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They risked their lives so that others may live

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 04, 2021 4:00 pm

The Outstanding Filipino Physicians (TOFP) recently awarded posthumously 22 doctors who lost their lives during this pandemic. The project this year was a collaboration between the Junior Chamber International Senate Philippines and the Philippine Medical Association (PMA).

“Servant leaders don’t make projects or advocacies for an award or recognition. They just want their mission and vision to be realized and fulfilled,” said Dr. Benny Atienza, a pediatrician himself, a TOFP 2009 awardee and president of the PMA.

“We have learned various lessons and principles on personal hygiene, taking care of one’s health, boosting our immune system, how to be resilient in times of crisis, and how to adapt into the new normal. But the most shattering phenomenon of all was that we lost countless lives across the globe. And among those lives are the doctors, our unsung heroes, who died while battling COVID-19 in the front lines and had faced unprecedented workload in the overwhelmed health facilities,” he lamented during his speech.

“These physicians left noble contributions not just to their respective local communities, affiliated hospitals, to the Philippine Medical Association, but also to the entire medical community as a whole. They adhered to the three principles in the practice of medicine — caring, science, and ethics,” Dr. Benny added.

The Committee on Awards of the PMA, which spearheaded the finalization of the list of honorees, was led by Dr. Realiza Henson. Five of the 22 TOFP honorees specialize in pediatrics. They were Dr. Salvacion R. Gatchalian, Dr. Ephraim Neal C. Orteza, Dr. Kathlynne Anne Abat-Senen, Dr. Leandro L. Resurreccion III and Dr. Reino C. Palacpac.

TV personality Ruby Rodriguez, younger sibling of Dr. Gatchalian, was emotional in thanking the medical community for the honor bestowed to her sister. It was their first Christmas without Dr. Gatchalian.

Most of the relatives of the posthumous awardees were still grieving their loss.

Dr. Sally Gatchalian was a champion of child health and a pillar of infectious disease treatment in the country. She was assistant director of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM), which in the beginning was the lone COVID-19 testing facility in the country. She was also the president of the Philippine Pediatric Society, among many other organizations. Young researchers and doctors who looked up to her as a mentor in RITM and the University of the Philippines (UP) miss her most as a “cheerleader for infectious disease specialists.”

 Dr. Salvacion R. Gatchalian

Dr. Bimboy Orteza, brother of showbiz personality Bibeth Orteza, had his residency training in general pediatrics at the New York Medical College after which he went back with wife Dr. Imelda Olivarez to take over the management of the Olivarez General Hospital in Parañaque. Before he died, he was the director of the Ospital ng Parañaque where he spent his last days managing staff in this designated COVID-19 hospital, promoting courage and hope to team members, patients and their families.

 Dr. Ephraim Neal Orteza

Dr. Leandro Resurreccion III, a pioneering specialist in pediatric surgery and transplantation, completed his training in Sydney. Despite a good offer there, he decided to practice in the Philippines where he was needed most. He also taught in UP and FEU. He was president of the Philippine Society of Pediatric Surgeons and to the end was working on his vision for pediatric surgery, especially liver transplants in the country.

 Dr. Leandro Resurrection

Dr. Kathlynne Anne Abat-Senen was the lone neonatologist in Valenzuela City. She was also an infectious disease expert. An associate professor at the UP College of Medicine and a member of the UP Medicine Choir, she initiated virtual choir projects to uplift morale of medical front liners. She even joined an international choir project before she got hospitalized.

Dr. Reino Palacpac was a pediatrician at the Justice Jose Abad Santos General Hospital in Manila. Even when he was sick, he was thinking of how he could help fight the health crisis. He taught in three different departments of Fatima College. His colleagues said he was one of the most down-to-earth and supportive doctors they have met.

Actor Christopher de Leon, who sent his personal greetings to TOFP as a COVID survivor, said: “I personally would like to thank all our health workers for risking their own lives to care for our people. Thank you for working to get your patients well with no regard for your own health. Praying for protection for all the doctors and nurses always. You are all truly God’s blessing.”