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Born in 1933, the youngest of five children, John grew up in the village of Dryslwyn, near Llandeilo. John’s father passed away when he was very young, and his mother raised and supported the family, managing a small farm.

John excelled at school and dreamt of becoming a doctor. However, the family weren’t wealthy, and a university education seemed beyond his grasp.

Fate smiled upon John when he received a Scholarship – a lifeline which enabled him to pursue medicine, and in 1952 he left Wales to study at the University of Edinburgh.

The support he received early on not only transformed the course of John's life but also inspired him to give back in the years to come. A staunch advocate for education, he particularly wanted to help individuals from less privileged backgrounds access the opportunities that so profoundly benefited him.

He met his wife Betty in Edinburgh, and in the summer of 1958, following his graduation, John accepted a surgery internship with the Guthrie Clinic in Pennsylvania. The couple embarked on a grand adventure overseas, starting a new life in the United States.

After completing his residency, John remained at the clinic, distinguishing himself as an astute clinician and talented surgeon. He went on to be named Chief of Surgery and under his leadership, the Guthrie Clinic became synonymous with innovative patient care.

In 1972 he completed the second-ever successful total ‘blood washout’ on record, a procedure that involves draining all the blood from the body. The patient was a seven-year-old boy, suffering from Reye’s disease – a viral infection which was almost always fatal – who had fallen into a coma and had only hours to live. John rang a fellow doctor in Texas who had completed the first-ever successful procedure, and after taking pages of notes, went on to perform this extremely rare operation for only the second time in history. Despite the odds, it was a success, with the young Garth Shipman regaining consciousness the next day.

From 1972 to 1990, John was President of Guthrie, overseeing tremendous growth and advancements in care with the latest surgical and medical procedures. He retired in 1991, and whilst his career and family were in the US, his roots were firmly planted in Wales. He and the family made many trips home and he often spoke Welsh with family members.

Dr John Thomas

John sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 86. A huge supporter of charity throughout his life, his philanthropy continued with a gift in his Will.

A generous donation of $50,000, dedicated in his name by his family, will support Cardiff University medical students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds.

The Dr John Thomas Bursary will support dozens of medical students to help them continue and complete their studies. Amidst the backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis, these bursaries will make a world of difference to the next generation of doctors, ensuring the best and brightest minds fulfil their dreams – just as John once did.

“Dad would be so pleased that his name and legacy is living on. Wales held a huge place in his heart, and we’re so proud as a family that he chose to support medical students back home.”
Pam Burt, John’s daughter

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