Photo courtesy/Gregory Culick Dr. Thomas Catena recieves boxes of shoes and supplies donated more than a year ago.
By CASEY CROUCHER
Dr. Thomas Catena didn't ask for much when he came home from Africa last winter, and he received more than he asked for more than a year later.
Since 2008, Catena, an Amsterdam native, has been the medical director and the only physician at Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Nuba Mountains of war-torn southern Sudan. When he made a brief trip home last year he made an appeal for supplies needed for his medical work back in Africa.
Local pediatrician Dr. Kurt Konieczny helped get 800 pounds of medical supplies. "The hospitals donated surgical instruments, orthopedic instruments and durable hospital supplies," Konieczny said.
Amsterdam Police Chief Gregory Culick, who graduated with Catena from Amsterdam High School in 1982, caught wind of Catena's need for supplies and called him to ask if there was anything else he needed in Africa.
"[Catena] told me the people in the Sudan needed shoes," Culick said. "So we put out a shoe appeal flyer last year and within a week we had about 600 pairs of shoes."
Culick said the halls of the city's public safety building were lined with donated shoes. The Amsterdam Police Explorer group and other volunteers helped pair the shoes by size and style so they could be shipped off to the Nuba Mountains.
In March 2013, Culick drove a van full of shoes to a New York City shipping port, while Konieczny and 4th Judicial District Supreme Court Judge Joseph Sise drove the medical supplies in a separate vehicle.
Culick said it was disheartening when he got to the shipping warehouse because a woman there told him the chances Catena would receive the donations were slim.
"The woman said the chances he'd see any of the donations was 70-30 because he's 200 miles in-land and as soon as the ship hit shore it was just going to be warring faction after warring faction, and they would try to steal whatever they could," he said.
Konieczny said Catena wasn't really expecting the items to arrive, but he was hoping they would.
"With [Catena] being 200 miles away from a paved road and here's rainy seasons in the Sudan where the road turns to mud and delivery trucks can't drive on it, the likelihood of seeing any of those donations wasn't good," Konieczny said.
However, Culick said he received an email last week from Catena that he had received boxes with shoes and other items.
In the email Catena wrote: "Miracles will never cease ... Thanks to everyone for the support."
Konieczny describes Catena as a fascinating man.
"He walked away from all the things he could have had with a medical degree here in the U.S. and he became a person who devotes his life to helping those who really need it," he said.
Culick said the work Catena does amazes him.
"One day he'll write me and tell me everything is quiet there in the Sudan, the next day he tells me there were 20 bombs going off near his hospital and he still stays there; it's amazing," he said.