MANILA, Philippines– A doctor for almost 4 decades, Romeo Gregorio “Greg” Macasaet III offered the last few weeks of his life serving as a frontliner in the battle against the coronavirus epidemic.
An anesthesiologist at Manila Doctors Hospital, he worked tirelessly to treat patients with COVID-19 until he eventually became a patient himself, succumbing to the fast-spreading virus on Sunday, March 22.
Fondly called Greg by his family, the 62-year-old doctor is survived by his wife Evalyn and their son Raymond. Evalyn, also an anesthesiologist at the same hospital, is presently under isolation after also testing positive for COVID-19.
The Macasaet family now has to grapple with the loss of their beloved Greg and remain in constant prayer that Evalyn will overcome the virus.
Who is Dr Greg?
His family describes him as kind, loving, selfless, and genuine.
“Greg’s death is painful, but I am glad that he stood by his oath and profession until the end. He left no patients behind,” said his brother Toti Macasaet.
Echoing Toti’s tribute, Greg’s godson Renato Paraiso recounted his memories with the beloved doctor, saying it’s a “story that needs to be told.”
“Our country has lost a genuine hero, and the world has lost one of the [kindest and most] selfless human beings that would ever walk its surface,” he said.
Renato recalled how Greg and his wife chose to stay on the front lines, making the bold sacrifice to be of service to others, even as their son had special needs.
“If you know Ninong (godfather) Greg, then like me, you would not be surprised how everything unfolded. Even his death speaks to the character of the man and his family,” Renato added.
It was Greg’s compassion and undying dedication to his patients that, for Renato, became some of his most admirable traits.
“Never niyang pinabayaan ang mga pasyente niya (He never left his patients behind),” Renato shared.
“And now Kuya (brother) Greg has made the ultimate sacrifice of life, not because he was forced or obliged to do so, but because of his dedication to his craft and his constant devotion to be of service to others,” he continued.
Frontliners to patients
When Greg started to realize how serious his condition was, he sent a message to his brother Masons from Keystone Lodge No. 100. (READ: Hell on Earth: The agonizing confusion over coronavirus testing in PH)
“Good evening, my beloved brethren! The turn of events is just no longer going in my favor. The feeling you get, aside from extreme pains all over, is difficulty of breathing, and as if all life is being sucked from your body,” it read.
Greg and his wife, it turned out, had been attending to patients in the emergency room, perhaps the most high-risk area on the front lines. In the emergency room, medical personnel will have to don protective gear and isolate patients who are potentially at their most contagious state. (READ: Braving a pandemic: Frontliners battle fear to confront the novel coronavirus)
In a message sent to Renato prior to his death, Greg said that he started with a “very high-grade fever followed by a really bad cough.”
Mild manifestations of the coronavirus disease include fever, dry cough, and fatigue, among others. More severe symptoms include difficulty in breathing or having a respiratory rate of less than 30 breaths a minute. (READ: When should you get tested for coronavirus?)
“Sinasabi niya talaga na ‘hindi tayo handa.’ Sinabi niya na there was really a lack in personnel and supplies,” Renato recalled.
(He told me that ‘we’re not prepared for this.’ He told me that there was really a lack in personnel and supplies.)
Due to the sudden swell in numbers, both private and public hospitals are overwhelmed with patients seeking treatment. Some hospitals have even reached their capacity, and are forced to turn away patients.
Many of the hospitals are also struggling with a shortage of personal protective equipment, and are often forced to improvise protection or resort to sanitizing whatever can be used again. (READ: Left in the dark: Little protection for government’s coronavirus frontliner)
Loving father to his son
One thing about Greg, however, remained unknown to many: the endless love he had for his only child Raymond.
“When we talked before he was to be intubated, he told me to take care of Raymond. Greg requested that prior to their confinement, Raymond stay with me and my children,” shared Toti.
Moments before his passing, Greg even reiterated his concerns for his child, asking his brother Masons to assist the rest of his family “in our most difficult times.”
“If they intubate me and place me on ventilator, then the game is almost over! If Ateng (Evalyn) survives, then my wish for her and Raymond for a long and happy life will bear fruition! Raymond, however, needs financial and emotional care for the rest of his life! Something I may no longer be able to fulfill,” Greg said in a text message sent to his brother Masons.
Tributes amid grief
Several groups and individuals expressed grief following Greg’s death, including other doctors who then died in the line of duty as well.
Manila Doctors Hospital honored him as a “brave man [and] one of the best anesthesiologists in the country.”
“No words can convey the depth of our sadness as we lost not just a doctor but a friend, colleague, co-worker, father, and husband,” they said.
The University of the Philippines-College of Medicine in Manila also mourned the “loss of a brave man who, along with other health workers, risked his life to save patients afflicted with COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, grieving the death of Greg and other frontliners who died because of the coronavirus disease, the National Union of Students of the Philippines-Metro Manila said they hope “no other frontliner would need to sacrifice their lives as they continue to put themselves at risk.”
Aside from Greg, several other top doctors have died, including cardiologist Israel Bactol, oncologist Rose Pulido, and cardiologist and internist Raul Diaz Jara.
Until now, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continue to spike in the country. As of Wednesday, March 25, there are now 636 novel coronavirus cases in the Philippines, with 38 deaths. – Rappler.com