The president and CEO of UM St. Joseph Medical Center, Thomas B. Smyth, MD, most definitely knows what it is like from the ‘other side of the bed.’ In July 2007, Smyth found that he was suddenly too weak to hold on to a bar of soap in the shower. While this would be a strange experience for anyone, as a physician Smyth knew that “something was seriously wrong with me. By the time my wife Tina brought me to the Emergency Department at St. Joe’s, the weakness had worsened and I was convinced I had a brain tumor or a spinal cord tumor. I was petrified of hearing that diagnosis.” An MRI showed no sign of tumor but within 12 hours, Smyth was paralyzed from the neck down. The cause turned out to be Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system.

Most patients eventually recover from Guillain-Barre but there are no guarantees with this serious illness. “As a doctor I wanted to control the situation but, of course, that was impossible. I was ‘the situation,’ frustrated and scared waiting for people to come in and tell me what was happening and what the next steps were going to be.” But then a miracle happened. “My bed in the intensive care unit happened to be perfectly positioned so that I had a clear view of the San Damiano Cross that was hanging across the hall. Seeing that confirmation of the Divine that loves and cares for all of us, my spirituality came to my rescue. I simply decided to release my fear, turn my care over to God and the wonderful clinicians at St. Joe’s whom He had blessed with many talents. It was a very good decision.”

Completely recovered today, Smyth cannot emphasize enough the importance of his being treated in a hospital grounded in the Catholic tradition. “My faith is very important to me and at the lowest point in my life, it was a tremendous source of comfort to be in a place that is as committed to acknowledging the spiritual as well as the physical ideal.” Smyth believes the ‘culture of love at St. Joe’s,’ as defined by The Archbishop of Baltimore, William E. Lori, is what differentiates the hospital. “My experience certainly informs how I treat my patients. There is a human being in that bed, whether a physician or a premature newborn with frightened parents looking on. As caregivers, we must cut through the diagnosis and see and respond in the most personal way to those who look to us to heal them. It defines our humanity. And, I found this in abundance at St. Joe’s. It is why I am so honored, a decade later, to lead an institution that cared for me with reverence and love when I was most in need.”