Tommy Heyne follows Catholic Tradition to help the poor and sick

Jerry Circelli

Correspondent

Heyne assists a child on the Cavour, an Italian aircraft carrier off the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, following the devastating earthquake in 2010. The ship provided an operating room and a computed tomography (CT) scanner for earthquake victims. Heyne helped transport patients and served as an interpreter between Italian and U.S. physicians. •
Heyne assists a child on the Cavour, an Italian aircraft carrier off the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, following the devastating earthquake in 2010. The ship provided an operating room and a computed tomography (CT) scanner for earthquake victims. Heyne helped transport patients and served as an interpreter between Italian and U.S. physicians. (Photo Courtesy Tommy Heyne)

On a recent morning, just a few days before embarking on yet another challenging journey to serve God, Tommy Heyne traveled to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Grapevine to pray. Heyne grew up in nearby Southlake and some of his earliest memories of his Catholic formation are rooted at St. Francis. On this day, the graduate of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas prays that God will continue to guide him along a path to become a medical missionary to serve the poor. And equally important, he prays that he can carry out his calling with humility and a smile.

It was in this church that the beloved pastor of St. Francis, Father Baltasar Szarka — known affectionately as “Father B” — gave young Heyne some simple, yet valuable advice.

“I was really young, but I remember,” said Heyne. “It was just after confession and I was leaving the confessional. Father B called me back and just said, ‘And one more thing: Just smile. Smile for God.’”

Fr. Baltasar passed into the arms of God in 2000, but his words continue to resonate with Heyne, especially as he studies the life of one of his most admired servants of God — Blessed Mother Teresa.

She gave this advice about helping those in need:

“Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t only give your care, but give your heart as well.”

Heyne would take that advice to heart, combining it with the cheerful example set by Saint Francis of Assisi, who said, “It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look.”

“I just pray that I can be that way,” said Heyne. “But I catch myself sometimes looking too serious. I want to be a cheerful physician.”

Heyne’s next greatest challenge in doing just that will unfold during the coming four years as the North Texan embarks on a residency in pediatrics and internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The young doctor’s acceptance at the hospital, ranked as one of the top five in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, is well deserved.

A 2006 graduate of the University of Dallas in Irving, Heyne finished tops in his class with a 4.0 GPA, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Bachelor of Arts degree in History, with a concentration on Medieval/Renaissance Studies. He then earned a Master of Studies in Theology: Early Church History at the University of Oxford, in England, where he also achieved top marks in his class. Heyne then completed a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship in religious history in Granada, Spain. In 2008, he started medical training at UT Southwestern Medical School. And this past May, Doctor Thomas F. Heyne graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

From all these schools, Heyne excelled not only in academics, but in leadership roles, earning special honors. The long list includes the University of Dallas Cardinal Spellman Award, recognizing a senior who is a model of the highest ideals of the University, and the Ho Din Award, the highest honor given to a medical student at UT Southwestern.

Heyne would rather not dwell on the awards or the accomplishments and tries to put distance between any talk that would come even close to being prideful.

“It comes from God,” said Heyne. “It’s no special thing of mine. All these things obviously are gifts freely given, and as gifts, they don’t belong to us.”

God bestowed gifts on the entire Heyne family of 10, including his father, a medical doctor, his mother, a physician assistant with a doctorate in psychology, and seven brothers and sisters who all have strong faith and a desire to serve others, including two doctors and two nuns.

Heyne will continue to put his God-given talents to good use, as he pursues his goal to become a medical missionary abroad — either starting his own hospital or assisting as a physician at a clinic.

Heyne is pictured with a group of orphans that he cared for during a mission trip.(Photo Courtesy Tommy Heyne)
Heyne is pictured with a group of orphans that he cared for during a mission trip.(Photo Courtesy Tommy Heyne)

Heyne’s desire to follow that course comes from extensive experience gained in serving those in need in different parts of the world. He has volunteered with pediatric cardiologists to help indigent children in Honduras, assisted in earthquake relief efforts at a Catholic hospital in Haiti, and worked in remote mountain settlements of Peru to provide religious education for villagers and health care for the poor.

