NEW YORK – Dr. John Thomas, personal physician to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spoke with The National Herald about accompanying his All-Holiness during his Apostolic Visit to the United States and through the developments which led to the successful operation at Mount Sinai Hospital. Greek-American Dr. Thomas, a surgeon who works with the hospital and took the initiative to promote His All-Holiness’ examinations by Dr. George Syros, who, together with Dr. George Dangas and Dr. Stamatios Lerakis, contributed the most to the Patriarch’s healthy return to Constantinople.
With the demanding schedule, Dr. Thomas, an experienced doctor, had taken over the supervision of His All-Holiness’ health from the beginning, developing a special relationship with him through the pleasant, but also difficult moments.
Speaking to TNH Dr. Thomas looks back on his first meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the first health concerns in Washington, DC but also the general relationship he developed with His All-Holiness, which he considers an experience he will remember forever.
TNH: What was the experience like, when you took on the responsibility of monitoring the health of the Ecumenical Patriarch?
Dr. Thomas: I felt that it was an honor to be chosen to participate in his care. I did not expect that the role would be so important. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to spend so much time with him and have these conversations. He is an amazing man and, I repeat, I felt it was a blessing to be with him. The fact that he left stronger and healthier than he was when he arrived is a blessing for us all. I wish him to stay healthy and to have him with us for many more years.
TNH: How was the first meeting and when did the first “alarm” sound for you?
Dr. Thomas: He arrived in Washington on Saturday. He was recommended to me that day. He looked me in the eye and said “I hope you won’t be needed.” I told him the same. The next day I was in his room, he looked tired and I was worried. We took him to George Washington University Hospital for a thorough examination. Tests were taken at this point and fortunately His All-Holiness recovered and returned to his schedule. I then studied the test results in detail, thought about them and realized that I did not like something. I thought to myself: “If this happens again, if he does not feel well and his blood pressure is high, what if I am not there?” Obviously, I’m a surgeon, not a cardiologist. So I turned to Dr. Syros.
TNH: Was the discharge from George Washington University Hospital the right decision?
Dr. Thomas: First of all, let us clarify something: His All-Holiness did not suffer a stroke, he did not have a heart attack, he did not have a thrombosis or an embolism. All the basic problems that could derail not only the journey, but also the Patriarchate, had been ruled out. Fortunately, the Ecumenical Patriarch is strong and recovered. I make it clear that none of the tests showed anything bad at first reading. So they discharged him. I studied the results and asked for information from Geneva and Constantinople, which my colleagues in Washington did not have. They did what they had to do. What bothered me was the so-called “big picture.” So I contacted Dr. Syros, who understood the seriousness that existed from a cardiological point of view. From there on, Dr. Syros will place for example a pacemaker, but the Patriarch needed a stent. That was where Dr. Dangas and Dr. Lerakis came in. I feel blessed that we were able to get involved and fix the problem. At this moment, His All-Holiness has the heart function of a 30-year-old.
TNH: Was he willing to postpone the return trip to Constantinople?
Dr. Thomas: He is an intelligent and sensible man. At first, he wanted to continue his journey. But when he received all the information about his condition and analyzed it, he decided to stay and receive the treatment he needed.
TNH: What were the basic guidelines regarding the program of the Patriarch?
Dr. Thomas: I expected to deal mainly with COVID issues. I said from the beginning that those who approach him should be vaccinated and wear masks. At every event. I was strict. In fact, I suggested that he not meet with a diplomat from another mission, as he was not vaccinated. I made it clear that we must follow the protocols, so as not to endanger the Patriarch. When I was asked, I said we all need to be protected and careful at this time.
EK: What is your most personal memory of His All-Holiness?
Dr. Thomas: The most important memories begin with the time I spent with him, those days when I was the first to enter and the last to leave his room. From what I saw on this trip, with all those who came to see him, it was moving. How touching it was that he trusted me with his health and listened to the advice we gave him to restore it.