April 26 – Happy Birthday Dr. Tom Catena

There are no words that can adequately describe the admiration I have for Amsterdam native Dr. Tom Catena. A brilliant student, a highly talented athlete with an Ivy league education as a mechanical engineer and a medical degree from Duke, he could have gone to any city in this country, made a huge amount of money and lived the proverbial American Dream.

But instead, he chooses to live in the Sudan, one of the most under-developed war-torn countries on Earth. Instead, he chooses to work as the director and only surgeon in a crude mountain-top hospital that serves a population of 750,000 members of the Nuba tribe. They are among the poorest people on this planet and they have been caught in the middle of a hellish civil war in which the Sudanese Government has actively been trying to eradicate them. Catena struggles to keep them alive. He risks his life, working twenty-hour days, treating every type and scope of injury and illness known to man with medical supplies that must be dangerously smuggled in because the Government bans all forms of humanitarian aid.

Tom Catena does this because he firmly believes it is what God wants him to do. His only reward for his incredible level of service and sacrifice is the feeling of peace he gets from helping these beleaguered people live through another day.

Dr. Catena’s life has experienced some major changes since I first wrote the above post four years ago. He got married to his wife Nasima in 2017. She is a nurse at his Mother of Mercy hospital. Recently in an interview he talked about how having her as his wife has brought a huge positive change to his life because now he has someone to share the dramatic ups and downs he experiences performing the incredible work he is doing. Those who know him understand how important having “family” has been to the person he is today. The Catena’s have been a bedrock of our Amsterdam community for generations. Which brings me to the second major change that has taken place in the good Doctor’s life, the recent loss of his father, Judge Gene Catena. If you saw the wonderful documentary, The Heart of Nuba, you heard Tom talk about how difficult it was for him to be so far away from his parents at a time when he knew they were going through the problems and challenges of aging. The death of his Dad, though it was not unexpected, had to be heart wrenching for Dr. Catena.

Even more recently, massive civilian uprisings in Sudan preceded the over throw of the country’s long-time dictator, Omar al-Bashir, the leader who has made the lives of the Nuba tribe a living hell for the past generation. Dr. Catena is cautious about the impact of Bashir’s arrest and is waiting to see how the military tribunal that has replaced him will behave.

Despite these major changes in his life, one thing hasn’t changed in the last four years. This gallant man is still performing the work of God. On his Facebook page, when friends and admirers ask how they can make a donation to his work, Dr. Catena personally responds by referring them to the African Mission Healthcare Foundation. He credits this group with keeping his hospital open. I can think of no more appropriate way to extend birthday wishes to this heroic Amsterdam-born humanitarian than to click on the link below and make a donation .



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