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Doctor treats patients’ physical, and spiritual, needs

NASHVILLE, TENN. — After Karen Pang received a diagnosis of colon cancer, Dr. Thomas Henderson held her hands and prayed with her.
Henderson not only asked God for healing but also referred Pang to a Christian colleague who performed her cancer surgery for free, she said.
“I owe my life to the Lord, but Dr. Henderson helped me every step of the way,” said Pang, who with her husband, Juil, owns a small market and cannot afford health insurance.
Henderson, 59, found his calling with the Faith Family Medical Clinic after a 28-year career as a family physician in rural Dexter, Mo.
There, he and his wife, Linda, whom he met at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., enjoyed what Henderson described as a “typical small-town life.”
They stayed active at church and in the community. They raised their four children — Joel, now 36; Ben, 33; Maryglyn, 30, and Daniel, 25, all of whom attended Harding. Henderson even served 12 years on the school board.
But faced with an empty nest, the Hendersons began asking God to open doors to them for possible mission work.
While in Nashville to help plan their daughter’s wedding in 2000, Tom decided to catch up with medical school pal Lanny Holmes, a physician at a Nashville hospital. While chatting, Henderson expressed his desire to help with a clinic serving the working poor.
Much to his surprise, Holmes immediately put him in contact with an orthopedic surgeon named David Gaw, who already was raising money to open just such a clinic.
“When you experience a chain of events like that, you can always argue, ‘That’s coincidence,’” Henderson said. “Or do you actually believe it’s providence? Do you actually believe it’s God working? After praying about this, we concluded that God was leading us in this direction.”
With roughly 50,000 uninsured people in Nashville’s Davidson County, Henderson just knew the clinic would be swamped with patients. But when the clinic opened in October 2001, he saw exactly one patient the first day.
After a year, the clinic averaged about 12 patients a day, and Henderson — as he put it — “started grousing to God.”
“And he heard me, so now we’re seeing anywhere from 45 to 60 a day,” Henderson said.
But he emphasizes to the part-time doctor and three nurse practitioners who serve with him that no one works under a quota system at this clinic.
“He tells them, ‘Some days, the only way you may help your patient is to listen to them, and that’s OK,’” Linda Henderson said. “He says, ‘We’re not going to herd them through like cattle.’”
Dearing Davis, 25, an Abilene Christian University social work graduate, served two years in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica.
Now, she greets patients at the Nashville clinic’s front desk.
Davis, who helps translate for Spanish-speaking patients, describes Henderson as a humble servant who goes out of his way to help hurting people and touch their lives in a positive way.
“He just has an amazing heart,” Davis said. “He’s just someone who cares about people in every way, shape and form, and he definitely exemplifies that in his life.”
Patients pay $10 to $30 per visit based on a sliding, income-based scale. Those fees cover roughly 20 percent of the costs. Donations from individuals, churches and foundations take care of the rest.
“We see people who are working 20 hours here, 20 hours there, and trying to make ends meet,” Henderson said. “They’re living paycheck to paycheck, barely getting by, and if they have some significant medical (problem) in their life, boy, it’s a snowball effect.”
Before going to work at the clinic, Henderson never liked public speaking.
“He was really not very good at it,” said Linda, his wife of 38 years.
But now, his fund-raising work requires it. And when it comes to talking about the clinic, even his own children marvel at his poise, she said.
“We all think — and he would tell you in a heartbeat — that God enables him to do it,” she said. “It’s not really public speaking. It’s just telling about something he loves. I do think that’s the difference.”
Occasionally, someone will hear about Henderson’s work at the clinic and thank him for his sacrifice.
He never hesitates to correct them.
“It’s not a sacrifice to be involved in this clinic because you get to take care of people who appreciate what you’re doing,” he said.
“They’re thankful. Once in a while, you run into an entitlement attitude, and it’s fun to take care of them because you get to re-edu
cate them. You let them know that this is not a government program. We don’t take government money. This is funded by donations, by Christian people.”
Pang, whose husband and two teenage sons also depend on this ministry of compassion, summed it up this way: “We need more Dr. Hendersons and more Faith Family Medical Clinics.”

Filed under: People

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