BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Thomas Rea unanimously considered the father of the leprosy treatment has passed on the 7th of February at his house in San Gabriel Mountains. Rea, who was 86-years-old, lost the long battle against cancer. Although the dermatologist passed away, his heritage will not be forgotten.
Doctor Thomas Rea was a famous dermatologist from the United States, considered to be the man responsible for curing leprosy. It was he and Doctor Robert Modlin who managed to find how the immune system acts ups in a patient infected with leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease.
During the 80s, the two doctors discovered a link between the body’s immune response and the skin lesions attributed to the painful illness. According to the medical literature, for quite a while, the researchers have suspected that there is a link between the two, but no one managed to prove it. That is until Rea and Modlin stepped in.
Their pioneering worked mainly paved the way to new treatments for the biblical disease. Keeping in mind this strange relationship between the immune response and the skin lesions, the duo managed to devise a new generation of leprosy management drugs.
Thanks to this new medicines, people infected with the disease were no longer contagious. Thus, those few men and women who suffered from this terrible affliction no longer had to hide from the rest of the world. The stigma which came with the disease was gone, and leprosy became a manageable illness.
Thomas Rea, who was also the chief of dermatology L.A County – USC Medical Center, between 1981 and 1996, was also one of the first defenders of a leprosy-management drug called thalidomine. During the 90s, the drug was banned by the Food of Drug Administration because research showed that it could potentially cause severe birth defects.
Rea made several appeals to the FDA to withdraw the drug from the ban list, telling the institution that the drug can be quite safe if taken under supervision. After failed attempts, the FDA reconsidered its position and removed the drug from the ban list.
Doctor Rea, apart from this brilliant academic records, is also remembered for his unique way of caring for his patients. Doctor David Peng, the current chief of dermatology at the Keck School of Medicine recalled one of Rea’s follow-ups.
Peng said that one day, a patient suffering from leprosy summoned the doctor for a follow-up exam. Rea greeted him and even shook his hands without wearing any gloves or any other type of protection. Peng recalls that the physician had a knack when it came to making patients feel comfortable and secure.
Doctor Rea may have passed away, but he left behind a wealthy heritage: hope for those who felt abandoned by every layer of our society.