Bio-Balance Health welcomes Doctor Sam

Dr Samarra Toby, husband Massey and son Arty, were excited to meet with US Autism specialist, Dr. Nancy O’Hara, at the Walsh Research Institute Outreach 2017.

Samarra Toby, or Doctor Sam as she is affectionately known by her patients, is a trailblazer in the health industry.

Among the first cohort of medical students at Queensland’s Griffith University, she was the first Aboriginal medical doctor to graduate at the institution in 2008.

Eight years later she was honoured with the School of Medicine Alumni of the Year award, testament to her dedication to holistic medical care and for her tireless advocacy and awareness of those living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

A proud member of the Gangulu people from central Queensland, she has worked for the Federal Government in indigenous health policy, for Queensland Health and as a GP to help improve the health of her people in rural and remote Queensland.

She currently sits on the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ National Membership Advisory Committee, is an active member of the Australian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine and an active Australian Indigenous doctor and mentor.

Her passion and commitment to health and wellness for the last 18 years is reflected in her life and philosophy, including competing in the natural body building and fitness arena, placing in two divisions at the Queensland State Titles in 2016.   

But ask Dr Sam what is her greatest achievement and she quickly answers, “My son Arty”.

“Medicine is certainly up there,” laughs Dr Sam, who dreamt of becoming a doctor as a young girl growing up in Rockhampton.

“But Arty is first.”

And it is her love for seven-year old Arty, who was diagnosed with Autism at four and a half, that led Dr Sam and her husband, Massey to the Bio-Balance Health Association Outreach on the Gold Coast earlier this year.

The family had been prepared to travel to the USA to consult with leading Autism specialists for Arty, but were delighted to discover they could secure a medical assessment for their son with the US doctors at the annual Walsh Research Institute Outreach in Australia.

Dr Sam also undertook the week-long medical program, which delivers training in advanced nutrient therapy methods for mental and behavioural disorders as well as cutting-edge Autism therapies.

She is the first Aboriginal doctor to complete the training program.

Dr Sam said her family and community at home was very supportive of the ideals of the Outreach.

“The indigenous community was very excited that we could be here,” said Dr Sam. 

“It aligns with our traditional approach and philosophy of health, wellness, nature and the environment and intertwines with our cultural beliefs.

“The amazing team and people including the patients that allowed us to join them on their journey to health and wellness, made the learning experience exceptional.”

Dr Sam said the journey the family has unexpectedly embarked on is similar, and yet so different to many other families dealing with a child, or children, diagnosed with ASD.

“As a medical practitioner I had a clinical understanding of what autism could possibly mean for a family, including evidence based therapies that were available and where to seek support and resourcing within Australia.

“However, as a parent and a family our journey has a slightly different perspective that only a family with autism can intimately understand.

“Our son Arty was essentially non-verbal at age four and a half.

“Through the support and guidance of fellow medical colleagues, speech and occupational therapists and early intervention services we have been given the unique and amazing opportunity to travel with our son on his developmental journey.

“The developmental roller coaster that a family may experience with autism is challenging yet beautiful – our son is neurologically gorgeous, creative and highly affectionate.”

Dr Sam and her family came across many resources at the start of their journey, ranging from information about clinical diagnosis and assessment to the multitude of therapies.

However, she felt there was no fantastic all-in-one resource from the perspective of a parent who has been there, and also a health professional who deals in evidence based therapies.

After becoming exceptionally frustrated late one night with resources for her son and having a million flash cards on the floor that interrupted the flow of therapy and learning momentum, she decided to develop a system that was easier to use and transport.

Dr Sam went on to launch The Autism Tool Kit, creating engaging, useful, hands on therapy resources and tools.

She undertook the photography, editing and graphic design herself consulting with educational experts and therapists to create easy to use resources and instructions.

Finding it difficult to get to the shops to buy resources, she decided to make The Autism Tool Kit available online, and has since shared the system with many other families living with autism.

“The development of these resources and their use have been for our son, and due to overwhelming support and feedback it was suggested we perhaps make these available for other families who may find themselves in a similar position,” said Dr Sam.

“It became my mission to help make ASD resources more affordable and share what I’ve learned on my own journey with Arty.”