Heyne has also served at the Lazarus Home for Girls, an orphanage in Al-Eizariya, on the Palestinian West Bank. He has made five trips to Ciudad de los Niños, in Monterrey, Mexico, where he worked at a school and clinic for the poor. Heyne has worked with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in a soup kitchen in Italy and at homes for the destitute and dying in Calcutta, India. In addition, he has made mission trips to Uganda, Ethiopia, and China.

When not volunteering his time abroad, Heyne has worked hard at home assisting at health fairs and medical clinics, helping the homeless, and volunteering as an assistant chaplain at Parkland Memorial Hospital, to name a few local service activities.

“A force of nature,” is what Dr. Angela Peterman Mihalic called Heyne. As Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Dean for Student Affairs at UT-Southwestern, Mihalic has had the opportunity to witness Heyne’s success.

“Well before starting medical school, he had already established a new student organization on campus, the Catholic Society of St. Basil the Great, and it did not stop there,” Mihalic said. “He has been instrumental in the creation and invigoration of many student initiatives as well as the establishment of a formal Global Health office on campus. His leadership, tenacity, commitment, and determination to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of his passions and goals are unparalleled.

“The most remarkable part is that his passions and goals are always centered on serving the poor and addressing healthcare disparities,” Mihalic added. “His mission has always centered on emulating Christ’s example of love, charity, and service, and inspiring others to follow suit. Tommy has always chosen the road less traveled, and I believe he will make all the difference to patients across the globe.”

Heyne works hard to keep the accolades and awards in perspective. His goal is not to accumulate wealth or gain recognition, but simply to move along the path that God set for him.

In Calcutta, India, Heyne worked at homes for the sick and dying run by the Missionaries of Charity. He is shown here with Mother Teresa’s successor, Sister Mary Prema.” (Photo Courtesy Tommy Heyne)
In Calcutta, India, Heyne worked at homes for the sick and dying run by the Missionaries of Charity. He is shown here with Mother Teresa’s successor, Sister Mary Prema.” (Photo Courtesy Tommy Heyne)

There are times when Heyne feels assured he is headed in the right direction, such as when he was in Calcutta earlier this year, performing basic tasks at a Missionaries of Charity home for the destitute and dying. Heyne washed clothes, mopped floors, and spoon-fed the hungry. He recalled a special moment when he was feeding an elderly man, too feeble and sick to speak.

“I was feeding him spoon after spoon of rice and vegetables. He was eating it very slowly. Just chewing it. Then he grabbed both my hands and looked up at me. And he had such a look of peace and love on his face.

“I am no mystic, but that was God,” said Heyne. “There was no doubt to me that Jesus was in this man, and in the blind and the sick there. That sort of thing is just a beautiful moment. And they don’t come that often — those moments of touching Christ, or, rather, Christ touching you.”

There are other moments when Heyne feels inspired to carry out his mission, such as when he visited a terminally ill patient at a local hospital. Heyne asked the man if he would like to join him in prayer. The man only shrugged, indifferent to the question. Heyne proceeded to pray, asking God to look with compassion and loving care on this man and that He give him his peace, show him mercy, and shower him with love. At the end of the prayer, the man — who died later that night — responded, “Amen.”

“God is the one who does the healing,” Heyne reasoned. “We can give the medicines, but ultimately the body is what heals. Similarly with the spirit, God is the one who gives forgiveness and gives healing of spirit, but we can provide suggestions, encouragement, and prayers along the way.”

As Heyne works at his challenging medical residency, filled with long days and nights in Boston, he will continue to ask God to make him an instrument of his plan. And he will do it with a smile on his face and humility in his heart, because Heyne still hears the words of his parish priest in Grapevine, who said, “Just smile. Smile for God.”
The young doctor will be guided by the actions of Mother Teresa and St. Francis, who carried out their work to serve the sick and dying with smiles on their faces, and he will follow his goal to help the poor around the world with his special talents and compassion for their plight.

“Any act of mercy toward a person’s body is to the entire person, therefore to Christ living in that person,” said Heyne, adding that he feels blessed to face the challenges involved in being a physician.

“It’s a beautiful gift, an enormous responsibility, and a huge honor.”

tommy-button.jpgOn a recent morning, just a few days before embarking on yet another challenging journey to serve God, Tommy Heyne traveled to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Grapevine to pray.

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