WELLSBORO — Dr. Ardell Thomas moved here in 1974; since then, Thomas has been a key figure in the community.
Thomas grew up in Ford City and was inspired by his mother and aunt, who were both nurses, and his grandmother, who was an LPN. She worked for a large factory, where her boss gave her a blood pressure cuff to take the workers’ blood pressure. The cuff stayed in her living room so when people leaving the factory stopped by, she could take their blood pressure and give the information to the boss.
“She developed high blood pressure, so she taught me how to take her own blood pressure,” Thomas said. “So I was six years old when I started to do blood pressures and I thought, ‘Hey, this is easy.’” He planned to go to medical school after that.
He attended college as a chemistry major and then went to Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He did an internship and one year of a pathology residency in Johnstown before he went to Geisinger for three years. His last year there, he was the chief medical resident.
When Thomas finished his residency in internal medicine at Geisinger, he moved to Wellsboro to work at the then Soldiers + Sailors hospital in Wellsboro. At the time, he was the only internist in the county.
“There were a lot of things that I had been trained to do that no one at the hospital had done before,” Thomas said. He was put in charge of the intensive care department almost immediately, he said.
Thomas was able to use respirators, which wasn’t a common thing in the area, and could put in temporary pacemakers. He started doing gastroscopies and other types of endoscopies.
“I did that, plus just my regular internal medicine. Pretty much my first year or so here was primarily consulting in the hospital for the family doctors and taking care of more critically ill patients,” Thomas said. That continued until he retired from his office practice in 2007, he said.
After he retired, he was the chief medical officer for the hospital and the medical director at the Green Home until 2010.
During his time as a doctor, several things have changed. When he first started, medical professionals didn’t have any idea of cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“It was actually during my internship that we started to do that, where we would cardiovert people who were in ventricular fibrillation or something like this,” Thomas said. They didn’t have intensive care, they just had monitors that they put in the room.
Prior to his three years at Geisinger, he was drafted and spent a year in Vietnam as a helicopter flight surgeon.
“Just in that period of time, there were major, major changes in terms of intensive cares,” Thomas said.
Every year, he said, there was something that revolutionized the approach to medicine.
“When I first came to town, when a person had a heart attack, it kept them in intensive care for a week and in the hospital for two more weeks, not doing anything. We had no way of fixing anything,” Thomas said. “Then they started doing catheterizations and later bypass surgery and later stents, but all of those have kind of progressed dramatically over a period of time.”
One of the things Thomas is well-known for is taking teams of people from her church to work with the Haitian population in the Dominican Republic. He and his wife, Peggy, have been organizing these trips about every two years since 1985.
The teams would consist of 25 medical and 25 construction professionals. In 1989, they started building a hospital in La Romana, which is now five stories high.
“Most of the doctors in the hospital were teenagers in the church that we worked with that were scholarshipped through college and medical school and are now back running the hospital,” Thomas said.
They moved from La Romana to San Pedro De Macoris, another large community in the Dominican Republic, where they’ve been working with a pastor and his wife to build a school and church, as well as running medical clinics.
“The school now has about 475 students. And we now have several graduates from high school, who then went to college, are now back teaching at the school. And we have two high school graduates, who this spring will graduate from medical school,” Thomas said. During his last trip to the Dominican Republic, they started building a medical clinic in that community.
Thomas and his wife have made a point to bring high school and college students with them to the Dominican Republic.
“It has opened their eyes to what it’s like to be in a third world culture and to see how they handle their poverty and things like this,” Thomas said.
The community is aware of their trips and oftentimes people are more than willing to donate medicines or medical supplies, Thomas said.
Thomas has been on several boards, including the board of Eastern University, a Christian college in the Philadelphia area. He was the chair of the board for two terms, for a total of 15 years. Since retiring from the medical field, Thomas has been active in several different projects. He teaches an adult bible class at the First Baptist Church, which he’s been doing since 1975. He and his wife helped start the Wellsboro Shared Home, which is part of the church’s mission.
For several years he was the chairman of the board for His Thousand Hills, a youth camp outside of Wellsboro.
A few years ago, he started on the board of the Endless Mountain Festival; he’s been the chairman of that board for the last four years.
He’s also a member of the Wellsboro Rotary, which honored him with the Paul Harris Fellow when he was a community member.
He has also recently joined the founding board for the Heart of Tioga, a pregnancy care center.