Remembering Top Pediatrician Dr. Sally Gatchalian On Mother's Day
Dr. Sally Gatchalian did not just make a mark as an infectious disease specialist, she also made an impact on the lives of many as a mother figure
After contracting the disease from being on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Philippines, Dr. Salvacion “Sally” R. Gatchalian passed away last March at 67 years old. The medical expert did not only serve as the President of the Philippine Pediatric Society and the former Assistant Director of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), but also as a mother figure to the lives of everyone she touched.
As a doctor
J Villanueva is one of the lucky people who were able to witness her brilliance and compassion, when she took care of his 8-month-old baby. “She had to be direct in telling us everything we ought to know, and that meant telling us that even though it was a hard pill to swallow, our newborn had to stay in the hospital,” he recalls with Metro.Style.
A caring doctor, Dr. Sally saw to it that their little one was totally fine before his baby was sent home. She was one to establish a close relationship with her clients and patients. While most doctors don’t permit visits outside clinic hours, Dr. Sally didn’t mind. One day, he spent some time in her home for a quick conversation, which felt like an eternity for her gift that got people warming up to her in an instant. “She made us feel that we can be comfortable around her due to her sincerity in making people better,” he explains, adding that it’s a quality that made her commitment to her career shine. “I like her to be remembered as a person who had the utmost dedication and passion to her profession.”
As a partner in practice
It was quite the same for her partner in practice, her cousin, Dra. Judith Rodriguez Perez (Peralta), whom she attended to after giving birth to her three children. While such could be a very vulnerable time especially for new moms, Dr. Sally consistently embodied a unique attitude that made her feel safe and reassured. “Dra. Sally had the ability to bring sunshine as soon as she entered a room, looking fabulous and well-coiffed with a bright smile and good news about your baby,” she says. It’s exactly what she witnessed in her other patients, too. “This is the reason why, as an obstetrician, I was fortunate to have her as my pediatrician-partner. Our patients were devastated by the loss of their beloved doctor and it was comforting to receive their messages and heartwarming stories,” she adds.
Dr. Sally truly made an impact on the life of her partner in practice. Apart from endorsing her to U.P. Philippine General Hospital for her internship and fellowship training in Obstetrics and Gynecological Infectious Diseases, the fallen COVID-19 frontliner eventually invited her to share a private clinic at St. Luke’s Medical Center. “It was a great honor to practice medicine with an extraordinary physician like Dra. Sally. We had the perfect record for the 15 years of my private practice. She was my clinic partner and pedia or baby-catcher and all the babies we delivered went home healthy with their mothers,” she recalls. “I will miss seeing her in the clinic next door and our quick catch-up sessions. I have kept everything in her clinic as she left it and for now, I cope by pretending that she’s just away on one of her trips to the U.S., Europe, or Heaven.”
To her, she was more than a clinic partner. She was a mentor and an endless source of inspiration in her journey as a doctor. Dr. Judith reminisced the times she enjoyed getting called “Manang Sally”—an Ilocano term of endearment in Zambales for the eldest child. It comes as no surprise why she was everyone’s favorite, even to those who might seem intimidating at times. Her parents’ family patriarch Antonio Rodriguez showed his soft side every time he talked about his eldest child Dr. Sally, according to Dr. Judith, as even when he was partially paralyzed due to polio, she was always there for him. “He would shout ‘Sally this. Sally that. Poor Sally was only a young girl and she would run as fast as she could, all day until late afternoon. She patiently waited on her father, without complaining for she didn’t want any of the house help to do it for her. Despues, she became a doctor later on,” she continues. “True enough, Dr. Sally went on to be an eminent infectious disease specialist and a strong advocate of immunization against polio and other infectious diseases.”
The biggest lesson Dr. Sally imparted on her revolves around modesty. Dr. Sally refused to put her diplomas and certifications in their clinic and went for wall art instead—it inspired her to do just the same. “Sometimes, success invites envy but not Dra. Sally. She mastered the art of being accomplished, confident in her capabilities, and humble at the same time,” she declares. Dr. Judith was greatly inspired by her to work quietly with integrity, that when her knowledge and expertise is needed, she’d be more than happy to share it to others.
Likewise, her heart of compassion was something to admire. “She didn’t want to burden her patients and had maintained the same professional fees for the past two decades. It didn’t matter to her if our patient was a celebrity, a high-profile millionaire, or a sales clerk,” she shares. Dr. Sally was just as warmhearted and generous to her employees, Dr. Judith adds. As she mourns her death, she relies on her important realization that could bring light to everyone grieving the loss of a loved one due to the coronavirus disease. She says, “One day, there will be no more tears left as you realize that you cry for your own loss because that person you miss is surely happy in heaven.”
As a family woman
When asked to describe his wife, Dr. Eduardo Gatchalian defined her as her parents’ favorite daughter who had their welfare as her top priority, a caring sister who gave her siblings helpful pieces of advice and support in times of need, a loving mother who was willing to drop everything for them, a good friend who was always willing to lend a helping hand even at the most inconvenient times, and a trusting and supportive wife he’s been with for 38 years.
“Although a big time in her field, she never projected that when we were together. She went to gatherings and befriended my colleagues and their wives,” he shares. “She joined activities where she knew I was going to be there. She was just plain interested in things and activities that were of interest to me.” He was always left in awe by her unconditional love for her family that has helped her maintain a happy disposition in life. “She will ask you to repeat wonderful moments again and again as if it was the first time she heard it and be absolutely thrilled and smiling while listening to me or my kids,” he muses.
In times of doubt and uncertainties, Dr. Sally stood as their rock and it’s no wonder why he pointed it out as something he misses the most about the love of his life. “What I miss the most is her strength of character and spirit of confidence that she imbues in each and every one of us in the family,” says Dr. Ed. “When I develop problems in my operations, she will be the first to reiterate, ‘Ed, you are the best urologist ever. Don’t doubt that.’ Somehow it gives me the confidence to face the problem and solve it.”
Before she was intubated, he remembers being by her side, telling her how much he loves her. “In a weak voice, she said ‘love you too.’ After that, only her tight hands held me as I did hers,” he recalls with a heartwarming smile. “Before we put her to deep sleep, she looked into my eyes and knew it meant ‘goodbye’ and ‘love you.’”
While it was one of the most painful moments he’s ever encountered in life, Dr. Ed’s faith in God never wavers. “As a doctor, I failed to save my wife. This goes to show we must accept God’s will,” he says. For now, it’s the immense love they have built that he’s holding on to. “And as long as you love the person, you can make her memory live forever knowing she died for a higher cause, but we have to give it all. Then we have no guilt feelings because we gave it all—we loved without reservations,” he concludes.
Lead photo from @rodriguezruby