Gap Legaspi '83 counts among his many talents the abilities of singing, playing the guitar and rocking the saxophone.

On June 16, 2004, for the first time in history, a Filipino delivered a lecture at Harvard University’s Department of Neurosurgery at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital. The department chairman, Dr. Peter Black, M.D., Ph.D., invited him to speak about keyhole craniotomy approaches to anterior circulation aneurysms. In November of 2007, at the Philippine General Hospital, that same Filipino became the first man in Southeast Asia to insert an auditory brainstem implant in a procedure involving two of the best teams in the country. He captained the Neurosurgical team, while Dr. Charlotte Chiong, also a PHI, led the ORL group.

Every man has his own destiny. The only imperative is to accept and follow it, no matter where it leads him. For Brod Gerardo Dizon Legaspi, or Gap to his closest friends, destiny dropped him a hint during his second year of High School. He was watching television and came across a National Geographic feature on a procedure in neurosurgery. The use of gamma knife technology caught his eye. Fascination engulfed the young Gap as he bore witness to this technological marvel well ahead of its time. It was the idea of executing those procedures and wielding the tools of modern Science that sparked Gap’s transformation into one of the best neurosurgeons in the country.

Gap was born on February 13, 1962 to Rustico, a civil engineer, and Corazon, a school teacher. The eldest of six siblings, he and his family lived in a community in Paco, Manila. With strict disciplinarians as parents and the neighborhood not being the safest place to live in, the Legaspi siblings always kept a watchful eye on each other. Gap always had an insatiable thirst for adventure, savoring new experiences and constantly searching for something to do. But despite trying his hand at a number of different activities, it was the field of Science that won his heart.

During primary and secondary school, Gap quickly became a jack of all trades. He dabbled in a number of extra-curricular activities like theatre, automotive mechanics, rondalla, and even gardening. In High School, at La Salle Greenhills, Gap ran track and field. He also fueled a passion for music by joining a rock band. It was during these years that Gap made up his mind to become a surgeon of the most fascinating organ in the human body. He was very vocal about this decision, so much so that he candidly said to girls during soirees: “I want to be a brain surgeon.”

Gap took his first step to becoming a neurosurgeon by taking up BS Biology at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. There, he satisfied his hunger for extra-curricular activities by becoming captain of the track and field team, and by joining college organizations including the Pre-Medical Society, Association of Biology Majors, and Simbuyo. And after four blistering years at Diliman had passed, Gap was all set to enroll himself in the UP College of Medicine. With this bold move came his first fated meeting with PHI.

After graduating cum laude from UP Diliman, Gap entered the hallowed halls of the UP College of Medicine. He was sure that he would join a Fraternity to further his growth outside the classroom, however, Gap’s allegiance was still up for grabs. His best friend had already decided to join another organization, and Gap was thinking of joining him. Gap, still at the crossroads of making a choice, decided to give attend another PHI orientation before making up his mind. It was there that he met Brods Ramon Salva Guerra Φ‘77, Bernabe Reyes Marinduque Φ‘77, and Teodoro Kintanar Gonzales Φ ‘78, who headed the affair. Augusto Jose Panlilio Tanjuatco Φ‘83 and Marlo Famorca Leonen Φ‘83, Gap’s future batchmates, were also in attendance. In the end, the individuality of the members he met and their zeal towards excellence made Gap decide to join PHI, a choice he made on his own.

Being the active person that he was, Gap manned a number of pivotal positions in his days as a resident Brod. He garnered the honor of Junior Guardian of the Temple, Venerable Preceptor, and Vice Superior Exemplar, which enabled him to serve the Fraternity to his utmost. Gap even brought his musical gift into play. During his college days he learned to play the flute, and he eventually added the saxophone to his musical repertoire during his internship. These talents made Gap an invaluable member of the PHI Jazz Band. Through the years, Gap never lost his passion for music. To this day, he would gladly wield his sax and jam with PHI Band members, both young and old.

Gap relates how PHI continuously supported him in his endeavors even after his time in med school had come and gone. In applying for a Surgery program, good grades were crucial, but a good endorsement was of equal value. At the time, the Department of Surgery was laden with PHIs. Most notably, Brod Alfredo Ticzon Ramirez Φ ‘56 was Department Chair, while Brod Nestor Sanvictores Pareja Φ‘58 served as Executive Assistant. With good grades and the favor of the Surgery bigwigs to boot, Gap had little difficulty in securing a slot in the coveted Surgery program. His application was sought by Trauma Surgery as well as Neurosurgery (NSS), until he finally chose the latter. His zest for encountering firsthand command center of the human body has not diminished since. Toiling diligently at the myriad cases and operations demanded of him during training, he accumulated a wealth of experience that few doctors can match. He loved every hour in the operating room. Instead of pursuing fellowship, he established a practice and soon carved a name as the ‘aneurysm king’, and with good reason. In his career, he has performed more than 400 operations on aneurysms alone, counting only those records he was able to keep track of. By the time other neurosurgeons got back from NSS subspecialty training abroad (spine NSS, pediatric NSS, etc.), he had handled many cases that would have been theirs, had they been around.

