2020 heroes: Frontliners who died battling COVID-19

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 30 2020 12:45 AM | Updated as of Dec 30 2020 04:24 AM

2020 heroes: Frontliners who died battling COVID-19 1

MANILA — Despite the danger posed by COVID-19, millions of health care workers around the world continue to report for duty, risking their lives to save others.

In the Philippines, more than 13,000 health workers have been infected with COVID-19. At one point, health care workers comprised of almost 20% of the Philippines’ total number of COVID-19 cases.

By December 21, the number of health workers who died due to COVID-19 reached 76.

Almost half of them died during the first few months of the pandemic, as hospitals got stretched by the influx of patients in emergency rooms and the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

Still, Filipino doctors and nurses put on a brave face and even found creative ways to protect themselves using plastic and garbage bags as makeshift PPEs.

On top of such problems, health workers are still facing inadequate pay and delayed benefits.

There were even reports of health workers who died without receiving their hazard pay.

We pay tribute to the more than 70 health workers who died while battling COVID-19. Among them are:

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DR. GREG MACASAET

Dr. Macasaet and his wife Evalyn were anesthesiologists who tended to emergency room patients at Manila Doctors Hospital. Both of them contracted COVID-19 because of their frontline work. 

Before his condition further worsened, he messaged friends: “The turn of events is just no longer going in my favor. The feeling you get, aside from extreme pains all over, difficulty of breathing and as if all life is being sucked from your body.”

“They will be putting cutdown lines and central tubes on me anytime soon. If they intubate me and place me on ventilator, then the game is almost over.”

Before he died in March, he appealed to family and friends to care for his wife and his son with autism. A relative said the couple made the ultimate sacrifice for choosing to be in the frontlines despite worries about their child with special needs.

DR. RAUL JARA

Jara was a former president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and had been called "one of the great pillars of cardiology.” 

He was among the first doctors who died from COVID-19 in March.

Progressive groups hailed him as a “people’s martyr,” especially since he was a doctor to political prisoners. A University of the Philippines article mentioned how he served as an activist physician during the Marcos dictatorship, treating patients in the underground movement.

Jara was not only a renowned cardiologist who chaired the non-invasive laboratory of the Philippine Heart Center, he was also an educator who previously headed UP College of Medicine’s cardiology training program.

DR. LEANDRO RESURRECCION III

Resurreccion was the head of the pediatric surgery division of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) when he died from COVID-19 on March 31.

PCMC said Resurreccion was “well known locally and abroad as forward looking in his vision for pediatric surgery especially in liver transplants which he was working on to the end.” He was the first frontliner from PCMC who died from COVID.

His son said Resurreccion once had an opportunity to live and work in Australia but he chose to stay in the Philippines because of the lack of pediatric transplant surgeons in the country.

Recalling the last moments of his father, Resurreccion’s son lamented how they were not even able to say goodbye to each other.

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DR. MARCELO JAOCHICO

Jaochico was the provincial health chief of Pampanga and was most known for his service as a doctor-to-the-barrios.

His daughter Cielo recalled how Jaochico spent the last 16 years caring for patients in far-flung barrios, not minding the long mountain treks.

He was also a frontliner during the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in Eastern Visayas and the eruption of Taal Volcano in January.

"Please do not remember him as someone who just died because of COVID-19. Sobrang dami niyang ginawa para sa bayan (he did so many things for the country)," his daughter said.

DR. ISRAEL BACTOL

Dr. Raul Jara's colleague, 34-year-old Dr. Israel Bactol, was among the young doctors who died due to COVID-19, also in March. 

The PHA called him a “young, brilliant, promising doctor.” Bactol, who hailed from Nueva Ecija, was a doctor-to-the-barrio. He was a fellow-in-training at the Philippine Heart Center who later became a cardiologist at the Philippine Heart Center.

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JUDYN BONN SUERTE

Suerte became the poster child of alleged government neglect for health workers after he died of COVID-19 in July. The Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRMMC) Union protested the decision to bring Suerte to another hospital for treatment. The group believes Suerte had a better chance if he stayed in the hospital he worked for.

According to the Alliance of Health Workers, Suerte was an elevator operator at JRMMC and that he should have been given special risk allowance. Under the law, only those directly tending to COVID-19 patients are entitled to special risk allowance but health groups argued that Suerte and other hospital workers should also receive the additional allowance because of the added risk of the COVID-19 pandemic.

DR. KHAREN ABAT-SENEN

Dr. Abat-Senen was the lone neonatologist in Valenzuela City. Her husband Dr. Jerome Senen said the two of them had been very careful and wore personal protective equipment when tending to patients because their two children were still very young.

But she still got infected and spent more than a month battling COVID-19. And just when her family thought she was getting better, she died in August after being confined for 44 days in the Philippine General Hospital.

Dr. Abat-Senen is remembered not only for her medical work but also her artistic pursuits such as singing, painting and photography. Before she died, she posted a song dedicated to health workers, including their mentors, who died because of the pandemic.

DR. SALLY GATCHALIAN

Gatchalian was a leading pediatrician and head of the Philippine Pediatric Society. She was also assistant director of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, which was the lone testing facility for COVID-19 during the early months of the pandemic. She was the 9th Filipino doctor to die due to COVID in March.

Her sister, television host Ruby Rodriguez, paid tribute to her sister in social media posts. A Metro post talked about how Gatchalian served as a caring doctor and a mother figure to many people, especially her patients.

NURSE THERESA CRUZ

Cruz’s death made headlines after her daughter revealed that she did not receive adequate hazard pay. Her family also filed a case against the Cainta Municipal Hospital chief due to alleged negligence, which led to her death.

Despite being exposed to a COVID-19 positive patient, Cruz was only given a rapid antibody test which turned out negative. She was swabbed for COVID-19 only three days before her death. Her positive COVID test result arrived another three days after she died.

Her daughter also disclosed that Cruz was only given P60 of hazard pay per day and that there was a lack of personal protective equipment in the hospital.

NURSE FAYE MARIE LUNA PALAFOX

Although Palafox tested negative for COVID-19, the head nurse was lauded by her peers for handling the hospital’s COVID-19 ward and ensuring the safety of fellow health workers. Her family said her official cause of death was respiratory failure. Reports said she spent her final days making sure nurses had their personal protective equipment before entering their unit. 

There are many more health professionals who died due to COVID-19 this year. Not included in the government’s tally are those with different causes of death but still fought in the frontlines until they fell ill. 

All of them sacrificed their own safety and the safety of their families to serve the country. In the battle against COVID-19, they are our fallen heroes. And they will always be remembered for their love and courage.