Dr. Tom Catena

Medical Missionary, 2019 Recipient of the AMH L'Chaim Prize 

Dr. Tom Catena, Medical Missionary

Dr. Tom Catena is the 2019 Recipient of the AMH L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service. The prize is awarded by African Mission Healthcare (AMH), a Florida-based nonprofit organization that strengthens African mission hospitals to aid those in greatest need, and it is sponsored by Jewish philanthropists Rabbi Erica and Mark Gerson. It is the world’s largest annual award of its kind dedicated to direct patient care in Africa.

Dr. Catena’s Education Dr. Tom Catena, a Catholic native of Amsterdam N.Y., graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Brown University in 1986. While at Brown, Catena played nose guard on the Brown Bears Football team. He received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine. After medical school graduation in 1993, he completed a one-year internship in internal medicine at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. For the next four years, he served as a flight surgeon with the U.S. Navy. After his discharge from the Navy in 1997, Catena began a postgraduate residency in family-medicine at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Ind. 

The Missionary Years Dr. Catena wanted to be a medical missionary since high school, and in 2000 he went to Kenya, Africa to begin to fulfill that goal. He volunteered with the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) and spent two and a half years as a missionary doctor at Our Lady of Lourdes Mutomo Hospital in the rural settlement of Mutomo, Kenya. From 2002 until 2007, he worked as a consultant at the private St. Mary’s Mission Hospital in Nairobi. While in Kenya, Dr. Catena learned surgery from missionary and Kenyan surgeons. In 2008, he moved to the Nuba Mountains in Sudan to become the first, and only doctor, at the new Gidel Mother of Mercy Hospital, where he is still works as the hospital’s medical director.  

Nuba Mountains Dr. Catena is the only surgeon for 1.3 million people in a region nearly twice the size of Massachusetts. As a medical missionary, he put his life on the line living in the middle of the war-torn and besieged Nuba Mountains, a territory fiercely contested by its inhabitants and the former government of Sudan.  

When the fighting in the region started in 2011, most expatriate workers fled. Dr. Catena insisted on staying. He said, “Leaving would be the same as saying his life is more important than those in Nuba, which he did not accept.” The hospital was bombed, and a bomb fell near his house. In the face of death, the middle of burning villages and bleeding children, and widespread poverty, Dr. Tom stayed. He’s on call 24/7—weekends, the middle of the night, and sometimes sees as many as 350 or more patients in a single day.  

Dr. Catena is married to Nasima Catena, a native of the Nuba Mountains and a nurse at Mother of Mercy Hospital. The couple is in the process of adopting a child.

2020 Nuba Campaign Dr. Catena is currently chairing African Mission Healthcare’s Nuba 2020 campaign to ensure the only major hospital in Sudan’s war-torn Nuba Mountains continues to treat and save thousands of children and adults threatened by conflict, disease, and medical emergencies 365 days a year.  

Awards, Honors & Recognition Dr. Catena has received several awards and honors, including:

  • Chairs the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.
  • 2019 Dr. Peter Attia, host of popular podcast The Drive, called Dr. Catena “the world’s most important doctor—to nearly a million patients—saving countless lives in the war-torn and remote villages of Sudan.”
  • 2019 Cinema for Peace Most Valuable Documentary Film (for The Heart of Nuba, with Kenneth Carlson).
  • 2018 Received the Catholics in Media Associates (CIMA) Social Justice Award.
  • 2018 Named the 2018 “Catholic Doctor of the Year” award by the Mission Doctors Association.  
  • 2017 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity—one of the world’s most prestigious humanitarian awards.
  • 2017 Honorary doctorate, Yerevan State Medical University, the leading university in Armenia.
  • 2016 Honorary doctorate, Brown University.
  • 2015 Time 100 -- Named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the world by Time Magazine.
  • 2015 – Gold Medal of the National Football Foundation (NFF).