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Shirley Tonkin (nee Curtis)


Inducted 2015
Student at Marsden 1937 – 1938 (years 12 – 13)

Receives this award in recognition of her work as a doctor and international researcher into Cot Death Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (“SIDS”) and Sudden Unexpected Death of an Infant (“SUDI”).  She founded the New Zealand SIDS Association in 1979.

Leaving school she trained as a doctor at Otago University and soon became interested in why babies died at an early age.  Having worked briefly as a GP she studied for a Diploma in Child Health in London, with an interest in educational medicine and discovering how children fitted into their environment.

Her research has led to the founding of the SIDS Association.  The aims of the association are to help bereaved families who have suffered the loss of a child to SIDS, to encourage and fund medical and scientific research into the causes of SIDS, and to provide free educational material to families and health professionals. 

Research has been a constant in Shirley’s life and her advice to parents soon included the right position to put babies to sleep, sleeping conditions and national guidelines for giving babies CPR.  Even after retirement she continued to write and advise on sleeping positions of babies, especially in car seats. Shirley’s work in this area has greatly reduced the incidence of SIDS and set national guidelines of the sleeping conditions for babies.