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Published on July 02, 2015

The Pledge for America: Physician exemplifies the values in civic service

By Times-Union Editorial 

Note to readers: In the coming months, the Times-Union editorial page staff will be profiling local people who exemplify outstanding service as illustrated by the Pledge for America.

Jonathan Schneider has terminal cancer. The physician, 67, was asked how much longer he has to live.

“I should have died five years ago,” he said. “There was one miracle after another.”

To understand how he has not only survived but thrived over these last five years, one must flash back to when Schneider was 37.

He appeared to be successful.

“My dad died. I knew I was never going to see him again. I was unhappy at work. I was suicidal to tell you the truth and I just got down on my hands and knees and said, ‘I just can’t do this anymore.’

“My wife was a Christian. She and her friends had been praying for me. I said, ‘I give up. You’ve got me. I’m all yours. Take over.’ And it changed my life.”


Life at that point had always been about work. It took an unexpected six-month war deployment in 1991 — on two weeks notice — before Schneider realized that he needed to integrate three priorities in his life: God, family and community.

“If I could get those three things right, everything else (would) fall into order. So that’s what I did,” he said.

Schneider left the Navy in 1993 after 20 years and settled in Orlando where he worked with children and adolescents first at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women and then at Nemours Children’s Clinic.

In 2007, he came to Jacksonville to work for the University of Florida Department of Pediatrics.

And since 2004 he has been involved with the St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Unit, providing free health care to needy children and adolescents.

Providing free health care to needy kids has put Schneider in the center of his God-family-community priorities.

And it has helped to give him the strength to survive his cancer. A strength, Schneider said, that has also been fueled by those frequent miracles.

For instance, simply finding the initial cancer, a BB-sized unit found amid a fatty cyst on his back, was like finding a needle in a haystack. That tiny cancer was a bad sign of Stage Four cancer. There had to be a larger cancer elsewhere in his body.

Then he survived the removal of the cancer in his lung that had attached to the lining of his large pulmonary artery. He lost 4 1/2 liters of blood in less than a minute. The body only contains about 6 liters.

It goes on. Pneumonia mysteriously disappeared before a difficult operation.

He survived rare tumors behind both eyes and still retains his vision.

All along, he had something to live for.

“When you find your passion, it sings to your soul,” Schneider said.

“When you’re doing what you were intended to do, that makes all the difference in the world. There is a proverb that says when you give to the poor, you lend to God and God will reward you.”

Since his cancer diagnosis, Schneider has lived with the knowledge that his time is limited.

When he is gone, he hopes that his work ministering to poor children will continue. About $8 million is needed to endow the medical work he is doing with the St. Vincent’s Mobile Unit.

Don’t these children have insurance? Some do, some are on Medicaid, some have no coverage. His services are free, in any case. And it’s clear he has the luxury of time to spend with children and their parents. A 15-minute appointment for a school physical can last an hour.

He is used to working hard.

He started as an osteopathic physician in the 1970s when they weren’t highly respected. A Navy recruiter said, “You guys are so paranoid that you work twice as hard as anybody else.’


As a good listener with a photographic memory, he clearly is providing a necessary medical service.

“We do a lot of listening, that is what adolescent medicine is,” he said.

His first appointment on a recent day was to see a boy who Schneider is convinced had been having seizures that previously were not diagnosed.

Schneider hopes an endowment will continue his work once he is gone.

This has never been about him but about God, family and community.

Every day for Schneider is a blessing and a model for the rest of us.

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