From Aged Care Resident to Volunteer Trainer


This is the remarkable story of Tony Fernando. He once entered Japara Central Park in Melbourne as a frail man with a grim outlook on life. His health was extremely poor and after being treated in hospital, Tony needed all the help and support a modern aged care home could provide.

Two years later, Tony is a changed man. He has left his wheelchair behind and checked himself out of the home that, literally, helped him to get back on his feet.

But Tony wouldn’t be Tony if he just waved everyone goodbye to never return again. During his farewell speech, which was attended by many Central Park staff and fellow residents, Tony made a big announcement, promising that he will return to give back to the Japara community. His plan is to come back as a volunteer and to run gentle exercise classes for residents, with the right qualifications under his belt. Everyone is very excited to welcome Tony, and his infectious smile, back on a weekly basis.



“I am so excited to come back as a volunteer to Central Park to help out all my new friends that I have made, and to run exercise classes for seniors in our beautiful garden here”, said Tony at his farewell.


A portrait of Toni


This statement would have been unthinkable, even 18 months ago, when Tony first arrived at Central Park, morbidly obese and wheelchair-bound. He was only in his mid-60s then and even external health experts thought that Tony would require professional care for the rest of his life.

“I was a big boy then. I did my body no favours and I was in no shape to look after myself”, said Tony.

Born Nihal Fernando, Tony has been on many journeys in his life. Not only did he leave his native Sri Lanka behind when he was only a teenager, but he also spent years living in Germany, where he learned the language and made many friends that he is still in touch with today.

Eventually, due to family migration, Tony found his way to Australia where he started a family. However, even though he was thousands of kilometres away from his homeland, the towering shadow of his father still reached all the way to far-flung Melbourne.


Toni with a Central Park staff member outside Central Park


Tony’s father used to be a champion weightlifter and he even represented his country at the Olympics. Tony, on the other hand, always followed a career path where he was in the business of helping people, whether it was supporting street kids or people with a disability.

One day, Tony wanted to make his life-long dream a reality and follow in his father’s footsteps. A drastic change in diet, exercise and lifestyle followed.

While Tony’s tenacity played an important role in reaching his goal of bench-pressing more than 200kg, his determination also lead to him making all the wrong decisions. He started taking an uncontrolled number of supplements, worked out non-stop, and drank a dozen raw eggs a day. In addition to the physical stress he put his body under, his relationships, even with the closest family members such as his wife, deteriorated.

While it might be hard for outsiders to understand Tony’s drive and motivation, he is not alone with his problems in a highly competitive society where challenges around body image and unhealthy diets have become common for people of all ages.

After years of being his own worst enemy and abusing his body, just to fulfil an unrealistic childhood dream, Tony was a shadow of his former self. His stomach was protruded, his metabolism at the brink of collapse, and his legs could no longer carry him.

However, the Japara staff at Central Park managed to focus on all those attributes that Tony had previously used to almost destroy himself, and turn them towards good use, his recovery. All departments got involved including kitchen, lifestyle, physiotherapy and, of course, nursing.

It all started with simple exercises and a fresh and balanced diet. There were also many social aspects that helped Tony to integrate, make new friends, and find a new healthier focus in life.

Fast-forward to early 2021 and Tony has made a full recovery. He is now healthier and fitter than he has been in decades, his spirits are up at all times and he spreads joy by simply entering a room.

“Tony’s journey has been incredible. I am proud to say that he is already the third resident here in recent years who was able to return back home, because of a remarkable recovery that has been a team effort by all staff involved”, says Jaice Mathew, Home Manager at Japara’s Central Park.


Toni with the Home Manager at Central Park, Jaice


As a retiree, Tony is excited about this new chapter in his life and he is looking forward to his new role as volunteer at Central Park, only minutes south of Melbourne’s CBD.

“The chef, physios, lifestyle team, nurses and carers were all fantastic. I can’t believe how much better I feel and how many years I have gained, just by being supported and motivated in the right way”, said Tony on his last day as an aged care resident.



Enquire today

If you or  loved one are interested in the aged care services available at Japara, contact us to have a friendly chat with one of our staff or to book a tour on 1800 52 72 72.

Recent stories

Elderly couple share a kiss on an outdoor bench

Aged care for couples: John and Dawn’s story

Read more

Elouera: A welcome like no other in Torquay

Read more
An older man paints watercolours at Japara Roccoco Aged Care Home

Art therapy in aged care: how art can benefit the elderly

Read more