The Dr Antonio C Oposa Sr I didn't know

clip_image002MANILA: I've just finished reading the latest (certainly not the last) email from just turned 90 years old (April Fool's Day) outstanding Manila surgeon Antonio Oposa Sr and, after reading this long one, consisting of back-and-forth emails, I emailed him back (in red font):

So, you turn out to be better than I read in your book, than I came to know you.

He just wrote back, "THANK YOU FRANK!"

And that has inspired to write this new one.


He has been a great surgeon, of this I have no doubt, working on soft and hard and warm bodies; but he has not been a great operator in working with software and hardware with or without warm bodies, of this I have no doubt too – he couldn't have formatted "THANK YOU FRANK!" in caps & lower case like "Thank you, Frank!" with the font in bigger size, or in red, like you can do in Gmail, which he uses, and often.

It doesn't matter really. He is 90 and I am 74, going on 75, and I suppose the difference of 16 years has proven to be in favor of doing things the old way, not high tech. And no, those delicate surgeon's fingers haven't learned the home keys, so he types essentially in what I call the Biblical Method: Seek and ye shall find. Well, as a fine surgeon, sure as hell he knows where to find what he's looking for.

He has 1 iPad, or is it 3? He has 1 laptop, or is it 4? He loves modern gadgets, but that love has not been reciprocated by those gadgets. In any case, he is not operating in a vacuum – he can always summon someone to teach him to get out of trouble, technical trouble.

Like his friend Tony Meer (God bless his soul!) he has had many girl friends, and I'll just leave it at that. If you read his autobiography, Give Me The Flowers ... Now! (2005), for which from him you can ask for a copy, you may be able to tell by reading between the lines. Let me just say this: I know that girls always fall in love, and that boys always fall for girls they like.

I'm not going to repeat what I wrote in a series about him and which appeared in my blog; I'm just giving you the links so you can read those, as you wish; I wrote them as one but uploaded them separately into 4 parts in the same day, Monday, 25 April 2011:

A Surgeon's Life Cut Open (0): Antonio C Oposa Sr (The Creattitudes Encyclopedia,
A Surgeon's Life Cut Open (1): Most interesting, Dr Oposa (The Creattitudes Encyclopedia,
A Surgeon's Life Cut Open (2): Most intriguing, Dr Oposa (The Creattitudes Encyclopedia,
A Surgeon's Life Cut Open (3): Most passionate, Dr Oposa (The Creattitudes Encyclopedia,

I just downloaded those 4 essays and they count up to 19,800+ words, or an average of 4,950 words each essay. I usually write 1,000+ essays, but this life is extraordinary that I had to give it extraordinary space to tell the story in parts. I believe it is my best gift to him, not that I have given him any other one!


The email he just sent me started when he sent an email response to him by another surgeon, Dr Eusebio C Kho, which was in reply to the email of Dr Din Mabanta. This Dr Mabanta had written for permission to name a health service initiative at Bantayan Island in Cebu, what Dr Kho refers to as the "Dr Antonio C. Oposa Center for Health and Happiness" – although you don't usually dedicate a monument or edifice to someone who is still alive. This is highly unusual, and that is because Dr Oposa is a highly unusual son of a guts – he has the slang meanings of that word, and these are courage, fortitude, nerve, audacity. Guts was what made him a great surgeon, and a great person. No, I didn't say perfect.

Dr Kho wrote Dr Mabanta:

What you intend to do – name your health service initiative after a great medical statesman, an excellent surgeon and a great Filipino patriot – floods us, his admirers, with great ecstasy and joy!

Dr Kho wrote that the Oposa Center will make it possible for the financially challenged people of Cebu and the rest of the Visayas to avail themselves of "affordable, good, basic medical care." He said that the concept of the center as a cooperative is "very excellent" – and I say Amen! to that. As the General Manager myself of the Nagkaisa Multi-Purpose Cooperative in my hometown of Asingan, Pangasinan, I know a cooperative will benefit the members, because the coop will make high-quality products (like medicines) and services (like medical checkups) available at low costs.

Dr Kho also said in his email (his in italics, my comments in regular text):

I am sure you know of Dr Oposa's legendary climb to the top of Philippine Surgery. A 1951 graduate of the UP College of Medicine at the top rung of his class, he became a surgical resident at the PGH. He happened to visit a sick relative in San Francisco, at (the UC San Francisco) Medical Center. He met the surgeons there who were impressed with his intellectual persona, his medical knowledge and his desire to be a surgeon.