When he started out, he tirelessly saw patients in many smaller hospitals in various cities, no matter the distance. He knew there was no substitute for perseverance in the early chapters of a young doctor’s career. Today he manages a schedule bursting at the seams – as intense as any resident’s, if not moreso, but for different reasons. He operates practically everyday, as evidenced by a little black book he carries around to list his scheduled operations; its pages fill steadily as he goes about a routine day, until he has to set operations on weekends just to cope. Once, he performed seven operations in one day. On top of surgeries, he sees patients at his clinics and at hospital rounds, sometimes rushing through “fast and furious” meals reminiscent of his days in residency training, in order to accommodate the volume of patients who come to see him. Some are from Mindanao, some from Manila, others from anywhere in between. He once saw 32 patients in one clinic day, a record high that (like most of his clinic days) extended beyond his scheduled hours. Add to that his other engagements as one of the most experienced and respected practitioners in the Philippines and abroad. An airline flight once delayed its departure for him as he rushed from the PGH O.R. to the airport in the span of a few minutes – from a successful photo-finish procedure to a flight heading for his speaking engagement about it.

Paradoxically, instead of burnout, the greater danger Gap guards against is enjoying the field too much. After operating on a 7cm giant aneurysm at PGH he exclaims, “Who can resist a case like that?” He reminds himself and his students that despite the thrill of the O.R. for those who love this profession, NSS should always be primarily about the patient’s welfare. More than that, “each patient is a potential friend,” Gap says as he takes the stairs from his 4th floor clinic where he just saw 21 patients in one night. He had yet to drive himself home, having dismissed his driver earlier because he had a few more patients to see past 8pm. That belief and the human touch it implies is clear when one learns that the bright eight-year-old boy who came to the clinic for a back-to-school checkup is named Gerardo and calls Gap his ninong; and when one learns this is because eight years ago, Gap saved little nameless Gerardo on the operating table, when he arrested due to a malfunction of the anesthesia machine.

On a more general scale, Gap’s humanity is no less tangible. Easily three fourths of his operations, he performs at PGH, mostly as charity cases. Of the rest, a good percentage he does not charge because they are among the many referrals he receives who are related to family, friends, and colleagues. And when he does charge a professional fee, his patients are surprised to hear how low his rates are. Gap says it jokingly but it is the plain truth: he is cheaper than many of his former students – and he prefers it that way. Gap’s love of the game, after all, has never been about the money. Neither is his passion limited to the surgical aspect of NSS. He laments that of the roughly 120 neurosurgeons in the country, most prefer private practice, leaving the academic side of the field wanting. It is his dream to do more research and to enrich the teaching of Neurosurgery. His passion is palpable in the O.R. when he speaks excitedly about a procedure, or proudly about a resident’s performance. The beauty of operating in PGH, he relates (while watching a senior resident’s movements on a live-feed monitor), is having the residents, not merely to speed things up but to watch them perform. “She just made my day,” he beams as the senior resident clips the giant aneurysm. Around his students, he is as comfortable guiding from a view of the monitor as teaching in front of the negatoscope as dissecting a live human brain.

As of today, Gap has accomplished much in his career as well as in his life as a PHI. He is the former Chief of Neurosurgery of the Philippine General Hospital and former head of the Neurotumor Program at Medical City. He has a master’s degree in Neurovascular Diseases. He holds clinics at Asian Hospital, St. Luke’s Medical Center, the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, and Manila Doctors Hospital. He also recently has been awarded the position of President in both the 15th ASEAN Society of Neurosurgeons and Academy of Filipino Neurosurgeons. To the resident Brods however, he is best known as PHI’s current Fraternity Adviser, a position endorsed to him in 2006 during the term of Brod Paul Nimrod Borja Firaza Φ‘02 as Superior Exemplar. He is also fondly known as the neurosurgeon who bought himself a brand new BMW motorbike for his 45th birthday despite sustaining whiplash injuries after two close calls on the road, and despite attending to innumerable head trauma victims himself. The Fraternity is witness to how Gap has always given of himself, never resting on his laurels, lifting the Fraternity on his shoulders as he goes, and enjoying every minute of it. Truly, Gap is nothing like his name’s homophonic common noun; he is brimful of passion for a calling that is truly his. 

