Merlene Davis: Lexington woman with 'zealous passion' wins national diabetes award

Ann H.M. Thomas
Ann H.M. Thomas

During most of Megann C. Thomas' early years, her family would gather around her, holding hands and praying before she was given her daily injection of insulin.

"We would pray, 'Please don't let this hurt Megann,'" said Ann H.M. Thomas, her mother. "It was so traumatic."

Megann was diagnosed with severe diabetes when she was 2 years old. The insulin injections increased to five shots a day before a second attempt with an insulin pump succeeded five years ago.

"We always continued to pray, even until today," Thomas said. "They said she would die at 25. She's now 43."

There were numerous ups and downs during those years, her mother said, but along the way, she helped to raise money for a cure.

And for that, Thomas received the national SHARE Leadership Award last month at the American Diabetes Association's Community Volunteer Leadership Conference in San Diego.

"I didn't know I had been nominated until six weeks beforehand," she said. "I didn't do it with any idea of getting anything back. I was overwhelmed."

For 20 years, she has volunteered with ADA in Lexington, 17 of those years as chairwoman of the annual gala.

"I just have this zealous passion for a cure," Thomas said, Her husband, Dr. Laurie R. Thomas, has Type 2 diabetes. "As the years have gone by, my passion has increased. We rack our brains to come up with ways to raise money."

Some of the $1.3 million she has raised pays for scholarships to a camp for young people, where they can learn how to administer their own injections. The money also finances advocacy ventures, such as free testing at churches and other venues.

And she is a sponsor of the Family Fun Diabetes Day youth retreat.

"I can assure you she has never said no to anything that will help us find a cure," said R. Steward Perry, chair of the ADA Bluegrass Leadership Board. "She is like a tsunami," he said. "A tsunami doesn't look as destructive as it is. Ann pushes forward regardless of what is in her way. And she does it for all the right reasons."

A registered physical therapist, Thomas saw a number of patients in the early years of her career who were amputees because of diabetes, she said. Fortunately, that is no longer the case.

When her daughter was diagnosed with the disease, Thomas focused on helping her manage the disease while maintaining a normal household for her husband and three sons.

About 20 years ago, when Thomas received her first diagnosis of breast cancer, she decided to reach out.

"Instead of praying for my own problems, I began to reach out and help others," she said. "I jumped into the American Diabetes Association. I wanted to give my life back to people. I dedicated my life to helping people."

About 100,000 Kentuckians are unaware that they have diabetes, she said. "It is a silent disease, but it is so unnecessary to suffer."

That's why she volunteers.

As chairwoman of the annual gala, Thomas said, she has developed relationships with business owners, who give items for the silent auction every year. She visits or calls about 150 businesses. Last year, after having a double mastectomy on her 70th birthday after her second diagnosis of breast cancer, she made mostly calls.

"I'm not good in the hot sun," she said. "But people are so nice. They give over the phone."

Thomas attended one gala and loved it enough to volunteer to help out thereafter. Thomas produces the gala on a shoestring, spending less than 10 percent of what they raise. About 75 people attended early galas, but more than 400 were in attendance last year.

"I am not tired of doing this," she said. "This is my God-given talent."

The theme of this year's gala will be "A Moroccan Affair," featuring a chance to sample American and Moroccan gourmet foods, coffees and drinks. The gala will be 7 p.m. Oct. 1 at the R. J. Corman Airplane Hangar in Nicholasville. Tickets are $125.

"If I had to pick a word to describe her, it would be indefatigable," Perry said. "She just doesn't wear down."

And we can all be thankful for that.