When Annamma Thomas began working here in 1981 as a nurse in the ICU, her colleagues soon dubbed her "Little Anna" to distinguish her from the other two "Annas" who worked on the same floor. Today she's affectionately called "Anna T." by her co-workers in our Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
Whatever you call Thomas, you only have to spend a few moments with her to be inspired by her enthusiasm. She's been here for 33 years, and this 4-foot-11-inch dynamo loves her job.
"People say to me, 'How do you keep smiling all the time?' Thomas says. "I tell them, 'I'm smiling because I'm helping someone, and when you're helping someone, you smile.' "
Thomas' co-worker, Clinical Nurse Joyace Ussin, confirms Thomas' positive attitude.
"Anna's always happy, laughing and keeping everyone focused on our most important task: taking excellent care of our patients," Ussin says.
A model for other nurses
Thomas' real passion is sharing her knowledge with her co-workers. She's mentored more than 40 nurses in the 14 years she's worked in the PACU, Ussin reports.
When it comes to teaching others, Thomas' philosophy is simple.
"I share what I know. But I don't criticize anyone," she says. "I do lots of mentoring because I feel like I can teach nurses simple things, like how to make sure patients are comfortable."
One of her favorite memories is of the time a physician colleague told her, "If I ever get sick, I want you to be my nurse."
Becoming a nurse: a perfect fit
Thomas didn't always plan on becoming a nurse.
A native of Kerala, a small state in southwestern India, Thomas is one of four siblings. And three of them were going to be attending college at the same time.
"To save the family some money, my father said to me, 'Why don't you go to nursing school instead?'" she recalls. "I'd never been to a hospital and never seen a nurse in my life."
Thomas soon discovered she loved the field, and she quickly figured out that she wanted to work some of the sickest patients.
"You can give a lot as a nurse when you work in the ICU," she explains.
Thomas came to the United States in 1975 and spent four years working in New Jersey.
"But it was too cold there," she laughs.
So she moved to Houston in 1980 and completed her bachelor's degree in nursing from UT Medical Branch at Galveston in 1987. After spending a year working in a nearby ICU, she joined MD Anderson while she was pregnant.
Already the mother of a 5-year-old daughter, she went on to have two more daughters and spend 18 years working the ICU night shift.
"My time in the ICU helped me to grow as a nurse," Thomas says. "I learned a lot from the physicians and other nurses, and I felt the satisfaction of helping very ill patients. MD Anderson has such an unbelievable environment. The people are so compassionate and caring. I'm privileged to be here and to do what I do."
Life outside of nursing
Thomas is just as passionate about her activities outside work. A self-taught seamstress, she loves to make clothes for others and give them as gifts at the holidays.
"A friend recently told me that she still has a blouse I made for her back in the early 1970s," she smiles.
She and her husband, Tom, enjoy singing in their church choir and participating in other church activities. They also love to travel around the world and spend time with their family, which has grown to include two sons-in-law, who are both MD Anderson employees, and a 2-½-year-old grandson. Two of Thomas' daughters are teachers in the Houston area, and the third recently completed a fellowship in Social Work here.
A thirst for helping others
As she reflects on her career, Thomas is modest about her accomplishments, which include receiving an MD Anderson Outstanding Employee Award in 1994 and being named Employee of the Month in the PACU in 2010.
"I'm just an ordinary person," Thomas says. "If I can touch one person's life each day, that's enough."
A longer version of this article originally appeared in Messenger, our bimonthly employee publication.