“He was a great father, teacher, mentor, poet, author, singer, colleague, friend,” went the message from the PHA following Dr. Raul Jara’s passing this past week due to COVID-19.
Culture Spotlight

Remembering PH cardiology figurehead Dr. Raul Jara: a jolly, comforting presence who loved music

The former president of the Philippine HEART Association passed away early this week due to respiratory complications caused by the coronavirus. Here, his patients and family remember a cheerful spirit who always had a song to spare. By JAM PASCUAL
| Mar 27 2020

For many patients who walked into Dr. Raul Jara’s office at Capitol Med over the years, the first thing they remember is the music. Sweet, calming music. Music we imagine could soften the blow of any dour diagnosis. 

“Music, particularly the vintage ones called oldies but goldies, was the vena cava of this esteemed cardiologist, whose patients' BP tended to dive to normal limits while he hummed Elvis and Sinatra hits, his stethoscope navigating their chests and backs,” wrote Dick Malay, a newspaper columnist who had the privilege of being one of Dr. Jara’s patients. On a Facebook post, Malay recalled, “His radio was permanently tuned to a station playing melodies of yore that included tracks of Trio Los Panchos, The Everlies and Pavarotti with whom he gently chimed to his patients' delight.

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“‘Send In The Clowns’ and ‘Somewhere In Time’ were always in his playlist, which he always nonchalantly hummed along to,” remembered one of his patients, Maan Asunción Dagñalan. “‘Music is good for the heart!’ —that’s what he said all the time. ‘Kaya magpatugtog lang kayo and everything will be ok.’”

Everything will be fine—that was how Jara saw the world, or at least how the good doctor made his patients see it. Checkups didn’t feel like formal appointments in the clinic of this tall, good-looking cardiologist. As Malay would say, it was like catching up with a ka-barkada. Jara was a jolly, comforting presence, Dagñalan maintained. “He never made us feel we were sick. He knew how to make us calm and worry less no matter what we’ve been going through.” 

"He never made us feel we were sick," a patient said of Dr. Jara. Photo from the Philippine HEART Association on Facebook.

It is almost too easy to call the soul-soothing, nerve-calming Jara an expert of the heart, but he was. Jara served as president of the Philippine HEART Association (PHA) and has over four decades of medical experience under his belt. Before that, he served as Department Manager of the Department of Education, Training, and Research at the PHA. In his practice, he specialized in non-invasive cardiology, which specializes in the detection and treatment of heart illness with external tests, rather than instruments inserted into the body. Mentees and colleagues know he was an expert on echocardiography. Jara graduated from the University of the Philippines, College of Medicine, in 1975.

The 70s were a wild time for the young Jara. Alongside Dr. Sylvia Claudio, dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Social Work and Community Development, Dr. Jara was one of those medical practitioners who risked their lives in the time of Ferdinand Marcos’s martial law. Their group treated patients from the underground movement, patients on the run from the military. Due to the unusual situation then, they relented to faking names and records and willingly attended to those who dared dissent— instead of turning such people in. “Those doctors in that underground referral network upheld their ethics to save lives and protect patients at considerable risk to themselves,” Claudio told the Inquirer recently. 

Of course, Dr. Jara also attended to patients from the other side of the political landscape. Malay in his Facebook post recounts how Jara was among the group of specialists that examined Enrile before he went behind bars for plunder. “I asked how he proceeded with this historic task, and with a quick restrained wit, replied ‘Medyo nahirapan akong hanapin ang puso. Joke lang,’ he said without missing a beat.”

“‘Music is good for the heart!’ —that’s what he said all the time. ‘Kaya magpatugtog lang kayo and everything will be ok.’”

“He was a great father, teacher, mentor, poet, author, singer, colleague, friend,” went the message from the PHA following Jara’s passing this past week due to COVID-19. “(He was) One who has spent his life teaching. One who never got tired to impart knowledge and wisdom. One who made you sweat as he bombards you with questions but would suddenly make you feel at ease as he breaks into a smile. Each trainee he encountered and had taught always has a story to tell about him."

Here’s one such story. Not from a trainee, but from Ria Casiño-Jara, his daughter-in-law. It is from a Facebook post that accompanies a photo of a beaming Dr. Jara holding his newly born grandchild. 

“As many first births go, mine was complicated that eventually led to an emergency C-section. Even in my semi-drugged state, I vividly remember that tall frame entering the delivery room and greeting everyone a warm and snappy good morning, scanning and taking everything in the room, reassuring me while checking with his stethoscope, and finally huddling with the doctors in hushed but urgent tones.

“Now the questions and grilling begin, delivered in the brand that Dr. Jara is known for.  In the hurried talks I would even hear the occasional lift in the decibel of voices. But instead of anxiousness, a feeling of relief has now washed over me.  My father-in-law is there—my doctor, my advocate, my dad, the excited grandfather, the supportive but hawk-eyed physician who will make sure everything goes right in his watch.”

It seemed everywhere the cardiologist went, he brought with him a smile like an elixir, a warmth that could put a room at ease. His aura was an invaluable thing to have in his profession, considering the high-stress nature of the medical field.

Holding his grandson. Photo courtesy of daughter-in-law Ria Casiño-Jara

The warmth he brought to his role as medical worker was the same warmth he brought to his realm of responsibilities as a family man. Jara was a man with multiple dimensions of care to his character. Released alongside the PHA's message was this statement from Jara's daughter, Dr. Ling Jara-Salva. "Papa is a tower of strength and leadership and he served as the head of our family and a beacon of hope for many in the midst of this crisis. He knew the extensive battle he was facing and he kept on fighting."

It is not by how her father died that he will be remembered, said Jara-Silva, but by how he lived. “He dedicated his whole life to constant learning and teaching and molding future doctors. He would ask the tough questions and push you to learn and persevere. He believed in his students and would think of them as his children and the hope for the future generations."

One of Jara's children, Paolo Cecilio, said that while a PHC doctor told him that his father died on Tuesday due to respiratory complications caused by the coronavirus, the family did not immediately receive an official document on Jara's passing. This echoes anecdotes of other Filipino citizens who've brought relatives to the hospital to be tested. Because people who aren't PUMs or PUIs are discouraged from being in hospitals to minimize the risk of infections, many Filipinos have experienced losing their loved ones to coronavirus without getting the chance to say goodbye.

More than his impact on the field of cardiology and his bravery as a doctor, Dr. Raul Jara will be remembered for the breadth of his love and sense of service—for his patients, his family, and his country. And like the music he played during his checkups, his legacy will echo into places that need healing—in the midst of this coronavirus crisis, and even after it lifts.

Dr. Raul Jara passed away on March 24, 2:16 A.M. He is survived by his wife, his five children, their spouses, and ten grandchildren.