Thomas Sage Hand, a medical student from Sacramento and global humanitarian who broke down barriers to universal health care, died Jan. 15 in Long Beach. He was 26.
Mr. Hand, a third-year student at UC Irvine Medical School, was killed when his motorcycle ran a red light and crashed into a car in an intersection, according to a statement by the Long Beach Police Department. The car driver was not injured and was not cited, police said.
Mr. Hand blazed a trail as a health care activist since he graduated from the International Baccalaureate program at Mira Loma High School in 2003. He earned a degree in neuroscience at Claremont McKenna College in 2007.
During a college semester abroad, he volunteered at a hospital in Spain. He served as a Spanish-language HIV/ AIDS educator in San Francisco. He taught English to immigrants in Pomona and assisted Puerto Rican and Dominican patients at a community agency in the Spanish Harlem section of New York.
"I believe health care is a human right, and for many people, having access to it is a life-and-death issue," he told a UC Irvine publication in 2010. "Hopefully, I can make a difference for them."
Fluent in Spanish, Mr. Hand was accepted in 2009 to a special medical program at UC Irvine to train culturally sensitive physicians for the Latino community. Within weeks of starting classes, he founded the school's chapter of Physicians for Human Rights. In 2010, he spearheaded a group fundraising effort that generated $3,000 for Haiti earthquake relief.
"All medical students are very driven and exceptional in their own way but Tommy stood out," said Tom Vasich, the medical school's assistant director for communications.
Mr. Hand did research for a local health project in Chiapas, Mexico, and was a translator for the Flying Samaritans clinic in Mexico. Volunteer efforts also took him to Cuba, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
"He wasn't in medical school to make money," UC Irvine medical student Areo Saffarzadeh said. "He lived minimally and saved his money to travel and make connections with people."
Mr. Hand was born in 1985 and raised in Sacramento. His mother, Ada, a former elementary teacher, worked for the state Department of Education. His father, Terry, retired as a Placer County public defender.
He played rugby and lacrosse and was "one of maybe two" IB students on the Mira Loma football team, his father said. A spirited, fun-loving young man, he also "had the most suspensions of any IB student because he really pushed the envelope," including mooning a school parking attendant, his mother said.
He refocused his priorities in life while teaching English in El Salvador, where a girl in his village suffered a serious asthma attack. He rode with her and a local elder on an arduous mountain drive for help, but she died before they could reach the nearest clinic.
"Tommy was so shocked that someone could die of an asthma attack when treatment and medicine could have saved her," his mother said. "He believed he could make a difference."
Although serious about his goals, Mr. Hand was a gregarious charmer whom "people were just happy to be around," his father said. Photos on a Facebook page, "Remembering Tommy," show a handsome, playful young man with his arms around family members and friends.
"He always said that he didn't want to die without living," his mother said. "That, he absolutely accomplished."