability Services Minister, Paul Omodei, to shape disability services, projects and policies in the State.
“Paul once said something which I will always remember – not only could Louisa see the problem, she also had the solution,” Mrs Alessandri said.
According to her mother, Dr Alessandri was always very humble about her professional achievements and was not aware she was so well respected.
“I am proud of Louisa’s achievements, but I was first and foremost her mum. She was a caring daughter to me and my late husband Oliviero and a supportive sibling to her two sisters, Angela and Fiona,” she said.
“Thanks to the Commission’s Dr Louisa Alessandri Research Grant and the Memorial Fund Scholarship, I know that Louisa’s legacy will continue to have a positive impact on the lives of people with disability in WA for many years to come.”
• The $30,000 Dr Louisa Alessandri Research Grant is now open for applications. For more information visit the Commission’s website.
• More information about the Louisa Alessandri Memorial Fund Scholarship