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Shibu Thomas: Husband, father, doctor, dies at 53

Dr. Shibu Thomas, with his wife, Rachel Thomas,

Dr. Shibu Thomas, with his wife, Rachel Thomas, was an attending physician at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn. He died Nov. 1 at age 53. Credit: Elizabeth Thomas

She was a 22-year-old dental student in Chennai, a city in the Tamil Nadu state of India, along the Bay of Bengal, and one night she prayed for a sign on the direction her life would take. As fate would have it this was about the time Shibu Thomas, then 27, was finishing medical school at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine; around the time he and his family elected to take vacation to the small town in Kerala, India, which they'd left many years before to come to America.

That Shibu Thomas and his family would end up at her home on that vacation was, she said this week, "divine appointment."

As Rachel Thomas said, recollecting the encounter: "I do believe that is what it was, because there is no other explanation."

Dr. Shibu Thomas died suddenly on Nov. 1. He was 53.

The life he and his wife, Rachel, built, raising three children — Elizabeth (Liza), Anna and Caleb — first in Jamaica Estates, Queens, and later in Manhasset, is the stuff of storybooks she said could only have been arranged by a higher power.

It was but two weeks after that prayer that relatives of Shibu Thomas in Chennai mentioned they knew a family with an unmarried daughter. Contacts were made. And Thomas and his parents arrived at the home just as Rachel (Shoba) Kurian was leaving for dental school on the morning bus.

She returned home to find Shibu and his family still there, meeting with her widowed mother; with friends and family. Soon, she and Shibu were seated alone, talking.

"I bombarded him with a hundred questions," she said. "What are you doing in Chennai? Why do you want to meet someone here? Why didn't you meet someone back there, in the U.S.? What books have you read? I went on and on until after 30 or 40 minutes I had run out of steam."

Rachel said, "So I ask for something crazy. I say, 'God, I want you to send a sign. I want you to make it rain.'"

And then there was a downpour, she said. And soon Rachel was in the backyard, dancing in the falling rain. Minutes later she agreed to marry him.

That marriage took place just 12 days later, on June 20, 1994. Three days after that Shibu Thomas was headed back to New York to begin his residency.

She joined him there the following March, moving in with him and his parents in Queens as she attended dental school at New York University.

In between, she said, he wrote her every day. "First, we had the marriage," she said. "Then we had the courtship."

Rachel Thomas said her husband's life was filled with the otherwise inexplicable. His father had been a civil engineer in India, working for the Indian Railways. His mother nearly died in a tragic railway crash in Mumbai, then known as Bombay, in June 1966, suffering massive pelvic fractures — while she was pregnant with Shibu. She survived and he was born eight months later, on Feb. 6, 1967.

Then his parents came to the U.S. so his father could pursue religious studies at a seminary in Maryland.

As a result, Shibu Thomas grew up in a religious home, first in Brooklyn and later in Elmhurst before moving to Jamaica Estates. Religion was paramount for Rachel.

Shibu Thomas attended Stuyvesant High School and later New York University before graduating medical school. He went on to become a chief resident in internal medicine in the Department of Cardiology at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, and was an attending physician for 22 years. He served as a longtime Bible teacher at Elim Full Gospel Assembly in Glen Cove.

Still, Rachel Thomas said, her husband remained humble.

"You wouldn't even know what he did," she said, "unless someone introduced him as doctor. There was nothing beneath him. He never threw around his title."

Shibu Thomas is survived by his wife and their three children, as well as by parents Pastor Thomas Mathai and Elizabeth Thomas of Manhasset and his sisters, Dr. Sheba Poulose of Houston and Sybil George of Yukon, Oklahoma. Interment was at Nassau Knolls Cemetery in Port Washington.

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