Once one of the world’s most contagious and ravaging diseases, you could barely tell that leprosy is still a thing today. The disease so desolating that it made several appearances in the bible is still very much active, but its symptoms are now very easily treatable, and its contagion reduced to almost zero.
And all of these are owed to one man – Thomas Rea. Figuring out the immune system’s effect on the disease and having a huge hand in controlling its symptoms and contagion, leprosy treatment pioneer Dr. Thomas Rea dies at 86. According to his son, the doctor died at home after losing his battle with cancer.
Dr. Thomas Herald Rea
Truly a herald of a better time, Dr. Rea was born in Michigan in 1929. Knowing from the start what he wanted to do, the leprosy pioneer pursued medicine in his home state at the Ann Arbor University of Michigan, and finished his residency at the University hospital, also in Michigan.
Part of the United States Medical Corps, the doctor was sent to Korea. When he returned, he started a job at the New York University, where he performed most of his life-saving work with leprosy. He moved to Los Angeles in 1970, and then got a job at the University of South California.
He continued his work as the head of the department of dermatology from 1981 to 1996. And even though the position became too much for him after a certain age, he kept working at the Hansen’s disease (leprosy) clinic in the USC until a couple of months before his death this Monday.
Along with Dr. Robert Moore, his colleague, Dr. Rea was vital in coming up with a cure for leprosy. By discovering the exact role the immune system had in generating the skin lesions trademarked by leprosy, he has made the disease from incurable and uncontrollable fully manageable.
Dr. Rea and Dr. Moore didn’t come up with the cure themselves, but without knowledge of how the immune system caused the skin lesions to spread and grow, some say that we might still leprosy colonies, or, at least, quarantine zones in order to protect the bulk of the population from the disease’s uncontrollable contagion.
The doctor was always doing his best to make leprosy patients feel comfortable. He would shake their hands without wearing gloves (something unheard of back then) and treat them just like he would treat anybody else. Many people consider to owe their lived to the good doctor, and some of those still alive after all this time are going to say a few words at his funeral.
Image source: Wikimedia