The legacy of Tatay Ric
Last week we bade farewell to an institution in the field of diabetology—Dr. Ricardo “Ric” Fernando. Everyone he had mentored called him “Tatay,” a reflection of the doting nature he had shown his students and mentees; actually, anyone who had come to know him.
Since I went into another specialization in medicine, I did not have the privilege to be under his tutelage; but I’d known him up close and also asked his permission to call him Tatay. He jokingly answered me, “Mas matanda ka pa yata sa akin, Kuya na lang (You’re probably older than me, just call me elder brother).” And we both had a big laugh.
Since diabetes and heart diseases are closely related, we would find ourselves giving lectures together in some conferences on diabetes or risk factors of heart diseases. He was well known to be one of the most excellent and authoritative lecturers on all aspects of diabetes.
Tatay Ric was the herald of good news for diabetic patients, assuring them that despite the disease, they could still expect to live long, happy, healthy lives. From him I would always hear the phrases “aging gracefully with diabetes” and “healthy aging.”
More than the informative scientific updates he gave on diabetes, the clinical insights he shared—culled from his vast experience in studying diabetes and treating patients with the disease—provided clinical pearls the doctors in the audience could always relate with and apply in their respective practices.
Tatay Ric will always be remembered for leaving behind an important legacy—to equip both the doctors and the patients they treat with all the knowledge they need to prevent diabetes and its deadly complications.
He is the founding chair and president of the Institute for Studies on Diabetes Foundation (ISDF), which has now hundreds of graduates trained in the management of diabetes, practicing all over the country.
Founded in June 1989—the culmination of Tatay Ric’s dream of spreading awareness and knowledge of diabetes to the entire population—ISDF is the first and only post-graduate school in the country that focuses solely on the in-depth study of this killer disease.
ISDF is a nonprofit, nonstock corporation established to empower health care professionals with the ability to deliver holistic and compassionate diabetes care to everyone—diabetic patients, their relatives who are also at risk to develop the disease, and the general community.
Tatay Ric believed that educating doctors on more effective ways to treat diabetes and prevent its complications, can help them improve the lives of their diabetic patients and make them live normal lives.
Two years after he founded ISDF, he also founded the Philippine Society of Diabetologists (PSD) in 1991.
ISDF and PSD have raised diabetology to a higher level of subspecialty, with its graduates and members being called diabetologists. If I’m not mistaken, it was Tatay Ric who introduced the term diabetology in the country when he founded ISDF in 1989. In fact, he and his other colleagues who trained at the prestigious Joslin Diabetes Center in the United States coined the term.
After training at the Joslin Diabetes Center, he came back to the Philippines in the late ’50s, and immediately started his various advocacies on diabetes. He opened his diabetes clinic at the Mary Johnston Hospital in Tondo, Manila.
Early on, he believed that we needed accurate prevalence statistics to guide us on how we should proceed managing the disease on a population perspective.
A few months after returning from the US, he conducted a survey on diabetes in Tondo, and showed that 6.4 percent of the adult population was diabetic, with the majority of them not realizing they were so. Hence, when diagnosed, a lot of diabetics already had established complications such as heart and brain diseases, retinal or eye problem, nephropathy or kidney impairment, and narrowing of the leg arteries that can lead to amputations.
Tatay Ric was a staunch advocate of early diagnosis of diabetes especially for children who have type 1 diabetes, who would need insulin injections for life. He worked on type 1 diabetic children in Tondo, and even gave his personal money to the mothers of the children for transportation so that they would be able to bring their children back for regular consultations.
Such was the kind of passion and compassion Tatay Ric had shown to save diabetic patients from the clutches of its deadly complications.
Although Tatay Ric and I were already good friends since way back, we became closer after the terrorist attack in New York on Sept. 11, 2001—also called 9/11—which killed close to 3,000 and injured 6,000 others. We, and several other doctors—former Health Secretary Espie Cabral, Dr. Bien Cabral, Dr. Rody Sy and Dr. Chao Sevilla—were attending a conference in Manhattan when it happened. Since all the airports were closed, we found ourselves stranded in Manhattan for the next six days, checking every day with the local airline office if the airports had reopened.
We would walk the long blocks from our hotel to the airline office, queue for sometime together with everyone else wanting to get first priority on the first plane out of New York. And only when we were advised that the airports would definitely not open that day would we slowly head back to our hotel.
After a few days of not knowing if and when the airports would ever reopen, and with all telephone lines still down such that I could not even let my family know I was safe, I was really worried and agitated.
Tatay Ric then had shown and imparted to me one very important trait—to trust our fate in God and leave everything to Him. And to be assured that no matter what happened, He was in full control.
After that terrifying experience in New York, we somehow felt a peculiar bond and, whenever we met, we would greet each other with our right forefinger and middle finger apposed to each other. It was pretty much like a Boy Scout salute, but it had a different connotation for us. The two-finger symbol reminded us of the twin towers that were felled, and the apposition of the two fingers fondly reminded us of how close we had become because of the experience.
Tatay Ric certainly touched thousands of lives directly, and probably millions more indirectly with his lifelong advocacy to make diabetics enjoy life and live it to the fullest.
Tatay Ric, we bid you adieu for now. We will miss the meaningful conversations and hearty laughs we shared. But as you told me during one of those uncertain moments in New York—in God’s own time and in the eternity of life with Him, we’d have lots of occasions to enjoy all the pleasant and memorable experiences once again.
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