by Daniel McCoy
Reporter-Wichita Business Journal
You never know what direction life is going to take you.
For the Rev. Thomas Welk, it was a storm that canceled a fishing trip that changed the course of his life.
It was 1983, he was teaching at Newman University and was asked to attend a meeting about being part of Wichita’s first hospice group.
He was lukewarm on the idea, but when a planned fishing trip got rained out, his schedule suddenly opened up.
“I decided to go to the meeting,” Welk says. “And it really lit a spark.”
The spark flamed and has burned ever since as Welk has carried the torch for ethical end-of-life care.
That fateful meeting led to what is now the Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice in Wichita, where Welk now serves as a director.
But his influence has stretched far beyond Wichita.
Through his countless presentations and appearances all across the country, Welk has played a major role in how patients are cared for, says Noreen Carrocci, president at Newman.
“There is no question that Father Tom has been a pioneer and a national leader in end of life issues,” she says. “He is grounded in his Catholic faith, but he has impacted the field for people of all faiths.”
Welk says the most important part of his work, and the reason he has been so focused on the issue of ethical care, is making sure the right thing is done.
Just because something medically can be done, doesn’t mean it has to be.
“You always want to make sure you’re doing the right thing,” Welk says. “That can be a great dilemma. When you add the suffix … and something becomes ‘incurable,’ you have to move from cure to heal.”
That focus has led Welk to become involved with numerous organizations.
He was the founding member of a consortium of ethical committees in south central Kansas, as well as the founder of the ethics committee for Via Christi. He was charter member of Kansas Health Ethics Inc. and remains a member of other state and national organizations focused on compassionate care.
Through it all, Welk has maintained that spark, advocating for ethical care at any chance he gets.
Dealing with such emotional issues, Welk says that a calm approach — one that separates compassion from the rest of the understandable emotions — is key.
“Maximal intervention does not always lead to optimal care,” he says.
But Welk, described by Carrocci as a man of many talents, also knows he has to take care of himself to be able to deal with such emotional situations on a regular basis.
He enjoys carpentry and gardening and is described as a master of both by Carrocci.
And, of course, there are still those fishing trips.
His favorite spot? Alaska.
“I get there about every year,” he says. “I’ve got enough frequent-flier miles I think I can make it to Anchorage for like 10 bucks.”