A doctor, five nuns and the Concorde. An unexpected tale that will warm your heart

I read a delightfully heartwarming story this week. In September 1989 Dr George Lombardi received a phone call. On the other end of the line was a woman wanting to know whether he was the Dr Lombardi who was an infectious disease specialist. She introduced herself as the representative of a world figure and Nobel Laureate who was suspected of having a viral haemorrhagic fever and wanted to know if he would consult on the case.

The Nobel laureate was Mother Teresa and 10 minutes later Dr Lombardi was on the phone with her doctors in India. An hour later the woman he had first spoken to rang back to ask if he would be available to go to Calcutta the next day. George Lombardi explained his passport had expired three months earlier, but he was assured that would be no problem.

The next day he was picked up at 7 AM in a woodpanelled station wagon and driven to the State Department. It was a Sunday morning, but an official came in, took his picture and in 15 minutes handed him a brand-new passport. The next stop was the Indian consulate where the entire staff came in full dress uniform, he was ushered into the consul general and provided with a Visa.

The woman dropped him home, promising to return at 11 AM, which she did with five nuns from the Sisters of Charity packed into the back seat. When they arrived at JFK airport Dr Lombardi enquired why the nuns were accompanying them. He was informed that they had not been able to secure a confirmed seat on the Concorde. All they had was a standby ticket. The Sisters of Charity were there to change that. They proceeded to go up and down the line of passengers until they convinced one of them, a businessman, to give up his seat for Dr Lombardi.

24 hours later Dr Lombardi was in a room treating Mother Teresa. Very weak, she called him over and instructed him that whatever he did he was not to leave her Indian doctors embarrassed or with loss of face, for they were the ones who ran clinics.

Over the coming days Dr Lombardi identified the source of the problem. An infection from a pacemaker that was put in some months earlier. When he removed it the thin wire connecting the pacemaker box to her right ventricle would not budge. There was a danger that removal might tear a hole and Mother Teresa could die in a matter of minutes. Dr Lombardi found himself saying a prayer to Mother Teresa for Mother Teresa and as he did the catheter came loose. Mother Teresa lived for another eight years.

Aint it grand when things happen the way they should.

(Dr Lombardi tells his story in The Moth, Serpents Tail books, 2015)

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