Dr. Don Thomas – Power of One
One might think that coming up with the idea for one of the most significant non-profits in town over 20 years ago would be enough for anyone’s personal satisfaction. For Dr. Don Thomas, however, that was only a beginning, the first in a series of exceptional social justice initiatives that have not only transformed our community, but other parts of the world as well.
Since his retirement from emergency medicine at Huntington Hospital, he has continued to stay busy. He has accompanied UCLA medical students to Honduras and Nicaragua providing short-term medical clinics in rural areas. He has worked in clinics in communities near the U.S. – Mexico border assisting families to access quality health care in a place where often it is a luxury that many can’t afford. In addition, Dr. Thomas often picks up shifts at a community health clinic serving poor families in East Los Angeles and in downtown clinics where the homeless and those in rescue missions are cared for.
The projects that are closest to his heart these days are in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. Since 2002 he has spent two months each summer in this country in South Central Africa volunteering in rural clinics and with village projects that enrich the lives of children.
Since the onset of the AIDS epidemic, Sub-Saharan Africa has been devastated by this horrific disease. With millions across the continent who are HIV positive, effective medical assistance is urgently needed.
Since his first visit to Malawi 13 years ago, Dr. Thomas has been inextricably linked to the people of that beautiful country which tragically has been wracked by disease and poverty. With each visit he brings other volunteers, both medical professionals and laypersons, who work hand in hand with the local villagers and clinics to make striking changes. Health education and treatment is provided to reduce the deaths from AIDS, malaria and from maternal deaths during childbirth. They assist in programs that empower women economically and educationally. AIDS orphans are fed. Girls who otherwise would not be able to stay in school have hope through education.
Dr. Thomas and his wife Mary initially went to Malawi in 2002 with the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA), which started work there in 2001. GAIA is dedicated to providing basic health services, including prevention and care, in Malawi villages and by training health care personnel in this country which is desperately short on physicians and nurses.
In July of 2014, Dr. Thomas’ extraordinary work was honored by GAIA by the naming of one of its new mobile health clinics in rural southern Malawi. The new clinic will serve thousands of residents in the Phalombe District, a district with one of the highest HIV rates in the country. The Dr. Don Thomas Family Clinic will join a fleet of 6 other mobile clinics operating in Malawi. Their charge is to close critical gaps in health coverage in a place where extreme poverty and long distance deny residents regular access to health care.
Recognizing that the reach of this devastating disease is not limited to medical treatment, but also affects the fabric of the family and the tribe, Dr. Thomas and his colleagues have expanded their vision for support. In addition to health care, they also provide assistance for family reunification, mental health treatment, and, most importantly, primary and middle school education.
Dr. Thomas states that he returns each year from Malawi rejuvenated and hopeful. He is astonished by the resilience, courage, grace and love of the Malawian people. Even under such dire conditions they remain steadfast in their faith, and are unwavering about the path they travel. The desire to create a healthier future for all Malawians is the destination of that path, and Dr. Thomas will be there to walk it with them.