Tom Catena

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Tom Catena
Tom Catena in Yerevan 04.jpg
Tom Catena visiting Yerevan to receive the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. Catena giving speech "Gratitude in action" at Yerevan State Medical University, May 2017
Nationality American
Education Duke University (MD)[1]
Brown University (AB, Sc.D)[2]
Occupation Medical doctor, surgeon
Medical career
Institutions Mother of Mercy Hospital

Thomas (Tom) Catena is an American physician who has been practising in Gidel in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan since 2008.[3][1][4] On May 28, 2017 he was awarded the second annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, receiving a $100,000 grant and an additional one million dollars for him to distribute to three humanitarian organizations.


The region has been an area of active conflict since early 2011,[5] and Catena is the only surgeon for the surrounding population of 750,000 people.[6] Patients frequently travel by foot or hitchhiking for up to a week to reach the Mother of Mercy Hospital, where Catena practices, the hospital's catchment area covers roughly one third of South Kordofan, equivalent in size to the entire country of Austria.[7] Patients visit the hospital for ailments varying from fractures, diarrhea, thyroid disease and cancer but also an increasing number of victims of bombing attacks or malnourishment spurred on by the war.[1][5][7]


An abandoned village in the Nuba Mountains from the previous civil war. Villagers would move up in the mountains to avoid the militias.

Humanitarian aid is restricted, a ban which Catena defies.[6] Very few NGOs still operate due to the Khartoum government's blockade,[1] since 2012 aid is not expressly forbidden, but it is in practice impossible as volunteers may not travel into the region.[1] German Emergency Doctors and Samaritan's Purse had a presence as of 2013, but employed no trained medical doctors in the region.[1] Limited by his surroundings, Catena sometimes uses decades-old treatments, and earns $350 a month while being on call 24/7,[8] he engages the local community in the work as nurses and other assistive personnel.[1][2]

His hospital has at any one time between 300–350 in-patients, and was subject to bombings in May 2014, although at the time no one was injured;[7][1] in preparation in case of bombings the compound now has a number of foxholes where patients and staff can flee for the duration.[7]

Catena credits his Catholic faith for his work, and says he is inspired by St. Francis of Assisi.[1][8] He is known by locals as "Dr. Tom" and is widely respected by the population. A local Muslim chief said of Catena, "He's Jesus Christ", owing to Catena constantly healing the sick, helping the lame walk, and making the blind see.[8]


Catena graduated with a bachelor's degree from Brown University in 1986, and received an honorary doctorate from the school in 2016.[9] While at Brown, Catena played nose guard on the football team.[10] He received his medical degree from Duke University,[1] before moving to Sudan he was a military doctor and also worked in Kenya, including in the slums of Nairobi.[4] He has been likened to the 20th-century medical missionary Albert Schweitzer.[2] The New York Times has published instructions on how to donate to Catena.[11]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bartholet, Jeffrey. "Doctor in a Desperate Land". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Morton, Gordon (March 14, 2013). "Man on a Mission". Brown School of Engineering. Brown Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  3. ^ "Hospital in Nuba Mountains losing nurses to INGOs in Yida". Radio Tamazuj. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Knaup, Horand. "Africa's Forgotten War: The Bloody, Invisible Battle for South Kordofan". Spiegel Online International. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Reeves, Eric. "Reeves". Sudan Reeves. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Tom Catena TIME Magazine. The 100 most influential people. Accessed 29 June 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d Bartholet, Jeffrey. "Q&A: Doctor Describes How Sudanese Bombers Terrorized Hospital". National Geographic. National Geographic. Retrieved 3 July 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c Nicholas Kristof (27 June 2015) 'He’s Jesus Christ' The New York Times.
  9. ^ Brown awards eight honorary doctorates. [1]
  10. ^ Tom Catena: Man on a mission. [2]
  11. ^ Nicholas Kristof (27 June 2015) How to Help Dr. Tom Catena The New York Times.