Coming home from a long holiday earlier this week, I browsed through the big pile of newspapers and mails neatly arranged on our lanai table, and was shocked to learn about the blast in Cagayan de Oro two weeks ago where a midyear convention of the Philippine College of Chest Physicians was being held.
I suddenly felt the same uneasy, depressing feeling I had when I had the chance to go within two blocks of Ground Zero a few days after the infamous 9/11 bombing in New York almost 12 years ago. But the feeling was even worse this time because one of the casualties, Dr. Erwin Malanay, was someone I knew personally.
Erwin would come to my office in Makati, and sometimes to our home, just to say hello or greet me on special occasions, and sometimes to consult me on some subjects in medicine. He was a very intelligent young doctor who was always abreast with many current issues in medicine, particularly those which were related to the products he was in charge of as a medical manager, and later as a product manager in Boehringer Philippines, a German research-based pharmaceutical company which has launched several innovative products in the last several years.
When Erwin and Steve Carpio were still handling a new breakthrough drug to prevent stroke in patients with irregular heartbeats, they would invite me occasionally to lecture on the medical condition—how an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation could cause strokes. During the question-and-answer portion, some doctors would ask some questions about their product (dabigatran) which could help prevent stroke in these cases, and I would refer some of these questions to Erwin, telling the doctors in an unabashed manner that Erwin knew everything about how the product worked, much better than me. He would confidently answer the questions from practicing physicians more than twice his age.
Erwin would have made an excellent clinician had he gone into private practice. Gifted with innate intelligence and a charismatic personality, he has an easy rapport with various types of patient and treats their medical problems well. But he chose a career in the corporate setting because he knew fully well how busy and unpredictable the working hours of a practising physician are. He wanted a good balance in his life, and put a premium on time spent with his family.
Like close family
I haven’t had the chance to meet his family personally but I felt even then that I knew his wife Nina and son Tyger like a close member of the family. The last time I saw Erwin, Nina was still in the family way with their second child. Erwin would proudly tell me about Tyger, and what a smart and precocious kid he is. My eyes moistened when I read the report in this newspaper quoting Tyger telling his mom that he’d try to “fix Daddy” with his tools.
Another news story told of how Erwin saved someone else—medical representative Marry Lyn Magliquian—by shielding her from the blast with his own body. The day after I arrived, I also learned while making hospital rounds that three of our medical residents at Manila Doctors Hospital—Doctors Karen Mason, Kris Tan and Ailen Albana—were in the same table as Erwin when the blast happened. The three are still having nightmares about the incident up to this time, but they’re very grateful to Erwin because he practically absorbed all the fatal pieces of shrapnel since the blast came from behind him. Our three residents also sustained shrapnel injuries but it could have been a lot worse if Erwin was not in front of them.
Erwin certainly died a hero.
When Erwin decided to move to another department—from medical to marketing—in his company, he came to the office at lunch time with my favorite pasta and vegetable salad. “Looks like you’re going to take much of my lunch break to discuss something,” I teased him.
No, he just came to thank me and to let me know that he would be seeing less of me, since he would be handling a pulmonary product from then on. He said he would be seeing me less; he didn’t say he would never see me again.
Fare thee well, Erwin. You lived a short but a very meaningful life. Tyger may not be able to fix your broken bones with his toy tools, but God for sure will restore your body in a much more perfect form when you get to see Nina, Tyger and your daughter Blaze, and all the people dear to you, when the second resurrection comes. Till then, rest a while.