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Miami doctor honored with Notre Dame alumni award named for the man who inspired him

From left: Dolly Duffy, executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association, John P. May, M.D., recipient of the University’s 2017 Dr. Thomas A. Dooley Award and Bob Cronin, president of the Notre Dame Alumni Association Board of Directors.
From left: Dolly Duffy, executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association, John P. May, M.D., recipient of the University’s 2017 Dr. Thomas A. Dooley Award and Bob Cronin, president of the Notre Dame Alumni Association Board of Directors. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

The Alumni Association of Notre Dame has honored a West Miami-Dade doctor with an award named for the medical legend who inspired him both personally and professionally.

Dr. John P. May, a 1984 Notre Dame grad who now is chief medical officer of Armor Correctional Health Services, a company that delivers medical care to patient-inmates across the country, has received the 2017 Dr. Thomas A. Dooley Award, named for another alumnus who became internationally known for his humanitarian work.

Receiving the award is “incredibly humbling, particularly because it was the story of Tom Dooley that inspired me to [pursue] a career in medicine,” said May, 55, who also credits his parents and his faith as inspirations for his work.

Dr. Thomas Anthony Dooley III served during World War II as a Navy doctor. In 1954, while stationed aboard the U.S.S. Montague, he witnessed the evacuation of Haiphong in northern Vietnam and was brought face to face with a flood of over half-a-million Vietnamese refugees. The image stayed with him and when he was forced to resign from the Navy because of his homosexuality, Dooley returned to Vietnam and began his humanitarian work.

For the next five years, Dooley helped set up hospitals and organized the efforts of doctors to assist the sick and injured. In 1959, he learned he had melanoma. Before his 1961 cancer death at age 34, Dooley’s work would save thousands of lives and earn him recognition throughout the world.

Notre Dame’s alumni association later established an award in his name that honors one alumnus or alumna each year for exhibiting “outstanding service to humankind.”

This year’s winner, May, was honored for “his dedication to providing medical care to prisoners around the world.”

“John’s commitment to caring for those who truly need it is impressive,” said Dolly Duffy, executive director of the Notre Dame Alumni Association. “Not only does he possess a keen awareness of the needs that exist, but just as importantly he has chosen to use his medical training and expertise to serve others and improve their quality of life — an approach that honors the legacy of Dr. Tom Dooley.”

Born in Wisconsin, May lives in Miami with his partner, Mark, and their two sons, Sylvester and Ellison.

May, who graduated from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, began work in jail and prison health with his residency in 1991. In 2001, he visited Haiti after learning about terrible conditions there from a “60 Minutes” segment.

Like Dooley, May could not let these images go.

“I recall that I sometimes had that same realization, seeing the enormous need in front of me for the prisoners in Haiti, and feeling that I couldn’t abandon them,” May said, comparing his experience to Dooley’s.

May eventually founded Health through Walls, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting prison health services in low-income countries.

Jail and prison health sometimes evokes “suspicion, criticism” or “lack of appreciation,” according to May.

“If we don’t pay attention to the needs of prisoners … we will never be effective in controlling contagious diseases,” he said.

Diseases, such as tuberculosis, are generated and transmitted in overcrowded prisons. Left unaddressed, they can spread out into the general community. In a larger sense, “if we somehow treat prisoners as [having] a different or disparate value of life …we will all be lesser because of it,” May said.

May said his organization is also working in Trinidad and that Armor Correctional Health Services has been very supportive. “In fact,” he said, “many of our physicians and nurses have volunteered to come on missions to Haiti.”

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