Finding one’s niche in life is reason to content a man. But never being content with it, instead making a name in that niche – that is reason to celebrate him. Though it need not be said, Gap will always lend his brothers not just a helping hand, but an ongoing life story that inspires.

Dr. Enrique Ona '57 and Dr. Ted Herbosa '79 are at the helm of Philippine healthcare under the Aquino administration

 

Last June 29, 2010, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino named the members of his Cabinet, which included Dr. Enrique T. Ona Φ’57 as the Department of Health Secretary. Just last November 4, Dr. Teodoro J. Herbosa Φ’79 took his oath as the new Undersecretary of the Department of Health. Yes, you read it right. Two loyal sons of the Phi Kappa Mu, two men of excellence, honor, and integrity, are at the forefront of the Philippine Health Care System with the sole purpose of serving the Filipino People.

It is with great pride and honor that I introduce these two great men through this piece of writing.

Dr. Enrique T. Ona

Dr. Enrique “Ike” Ona, a native of Sagay City in Negros Occidental, graduated from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in 1962. After graduating, he took his residency training in surgery at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn in New, York. After acquiring fellowship degrees in surgery and experimental surgery in Boston and New York, he decided to receive further training as a Colombo Scholar in Organ Transplantation at Cambridge University in England.

Eventually, Dr. Ona returned to the Philippines, becoming one of the pioneers of organ transplantation in the country. One of his greatest achievements was transforming a government hospital ravaged by fire in 1998 into the first ISO-certified government hospital in the Philippines – the National Kidney Transplant Institute (NKTI). Under his leadership as its executive director, the NKTI has boasted of having the most modern hemodialysis center in Southeast Asia. Through a strategic planning process which involved everyone – from the medical to the administrative staff, he increased the institution’s yearly income for its advancement.

Furthermore, he also addressed the effect of “brain drain” by supporting the development of high-potential surgeons, and by establishing the Institute of Advanced Nursing and Allied Health Care Professionals, the graduates of which have filled up the local vacancies created by the frequent migration of our health care professionals. He also pioneered many projects for the Department of Health such as the Preventive Nephrology Program and the Renal Disease Control Program.

Dr. Teodoro J. Herbosa

Dr. Teodoro “Ted” Herbosa is a Trauma Surgeon who specializes in Disaster Medicine, Emergency Medical Care, and Emergency Toxicology. He graduated from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in 1983. He underwent an International Postgraduate Course in Surgery at Tel Aviv University in Israel in 1991, and trained in Trauma Surgery at the Cook County Hospital of Illinois in 1994. He also received training in Emergency and Crisis Management at the University of Geneva in Switzerland in 1996. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Philippine Society of General Surgeons. He has been a board member of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency and the Malaysian Conjoint Board of Emergency Medicine in 2008.

He is currently a consultant at the Philippine General Hospital and a professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. He has also engaged in research, collaborating with various prestigious institutions such as the Philippine General Hospital, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the World Health Organization.

Pretty impressive, eh?

 

The Dynamic Duo of Health Care

At present, they are the “Batman and Robin” of the Philippine Health Care System. This is no small task, as President Aquino has declared health care to be no. 3 in his priority list. Being loyal sons of the Most Venerable Fraternity of the UP College of Medicine, they definitely have the principles, morals, and ideals necessary to deliver in this humungous responsibility. We can only watch in awe as their tandem does wonders in developing the Philippine Health Care System.

Brods, you make us proud!

Briefly describe your experiences as a UP medicine student. I was a renegade, still am.

When Brod Ting Tiongco assumed editorship of the college’s student publication back during his clerkship year, he changed the name of the newsletter into its current name (UP Medics) and he did not just report the news, he made news.

Exasperated of the perceived gap “between the preaching of medicine in the college and the practice of it” in the hospital (“proper garbage disposal was taught while rotten placentas were thrown under the water tower”), he organized a series of dialogues between the Dean of the College and the PGH Director to address exactly these issues. And though nothing more than promises came out of the meetings, he published the proceedings in his first issue along with a strongly-worded editorial that soon caught the attention of  the UP community and in particular UP Institute of Public Hygiene Dean Dr. Victor Valenzuela.  He was told of the dysfunctional relationship between the college and the hospital that probably accounted for much of the gross lapses he observed, i.e., the hospital was Congress-controlled even while it was officially handed over to UP administration a decade back.  Urgently then, he asked for an audience with UP President Salvador Lopez to request that UP assume full responsibility over PGH, that UP handle PGH budget instead of Congress and that PGH directors be appointed according to academic requirements set by UP and not according to the whims of politicians. When after six months, no action at all seemed to be taken by the administration even when an investigating committee was already supposedly organized to look into the matter, he led preparations for a hospital strike in PGH, the first ever in the world.

