“He gives you all he’s got,” says Joe Harris about his wife Veatrice’s doctor. Dr. Tom Shea’s awards, affiliations and published scientific papers would take pages to list. Yet it’s what’s inside his big heart that has made the most impact of all.
Joe and Veatrice Harris, from Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, got word last summer that Veatrice has leukemia. After a referral to Dr. Shea, Veatrice had a transplant with bone marrow from daughter Tiffany at UNC Hospitals in January.
Nearly 25 years ago, Dr. Shea returned to his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to found the bone marrow transplant program. He currently serves as a professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology, as the Director and Founder of the Bone Marrow Transplant Program and as the Associate Director for Outreach Programs. His expertise lies in the areas of bone marrow and stem cell transplantation and hematologic malignancies. He became a doctor because he thought it was the one profession that knew no borders. “I liked the idea of helping and healing people, and being able to develop skills that I could take anywhere, ” he says.
While Veatrice receives treatments, she and Joe have been staying at SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals for the past few months. You can find them giving positive inspiration to Family House guests during community meals, before they head to the hospital, or beside the fireplace. They also provide rides to other guests to the hospital or to the local pharmacy or market. They feel this is their mission while staying at the House: to help when they can because they feel so blessed in life.
“We spend a lot of time and effort getting people better and healing them in the hospital, but it’s really critical that they have a place to go to help that healing, that's away from the hospital as well,” says Dr. Shea. “That's what Family House does: it gives them that place where they can relax and share with their family and with other people here. That helps them heal both their mind and their body.”
Dr. Shea’s involvement with Family House goes back to 2004 as one of the original board members and later, board president. He was a leader in the capital and endowment campaign to build the House. As he puts it, it was the “town/gown collaboration” between the university and the town’s business community that enabled greeting the first Family House guests on March 31, 2008.
After his term expired on the board of directors in 2010, Dr. Shea has continued to serve as one of the House’s strongest advocates and stewards, sponsoring annual fundraisers, working on various board committees and spreading the word about Family House, whether it be to a patient, friend or colleague.
Joe Harris, who refers to his wife of 43 years as his Queen, says they are focusing on the "promise and not the problem." They, like many other guests at Family House, appreciate Dr. Shea’s concern for his patients, and how he actively listens to them and cares how they feel. “He shows compassion,” says Joe.
Dr. Shea says about the Harrises, “If I can give the world another 10 or 20 years of Veatrice Harris, that makes me feel pretty good.”