What kind of man gives up a life of privilege and comfort to live in a war zone half a world away from his family because the people there need a doctor? The Heart of Nuba is the story of American doctor, Dr. Tom Catena, who works in Mother of Mary Hospital in Sudan, among the Nuba Mountains. It is the only hospital for hundreds of miles, and he is the only doctor. The tagline for the film is: “One doctor. One Hospital. One million patients.”
It is not just that this is a very remote region where typical medical care would be needed. This is a war zone. The president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir (who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes) bombs his own people, targeting innocent people and children. Many of those that Dr. Tom cares for are those severely wounded in such attacks. But he also must deal with leprosy, a small child with kidney cancer, the measles (because the government will not allow vaccines to be brought it), and so much else that grows out of lives of poverty.
Dr. Tom was an Ivy Leaguer who studied engineering, but after graduation chose medical school instead. He loved the idea of being a community doctor—one who comes and becomes a part of the community. He has done that in the extreme by choosing to follow his faith and serving in a Catholic hospital as a kind of missionary.
His faith is a key part of his understanding of what he is doing. We see his early morning trips to the church to pray the rosary. And he reflects upon Jesus telling a man who wanted eternal life to sell all he had and come and follow. Dr. Tom says he tries to live that as best he can. And his life in Sudan is certainly Spartan. While this is indeed an extreme lifestyle, it is challenging to think of how hard that teaching by Jesus was. After all, the questioner went away very sad because of his wealth (and by implication, his attachment to that wealth).
The film is roughly equal parts of inspiration based in the commitment and work that Dr. Tom is doing, and of documenting the atrocities that are taking place in this region. It is not unusual for a panic to begin at the sound of an airplane. The film even records a bombing near the hospital compound itself, immediately behind Dr. Tom’s quarters. This documenting of the war going on here is designed to show us the suffering that doesn’t make our news. It never really delves into why these evil acts fly so far below the media radar, but it calls on us to be more mindful of what is going on in the world.