Having delivered almost a quarter of South Australia’s Greek community’s offspring and more than 20,000 babies overall during his illustrious career, the distinguished Greek obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Basil Antonas announced his retirement from obstetrics earlier this month, resulting in a few tears and a flood of gratitude from the families fortunate enough to have him by their side during some of the most important moments of their lives.
“It was a wonderful and adventurous journey full of happy moments, thrills and challenges,” the University of Adelaide graduate tells Neos Kosmos.
According to Dr Antonas, around 30 per cent of his patients over the years were of Greek background while another 25 per cent were of Italian origin.
“Regardless of nationality, for me, any patient that has entrusted me with their life’s journey is unique and I always feel even more grateful and incredibly honoured when children who I have delivered come back to me as adults so I can deliver their babies,” admits the father of four and grandfather of eight, who attended Adelaide High School and then medical school at Adelaide University.
He admits that being an obstetrician hasn’t always been an easy task and requires one to be “on-call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Our work is particularly demanding and requires many compromises, but the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment I experience when I welcome the one generation after the other into this world, overwhelms me,” he says.
Born in a refugee camp in the Palestinian territory of Gaza in 1944, the man who dedicated his life delivering healthy children in the safe and welcoming environments of Australian hospitals had a very different ‘welcome’ to this world.
“After the invasion of Kastellorizo, the English deported my pregnant mother with my two-year-old brother to Palestine. I was born there shortly after,” he says.
Together with a group of refugees, the family moved to Egypt where they boarded a ship to Cyprus. Sadly, somewhere in the Mediterranean the ship sank and 39 people drowned.
After spending six horrendous hours in the freezing water and with the help of Antonas’ uncle, the family survived and eventually migrated to Australia in 1950.
Today, following a life full of adventures, as well as successes, Dr Antonas is about to perform a 180-degree turn and commence a new chapter in his life’s book.
“Retirement was without a doubt a difficult decision to make because I am blessed with good health and energy, but I feel that it is time to take a step back and devote my time to myself and my family,” says the obstetrician, who will continue to work as a consultant at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and also teach at Adelaide University’s Medical School.
“Maybe I will get to the point where I might feel a little bored, but for the time being I am really looking forward to spending some quality time with my family and friends, complete my cabinet-making course and perhaps travel around the world.”
So what makes Dr Antonas so popular? What has the Greek community got to say for the man who could almost fill up half of the Adelaide Oval with the babies he has delivered during all those years?
Arhontoulis family (four children): “His nurturing and dedication to his patients creates a legacy.”
“Always with a smile, a witty joke and a friendly, warm and caring demeanour, Dr Antonas took so much tender care of my babies quietly and without fanfare. Basil was the only ‘other man’ I trusted besides my husband. I remember one morning, after I had my third baby, he tiptoed into the ward where my husband Ilias and our newborn were snoozing beside me. He woke me with a gentle hand on my shoulder, and said ‘shh, don’t get up, just checking you’re OK, dear’,” says Sofie Arhontoulis, who has been Dr Antonas’ patient for the last 25 years.
“When my husband died suddenly during my fourth pregnancy, Basil was ever concerned with my mental and emotional well-being and that is something I will never forget.
“Dr Antonas, I have so much to thank you for. I will miss you very much but you deserve a break. Thank you.”
Eliopoulos family (two children): “There aren’t many doctors out there like him.”
“Dr Antonas was my obstetrician for both my daughters Elena (2008) and Penelope (2011) and I will forever hold a special place in my heart for him. I am emotional even writing this because there aren’t many doctors out there like him and I am genuinely going to miss him. He has definitely left his mark in medical history.
“Despite him seeing patients every single day, he still did his job with so much passion and love for each patient and both myself and my husband were really touched by him. Dr Antonas’ personality shined through at every visit with his funny, witty comments and beautiful nature and I always looked forward to seeing him. I felt so much at ease giving birth because he was my doctor.
“Dr Antonas, all your life you have worked on helping others and now this is your turn, to turn over a new leaf and live for yourself and your family. You can forever smile and feel content that you made a difference in this world because you definitely made a difference in ours. You have fulfilled your professional ambitions and now is the time to achieve your personal aspirations. Thank you for being you. We respect and honour you immensely. From the bottom of my heart I hope you have a blessed and happy retirement,” says Filitsa Eliopoulos.
Mavragelos family (two children): “He was put on this earth for a reason.”
“The minute someone meets the doctor they realise instantly that he had a destiny to fulfil and he did accomplish what he was destined to. We were truly blessed and honoured to have him deliver our children and we will be forever grateful to him.
“Dr Antonas’ nickname was ‘the mechanic’ because he knew how to get in there and get the job done. He knew how to use his great sense of humour and instantly calm everyone’s nerves. His unpretentious confidence made it quite clear to all that we were certainly in the best of hands,” said Nick and Tania Mavragelos.
Tolis family (four children): “He helped so many miracles come safely into the world.”
“I will never forget his warmth and sense of humour. I knew I was in safe hands when he delivered my fourth child and I thank him so much for that. I wish him a well-deserved retirement!” says Dimitra Tolis.