“Life still is a challenge as long as medicine is not an exact science.”

 

You will be hard-pressed to find a doctor-researcher as prolific as Dr. Ramon Fabella Abarquez Jr. His career spanding six decades has yielded many of the seminal papers in cardiology over the years – pioneering works that are no less than groundbreaking. Of the 215 papers he has authored or co-authored, 53 have been published in international peer-reviewed journals, and 9 more printed in books; of these, 27 have garnered research awards, half of them, first-place finishes. His is also a much decorated career. Among the many honors, awards and citations he received, he was conferred the status of Academician at the National Academy of Science and Technology in 1993; given the Cultural Heritage Award by the Philippine government in 1963; included in both the 1980-1981 Who’s Who in the World and 1981 International Who’s Who of Intellectuals lists; and honored by the fraternity with the Distinguished Alumni Award in Medical Research in 1986. Today, Dr. Abarquez is untiring; continuing to teach as Professor Emeritus at the UP College of Medicine, remain in the advisory boards of pharmaceutical companies and professional organizations, maintain a cardiology practice as Service I consultant at the PGH Department of Medicine, and even write a regular column for Health and Lifestyle magazine. At seventy-nine, he remains “young at heart and mind” and as busy as ever.

And he was busy and hardworking for most of his life, as he says the “dignity of labor” was deeply inculcated by  his father, an MIT-trained geologist/mining engineer/ pharmacist/Bureau of Mines assistant director . In fact, while he was a college student, he was also shoe-shine boy at the UP School of Nursing dormitory, market vendor, and janitor at the Scottish Rites Masonic Temple during summer vacations.

It was also mostly due to his father’s influence that he decided to become a doctor. Pursuing a medical career and cardiology as a specialty in particular, had much to do with his belief that his father had heart disease.

While in the college of medicine, he joined PHI due much to the insistence of his cousin-brod as the thin and frail-looking Monching didn’t look much of a fratman. Too gaunt-looking was he back then that he pulled off playing a corpse in a parade! (With full make-up and dead-man-costume on, he laid motionless on an inclined ‘coffin’ on a float paraded around the UP Manila grounds; this during the last lantern parade held at the campus before much of the university moved to its new location in Diliman.)

His experiences as a resident brod, he surmises, were not much different to today’s brods’. They got together to organize activities for the fraternity often as they studied together for exams. More than anything, he says it was the strong camaraderie and the warm brotherhood of the PHI that made it distinct and the envy of the other organizations in the college.

When asked which of the four pillars he resonated the most with, he responds quickly, “all four.” Indeed, in all his endeavors as clinician/researcher/teacher/writer, he exemplified excellence, leadership, service and brotherhood.

 

The most recent of his awards was the Gloria T. Aragon Most Illustrious Faculty Award given in December 2013.

EXCELLENCE. It is remarkable to note that Dr. Abarquez has been, as a researcher, making prominent and pioneering discoveries decade after decade. This stems from his firm belief that the “best legacy a doctor can give is pioneering research outputs and advocacies perceived to be the first at that point in time.” In 1960, his first research output was already novel and a landmark: it was the first time in medical history that permitted ECG recording during exercise. In the same decade, he promoted novel clinical concepts which included the use of Digitalis as an add-on drug in addressing persistient hypertension-related heart failure and the use of thrombolysis as an approach to acute myocardial infarction (AMI), currently the main thrust in AMI management. In 1979, he first pushed for the pharmacologic treatment of hypertension at 140/90 mmHg; subsequently, the hypertension cut-off to date remains at 140/90 mmHg. In 1981, he first proved clinically that a calcium channel blocker, nifedipine, was as potent in addressing coronary artery disease as beta blockers. In 1999, as the founding president of the Philippine Society of Hypertension, he proposed a multi-disciplinary integrated approach to hypertension control, which the WHO Western Pacific adapted. More recently, in 2002, the “Abarquez hypothesis” or the raised arm maneuver was conceived to aid in distinguishing normal from medication-related “normalized BP”.

LEADERSHIP. Aside from being a leader in research, Dr. Abarquez has been instrumental in defining many professional organizations that have since trumpeted his advocacies. He was past president of the Philippine Heart Foundation, Philippine Heart Association, Philippine College of Cardiology, Philippine College of Physicians, and the Second Pacific Rim Conference on Hypertension; and founder of the Asian Pacific Society of Hypertension and the Philippine Society of Hypertension. As past head of the Residency Committee in the PGH Department of Medicine, he opened the residency program to non-UP graduates for the first time. Moreover, his tenure as the Vice President and Medical Director of Health Services at the San Miguel Corporation, has been acclaimed for the amount of significant research output it generated.

SERVICE. Dr. Abarquez sees teaching as the main venue by which he is able to give back. In 1961, when he first returned to the Philippines after training in Cornell Medical School in New York, he was offered an instructor’s post which he immediately accepted. The fact that initially he was not paid for it did not matter at all as he found teaching particularly fulfilling. He relates that one “always had to be on his toes, always in the know” to be effective. In 1994, he was conferred the title of Professor Emeritus.

BROTHERHOOD. In the fraternity, Dr. Abarquez only wishes to be remembered as one who has helped in nurturing and mentoring younger brods. In this manner, he hopes to have strengthened the brotherhood.

 

While many of his contemporaries have retired, Dr. Abarquez keeps at it. “Retirement is not in my vocabulary”, he says as “published data, meta-analysis and reviews will continue to be analyzed.” The next seminal paper may not be too far off.

 

Established in August 1933 by the UP College of Medicine's best medical students, the PHI KAPPA MU (Fraternity of the College of Medicine) continues to uphold its tested tradition of Excellence, Leadership, Service and Brotherhood in the College, University and in our country.

Through the Fraternity's ideals and pillars, her Loyal Sons continue to lead, innovate and excel in the practice of medicine worldwide and in preserving the honor and integrity of the medical profession.

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