Dr Oposa is just like me, I think: When he opens his mouth, you will either like him, or you won't. There are no 2 ways about it. When he comes on, it can be hard on some people. But if you're good, you know better.

They offered him residency and he accepted. While serving in that capacity, his record was brilliant, both didactically and practically -- his operative skills were extraordinary!

Having read his book again and again (a couple of years ago, I had actually finished coming up with an updated edition), I knew that. Indeed, he keeps offering to operate on my H and H, all expenses paid, but I have always declined, because considering his great skill and my great age (74 going on 75) as well as my great horror at surgery of any kind, I'm afraid afterwards people would say, "The operation was successful; unfortunately, sepsis set in and ..." I couldn't have finished that sentence, could I?

At the conclusion of his residency, after being Chief Resident in General, Thoracic and Vascular Surgery, he was offered the position of Attending Surgeon at the legendary University of California San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF Med Center). His love of native land and the Filipino people made him turn down that offer; he wanted to return to his beloved country and serve his people. He has the distinction of being the only Filipino to have completed residency in surgery at the UCSF!  

The return of the native was what convinced me that Dr Oposa was indeed an unusually great person. Given such a similar chance, bigger or smaller, most successful Filipinos abroad would elect to stay abroad, especially in the US of A. He was my (medical) hero! He reminded me of Jose Rizal, another hero I had always admired.

When he started servicing the people in Manila as a "compleat" surgeon in the three surgical subspecialties, he met resistance. He was even refused admitting privileges at the PGH – there was envy and fear that he was going to steal the patients of the other surgeons.

When you're good, you can't help but be good – and can't help other people from being envious and wary of you.

I hear that he was a great lecturer; he could hold the attention of the class because of his charisma and good knowledge of the subject matter. In the OR, he was a great operator – his technique and gentle handling of tissues – plus his physiologic approach to surgical problems harked back to Dr. William Halsted, The Father of American Surgery.

Oh, he is a great speaker all right. He can hold the attention of any group with his charm and confidence and knowledge of the subject matter – and other pieces of information that add to the substance of his presentation. Masterful and playful, he can and will recite a proper poem, or even sing "Sing A Song Of Sixpence" that tells of blackbirds bad:

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie!

Did you know that these verses are also added to the 4 original? A blackbird had pecked off the maid's nose, so:

They sent for the king's doctor
Who sewed it on again;
He sewed it on so neatly,
The seam was never seen!

Great surgery. I continue quoting Dr Kho:

His extracurricular activities on behalf of the country in medical fields are well known. He was President of the Philippine Medical Association at an early professional age, butting heads with established GP's who had the upper hand; but he won! He was President of the Philippine Surgical Society. He also was a member of the American College of Surgeons, and was a member of its Board of Governors for several terms. Even now, in retirement, his surgical opinions are sought after by younger surgeons. He continues to see surgical patients and to donate to many good charities.

Dr Kho (Eusebio C Kho) is an MD, FACS, of UP Med Class '60. Diplomat for Life, American Board of Surgery. President, UPMASA 2007-2009. Colonel, US Army (Retired). He lives in Scottsburg, Indiana.

What prompted Dr Kho to write about Dr Oposa was the following email by Dr Mabanta to Dr Oposa that he sent to Dr Kho:

My name is Din Mabanta. I manage Health Innovation Multipurpose Cooperative in Cebu. It is the first cooperative in Cebu that is engaged in healthcare services. We hope to provide quality basic health services to the marginalized. I would often describe it as: “Private hospital service at health center price”. Yes, it can be done. We will soon bring this model to Bantayan Island with a partnership with your son, Atty A Oposa.

Encouraged myself, I think we will emulate in my hometown such coop-based health services especially for the disadvantaged.

It is such a privilege to meet you virtually. I have heard so much about you from Atty Oposa who speaks so often and so fondly about you. I remember the first time I met him, which was probably about 2 years ago. He spoke to me of a health center that he would put up for you in Bantayan. He beamed with such joy as he described you to me. He wanted to dedicate the health center to you who has inspired, moved, and touched so much lives medically and non-medically.

We went on with our busy lives until, recently, things have started to come into place. We both believe that the time is now. The Center for Health and Happiness (CHH) will soon rise in Bantayan Island. Atty Oposa has been more than supportive in this endeavor. It is amazing that all he asks is for CHH to be dedicated to you. He loves you dearly.

I remember Dr Antonio Codilla Oposa Sr was ROTC Corps Commander in Pre-Med. So I'll try another type of ending to my essay, and this time it's a hand salute.

Excluding this line, the total number of words in this essay is 1924, the year Dr Oposa was born.

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