Doc not just for child care but also for child rights

Salvacion Rodriguez Gatchalian—PHOTO FROM PPS.ORG.PH

“An exceptional physician” with a passion for child care and children’s rights was how colleagues described Dr. Salvacion “Sally” Rodriguez Gatchalian, president of the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS), who became the latest and ninth Filipino physician to succumb to the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Gatchalian died on Thursday. She was 68.

In a radio interview, Dr. Dennis de Guzman, former assistant secretary general of the Philippine Medical Association, cited the other doctors who fell in the line of duty.


They were cardiologist Israel Bactol of the Philippine Heart Center (PHC); oncologist Rose Pulido of San Juan de Dios Hospital; anesthesiologist Gregorio Macasaet III of Manila Doctors Hospital; cardiologist Raul Jara of PHC; Dr. Henry Fernandez of the Pangasinan Medical Society; Dr. Marcelo Jaochico, Pampanga provincial health officer; obstetrician-gynecologist Raquel Seva of Evangelista Specialty Hospital in San Pedro, Laguna; and Dr. Hector Alvarez of Novaliches District Hospital.

Warmhearted person

Dr. Jean Marie Poblete, current head of Institute of Pediatrics and Child Health of St Luke’s Global City, remembered Gatchalian as “a very warmhearted person” widely regarded for her advocacy against infectious disease among children, who threw her full support to Poblete’s “Piso Para sa Scholar” project for poor children. As head of the 6,500-strong PPS, Gatchalian was “one of Asia’s finest in battling infectious disease in pediatrics,” Poblete said.


Apparently, her passion for children’s rights was as strong, she said.

‘Positive parenting’

In 2018, the PPS issued a statement decrying the government’s plan to lower the age of criminal liability to nine years.

Under Gatchalian’s leadership, the group argued that the participation of minors in criminal acts would be better checked by “positive parenting” and “evidence-based” intervention rather than by prosecution.

Her commitment to work and advocacy was, however, leavened by her ability to inject humor in serious subjects, Poblete said.

“Imagine hearing a lecture on polio sprinkled with jokes,” she added.

She was “a great pediatrician, a precious sorority sister at (the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine), a friend. May angels welcome her in heaven,” wrote Dr. Dominga “Minguita” Padilla on Twitter on learning about Gatchalian’s demise.

RITM consultant

In a phone interview later, Padilla, an ophthalmologist and active consultant at St. Luke’s Bonifacio Global City (BGC), described her colleague as “warm, walang ere (grounded), very competent and welcoming like an older sister, so popular and so loved.“I have no bad memories of her. Doktora Sally was never masungit. She was always smiling but was also tough. She fought for the truth. Tough but not rough,” she said.


The clinical associate professor at the UP-Philippine General Hospital surmised that Gatchalian’s dedication to her obligation as consultant of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) might have exposed her to a child who was asymptomatic but was nonetheless positive for COVID-19. “The thing is, front-liners [like Gatchalian] are exposed but are not aware of it,” the doctor added.

Like Poblete, Padilla fondly remembered Gatchalian for her sense of humor, much like her sister Ruby Rodriguez, a popular comedian. “She would make people laugh and make them comfortable through her jokes,” Padilla said, adding that Gatchalian’s light touch was evident even in medical school and with her future husband, Dr. Eduardo Gatchalian.

“That’s why so many people are mourning her. So many doctors learned so much from her,” Padilla said.

Poblete recalled how honored the PPS was when Gatchalian showed up as speaker on the tenth anniversary of St. Luke’s BGC and its Institute of Pediatrics and Children’s Health on Feb. 21.

Life of the party

“She was a very busy person … so everyone exclaimed, ‘She’s here!’ [when she came]. She cheered during the party games, laughed, made jokes and really lived the party with us,” Poblete recalled.

When she learned that Gatchalian had been intubated as her sickness got worse, “I cried but said ‘God’s will be done.’” Poblete said.

“There was so much pain, but I had to let go. She lived a full life,” she added.

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