Fil-Am love story born in PH medical mission

By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Jul 16 2012 11:15 AM | Updated as of Jul 16 2012 07:20 PM

Their love story was born in public service so, in a sense, every time this physician-couple go on a medical mission to the Philippines is just like reliving that romance.
“I met him a few years ago at a medical mission organized by his friends,” Falls Church, VA-based pediatrician Catherine Panlilio Arzadon revealed. She was talking about her husband, Dr. Joseph M. Arzadon.
Catherine was given the Most Outstanding Migrant Award in the Healthcare Profession at last month’s People’s Ball organized by the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC).
“I promised to help so when they went to my province I helped out,” she told the Manila Mail. They were part of the Medical Mission of Mercy USA (MMOM) helping indigents in Pampanga.
“That’s how we met, stayed in touch and eventually got married in 2004 and moved to the US,” she added. She currently serves as assistant chief medical officer of MMOM (her husband is president and chief medical officer of this non-profit organization).
The pair also co-founded the Munting Ngiti Foundation Inc. (she actually established it in 1999 but was incorporated as a charitable organization in  2004) which provides free surgical services for indigents with cleft lip and palette.
“We started it with the Circulo Pampangueno then branched out to medical missions. That’s how the Medical Mission was born from a group of friends who just wanted to help,” she explained.
The MMOM has about a hundred members, Catherine said, and about 70 of them go to the Philippines every year – which makes them one of the largest Fil-Am medical missions helping the poor but needy patients in the Philippines.
“Not everyone can go but everyone helps – to raise money for the mission, pack supplies and other things,” she added.
“The majority are non-medical people, a lot of them hold high office or own businesses but when they’re on mission, it doesn’t really matter because there is no mister or general or doctor,” she stressed.
“There are no titles. They will do what they have to do to get the job done which is what we’re so proud of; there are no egos and everyone works well together,” Catherine said.
A native of San Fernando, Pampanga, she is a daughter of US-trained Dr. Ramon Panlilio and Shirley Temple Hughes, a registered nurse from Virginia.  She graduated from the University of Sto. Tomas in 1999.
She has always been involved with charity work. Aside from the MMOM, she has volunteered for Catholic Women’s League Free Clinics, Pampanga Medical Society and Philippine Pediatric Society.
“I feel blessed and there is such a need,” she says of her drive to help the needy.
“We try to stay in Region 3 (Central Luzon) but we have gone outside the region, to Romblon and Coron, Palawan,” she revealed.
They do mostly general surgery because of the cost on indigent patients. “Even in government hospitals there are costs that low-income and even some middle-income patients can’t afford,” Catherine explained.
“Before we used to offer medical consultations but now we’re streamlining more on surgery and dental procedures,” she added.
Many could say that the union of Drs. Catherine and Joseph Arzadon was not only a match made in heaven, they were also heaven-sent.