September 1, 1970 is a most historic date. Due much to his efforts, students from UP Diliman and the UP College of Medicine, along with PGH nurses and employees, patients and their relatives, marched from the UP Diliman campus down Quezon Boulevard, Quiapo and Taft Avenue into the PGH grounds. He recalls that at the picket line, not even the rain and the flood could disperse the crowd that oddly, even seemed to swell up. As media came and patients, nurses and doctors aired their grievances, Congress finally gave in and passed a bill handing over the PGH budget to UP. Then President Marcos himself fired the hospital director as a new UP-appointed director took office along with a more academic and competent management staff. Brod Ting Tiongco was instrumental in handing over PGH to the University, a status which holds true to this day.

Of the experience, Brod Ting writes, “We called off the strike and melted back into the work staff, happy that things were going to be better and hoping that this would be a template for collective action on matters that were previously thought to be hopeless and beyond the efforts of ordinary people who passed through the corridors of PGH in their own time in history.”

But certainly his maverick ways was not lost on him through the years. During the last year of his surgical residency training, he took up another cause that had him butting heads with his Department Chairman and yet again, the hospital director. As president of the PGH Physician’s Association, he lobbied to allow the more senior residents in PGH limited and supervised private practice during their last year of training to prepare them to treating paying patients and “to provide some financial support for their families after their salaries ceased.” His aim was to provide some incentive for trainees who wanted to stay in the country. Even when he exhausted all options to convince the indignant PGH director, this was a lost cause. When the director argued that the idea was immoral, Ting replied that there was nothing “more abusive and immoral in the PGH than the fact that the majority of the residents trained and honed their skills on poor Filipino patients but used them to advantage on rich American patients later.”

As he relates, the Martial Law era was a time when majority of PGH trainees left the politically unstable Philippines for abroad (“The last year of training in Surgery was spent writing flurries of applications for internship/residency to good surgical training programs in USA”). It is thus a testament to his strong character that after training he decided not only to stay in the country but also to go back to his native Mindanao. In fact, his decision to take up surgery was in part due to his desire to address what was desperately needed in his hometown. “You cannot treat stab wounds with aspirin; or you cannot treat gunshot wounds in nine year old kids with kidneys hanging out blown off by M14 bullets, with cough syrup. I knew where I was going.”

He has been serving the people of Davao for more than thirty years now. In 1976, as an unpaid consultant at the Surgical Department of the Davao Medical Center, he trained surgical residents in Davao and Tagum and encouraged them to stay in their locale. In 1979, he pursued further training in Neurosurgery at the University of Vienna; only to return to head the Department of Surgery at the Davao Medical Center.

In 1990, he along with others set up the first cooperative hospitals in Davao City and Tagum, Davao Province. In his efforts, he aims to not only cure the sick poor but also the sick health system in place in the country. “We are in a schizoid situation wherein Western medicine is used in an Eastern setting.” He says while Western medicine looks at illness as a personal event (“suffering looked at under a microscope”), Filipinos and Asians look at health as a social event. Thus, he argues that health care delivery must be intrinsically related to communities. Hospitals must not be built like “bazaars and malls where people get what they can afford; institutions must be run and patronized by communities according to their need.” It is in this light that his cooperative hospitals were conceptualized. Pooling the health expenses of the poor, the cooperative hospital is able to provide health care at a much more affordable cost by buying medicines and supplies in bulk. Though it operates as a business enterprise, it is owned by both health care practitioners and the ordinary members of the community. Today, over fifty such hospitals have been established all over the country.

In 2007, he was conferred the Ozanam Award by the Ateneo de Manila University (where he took up his premed course) for his initiatives to bring to the poor “the Health and Humanity they deserve” through the cooperative hospitals he has helped set up. Likewise, the Ateneo de Davao University (where he had his primary and secondary education) conferred on him the Dr. Jess and Trining dela Paz Award for his advocacies.

Brod Ting also writes a regular column for Mindanews. He has written two books, “Child of the Sun Returning” and “Surgeons Do Not Cry.” In the latter, Brod Ting, still the renegade, is nonchalant in his criticism of the institutions of UP and PGH.

Throughout his life, Brod Ting dissented when the need arose, moved in the face of apathy, paved the way for the realization of many of his strong-held convictions and as he puts it, “raised hell” all along the way.

 
The current director of the Philippine General Hospital, Dr. Jose Castillo Gonzales Φ1969A, weighs in on Phi Kappa Mu, PGH and nationalism. 
 

Read more: Dr. Jose Castillo Gonzales Φ1969A

“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.

Read more: Dr. Ramon Fabella Abarquez, Jr. Φ1948

Page 4 of 5

 

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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