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Trevor and Heather Smith - TLM Heroes

A couple with white hair and glasses smile at the camera together

Trevor and Heather Smith both served more than 50 years at the McKean Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre, (formerly the McKean Leprosy Hospital), in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The hospital is on an island that was donated by the ruler of Chiang Mai to the American missionary Dr James W McKean in 1907, to provide a place of sanctuary and care for persons affected by leprosy. For a long time, the residents were all but cut-off from the rest of society, but as treatment improved and attitudes changed, Trevor and Heather led the way in the complex work of empowering most patients to return home.

Trevor is an orthopaedic surgeon who served as Medical Director and Heather focused on community outreach, education, livelihoods, rehabilitation, and tackling stigma in the community.

The hospital comprised a ward for leprosy patients, and later a ward for general patients. Over time the operating theatre was expanded, and a laboratory, X-Ray and Pharmacy added. As time went on, it provided physiotherapy and occupational therapy in addition to health education, rehabilitation and vocational training. McKean became a highly-respected leprosy referral centre for the north of Thailand providing training in leprosy treatment and rehabilitation for medical personnel from adjacent countries.

During his time at McKean, Dr Smith and his staff treated many thousands of leprosy patients, in addition to countless sufferers from malaria, TB, venereal disease, strokes, as well as victims of landmines and fighting on the Burmese border. In addition to the care of patients in hospital, Dr Smith had the supervisory responsibility for four clinics which, for example, handled 38,356 consultations in 2003.

Throughout her time at McKean, Heather has, at different times, been the head of the Vocational Training Department, Superintendent of children's work, and the Deputy Director of McKean Rehabilitation Centre.

Over the five decades that Trevor and Heather have been at McKean, leprosy numbers have massively reduced in Thailand. As the community’s needs have changed, the couple have transformed McKean into a more sustainable, incoming-generating general hospital. It now has an elderly care and residential home, and supports patients with other health conditions through treatment and rehabilitation.

Their roles at the hospital have evolved too. In 2020 Heather told Sight Magazine: “It has been a privilege to see the growth of the Thai team and leadership. In some cases the professional staff we work with are the children of former patients, or babies Trevor delivered.”