Longtime advocate and community leader Dr. Tom Klein is set to receive Heartland Health Outreach's ( HHO ) Food For Life award at the organization's annual holiday brunch Sunday, Dec. 3.
HHO is honoring Klein for his long history of advancing the health and well-being of Chicago's LGBTQ community.
Klein was born in Detroit and hospitalized when he was 4 with an intestinal blockage. While Klein was in the hospital, he decided he wanted to be a doctor so he followed the doctors and nurses around and asked them lots of questions.
He got his undergraduate degree in psychology from Wayne State University and his MD degree from Michigan State University before moving to Chicago in 1978 for his family practice residency at St. Joseph Hospital. Klein worked at Howard Brown Memorial Clinic as a volunteer physician on Tuesday nights in 1979 and at the time he was one of the few openly gay doctors there. He has worked with HIV/AIDS patients in Chicago since the second recorded AIDS case in 1982.
"I am very proud to have been recognized both as a board member and a long time physician serving people in our community, especially those with HIV," said Klein. "With this honor, I hope we can fill the room and raise good money for such a great cause. I know so many people in the community and am happy to use this strength to make this event a great success."
"Tom is incredibly dedicatedhe has shared his expertise as a leader on multiple HHO committees and is a tireless supporter of our fundraising efforts," said HHO Executive Director Ed Stellon. "Most importantly, Tom helps HHO tell the story of our work and advance a dialogue about the unique healthcare needs of Chicago's homeless. Tom embodies the spirit of HHO. He matches caring with skill to provide meaningful solutions to the seemingly intractable healthcare needs of Chicago's most vulnerable population."
Klein met his husband, Dr. David Gitomer ( DePaul University professor and Eastern religion scholar ), through a patient of Klein's with AIDS who was in Gitomer's HIV support group at Howard Brown Health ( Gitomer was a volunteer and facilitator there for 27 years ). They have been together for 30 years and married for the past five years.
"David was incredibly supportive of me as we struggled to care for so many gay men dying of AIDS through the mid-90s since he lost so many group members over those years," said Klein. "Throughout this time, Dr Ross Slotten was both my medical partner, supporter and friend, as we both struggled to care for mostly dying men. There were times when we had 15-18 people in the hospital and two to three deaths a week. Thankfully, due to all the great HIV drugs available since the mid-1990s, we no longer care for many dying of AIDS although they still succumb at greater rates to cancer and heart disease years later."
Both Klein and Slotten have worked together in their private practice, Klein and Slotten Medical Association, for 32 years.
In his capacity as an HHO board member ( since 2010 with one term as board chair ), Klein has been instrumental in expanding the organization's mission to help those experiencing homelessness across Chicago, including the soon-to-be opened HHO facility ( next spring ) in Englewood.
"HHO is a wonderful organization that provides healthcare to mostly homeless individuals and through Vital Brides, which became a part of the organization five years ago, provides food through its pantries to folks in need, especially those with HIV," said Klein.
Additionally, Klein has served on the boards of Howard Brown Health and Horizon's before it became Center on Halsted. He is also a member of the GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality medical association. In 2016, Klein was inducted into The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame.
"It was an honor to be inducted into the LGBT Hall of Fame a year ago, which took place after the devastating election last Nov," said Klein. "Many of us felt a sense that, due to our camaraderie, we would all survive these troubling times. I was surprised that my three nieces came from out of town for the ceremony."
When Klein is not working he spends time gardening both in Chicago and in Fennville, Michigan, where he has a vacation home with Gitomer.
"I am proud to continue to serve our great and diverse community in practice and enjoy seeing new young folks and letting them know it is their safe place to be seen, since I have heard it all and seen it all," said Klein. "I am happy to also serve as medical director for my friend Tony Miner's developmental center, which cares for many severely developmentally challenged folks in a great caring environment. In my honor, Tony purchased seven tables for the brunch. I am grateful to Tony and everyone else in my life for their support over the years."
To purchase tickets for the brunch, visit holidaybrunch.squarespace.com/ .