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The Peter Attia Drive

Feb 11, 2019

In this episode, Tom Catena, a missionary physician who runs Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, describes some of his extraordinary work as the only doctor in a remote, war-torn region of Africa. In terms of individual lives saved, you could argue that there is no other person on the front lines doing more than Tom. Additionally, we explore the manner in which the Nuba people die, which is in striking contrast the ubiquity of chronic disease and self-harm in the west, despite the extreme poverty and unimaginable suffering experienced by the Nuba people. Lastly, we discuss the lessons to be gleaned from the Nuba people, who despite their suffering, live so harmoniously, happily, and resiliently. To support Tom’s mission please visit

We discuss:
  • Background, medical training, and early days of missionary work in Africa [9:00];
  • Tom arrives at Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, civil war breaks out, and his staff evacuates [15:45];
  • Learning surgery on the job and earning the trust of the community [40:45];
  • The amazing people of Nuba, and why Nuba feels like home to Tom [51:30];
  • NY Times article about Tom’s work, and Tom’s new venture on the board of Aurora Prize Foundation bringing awareness and funding to other missionaries doing great work [1:03:30];
  • Tom’s mind-blowing ability to deal with chaos while seeing hundreds of patients per day [1:15:45];
  • The most afraid Tom has ever been, and how he copes with the emotional trauma of his daily experiences [1:23:30];
  • The basic tools, technologies, and medicines that Tom is lacking that could save many lives [1:33:30];
  • The logistical challenge of helping Tom’s hospital, and what Tom really needs [1:39:15];
  • Diseases in the adult population [1:42:30];
  • Living without possessions, finding meaning, and being a missionary [1:59:30];
  • Sense of purpose, happiness, and suicide: Contrasting the US with Nuba [2:11:00];
  • Other than donations, is there a way people can help Tom and other similar causes? [2:19:15];
  • The food in Nuba [2:22:30];
  • Tom’s annual bout of malaria [2:27:30];
  • Patients that Tom will never forget [2:29:45];
  • Resources for people wanting to get involved in helping Tom’s work [2:34:45];
  • Peter tells a story that defines Tom [2:36:00]; and
  • More.

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