Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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The Philanthropist

John P. May, MD

President and Chief Medical Officer, Health through Walls

Background
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Loyola-Stritch School of Medicine, May has donated his time and talents to a variety of organizations from childhood, volunteering in soup kitchens in Chicago and helping establish a home for unwed mothers during his undergraduate years. After spending a year in West Africa and completing his residency, May learned of opportunities within the Cook county jail system. “ I soon realized that providing healthcare to incarcerated persons allowed me a chance to make a real difference in persons’ lives, and, although challenging and often thankless, a means to serve others in significant ways,” he says. “I have continued with jail medicine ever since.”

Health through Walls
After watching a segment on 60 Minutes that sought to expose the misuse of monies directed toward justice reform in Port-au-Prince, May was inspired to make a difference. Two years later he made it to Haiti and was horrified by what he saw. “I became determined then to do whatever I could,” he says. “I have made trips to Haiti and the National Penitentiary nearly every month since that time.” At first filling his own suitcases (and other volunteers’) with medicine, soap and supplies, May eventually formalized his efforts into Health through Walls in 2005. “Other countries also sought our assistance, and we began work in the prisons of Dominican Republic and Jamaica. We have also done work in Africa, including Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana and Democratic Republic of Congo. Our program in Haiti now employs more than 120 persons, works in each of Haiti’s 16 prisons,” says May.

An End to Infectious Disease
Although the focus of the organization is on infectious diseases such as HIV and Tuberculosis, they also place emphasis on human rights, stigma reduction, and rehabilitation. With hundreds receiving care each month, May says it’s hard to pinpoint his proudest moment, but a 2012 initiative that brought in mobile, digital X-ray machines is one source of pride. “Several critics, including international agencies, believed such technology was too sophisticated or costly for the prison of a poor country,” explains May, who is also the Chief Medical Officer at Miami-based Armor Correctional Health Services. “But because we knew it to be the most effective way to identify tuberculosis among more than 10,000 Haitian prisoners, we advocated to make it happen.” Since then the machines has identified and led to the treatment of hundreds of prisoners, with Miami-based radiologist Dr. Irving Waldman reading more than 30,000 X-rays. “The program appears in a publication this year of the World Health Organization highlighting best practices of tuberculosis control in prisons,” says May.

Helping Hands
From his own company’s financial donations to equipment from the Broward Sheriff’s office, and training opportunities via the Miami-Dade Corrections and Florida Department of Corrections, the South Florida community has rallied around the organization. “Individuals have made significant financial or material donations over the years, such as a $25,000 donation to establish a sanitation and hygiene program from a Florida physician, and equipment such as exam tables, wheelchairs, dental supplies and more.” Moving forward, May hopes to respond to requests from prison systems around the globe. “I have been inside the prisons in dozens of poor countries and find nearly universal overcrowding, desperate situations and community ambivalence, at best,” he says. “The needs are enormous and we are able to make a difference.”

healththroughwalls.org

Andrea Carneiro
the authorAndrea Carneiro