Meet flying doctor Erwin Abueva, frontliner on ground and on high

by Justine Punzalan
Jul 8, 2020
Meet frontliner Erwin Conrad Abueva, an emergency room physician and pilot.
PHOTO/S: Erwin Conrad Abueva on Facebook

Erwin Conrad Abueva is fulfilling not just one but two vital roles in the country's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

A first officer pilot of Pan Pacific Airlines, Abueva is dubbed the "Filipino Flying Doctor," being also an emergency room physician at the Carmona Hospital & Medical Center (CHMC) in Cavite.

The 40-year-old doctor earned the tag after flying out Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) from East Timor to Manila on May 25, 2020.

It was for him an unforgettable day as he related on his Facebook post on May 27.

Published as is, he wrote, "A day to remember: Monday, May 25, 2020.

"Performing my two jobs: first as a pilot and second as a doctor within the same day.

"Day: Repatriation flight for OFWs (Manila-East Timor-Manila)

"Night: Hospital duty in Carmona, Cavite

"Being a frontliner both in the skies and on the ground for fellow Filipinos is an opportunity to be grateful for.

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"Mission: Accomplished!

"Thank you, Lord God, for keeping me sane and healthy."

Dr. Abueva's post has earned 9,800 shares and 15,000 reactions at press time.

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He talked more about his experience in his interviews with PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) via Facebook Messenger on July 6, and through Zoom video call on July 7.

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He recalled, "Nagkaroon ng special flight o repatriation flight ang Pan Pacific Airlines.

"As early as May 20, nakakuha ako ng call from the flight operations department na kasama ako sa flight crew na mag-uuwi ng mga OFWs natin.

"As early as May 1 kasi, alam ko na ang duty ko as a doctor, and when I checked, May 25, meron akong duty talaga sa CHMC.

"Pero siyempre, gusto ko naman mag-fly. Medyo matagal akong nahinto sa pag-fly dahil dito sa pandemic na ito.

"Saka sa akin, malaking karangalan na makasama at makapaglingkod sa OFWs natin.

"So tiningnan ko na kung magkakaroon ng conflict, ile-let go ko muna iyong sa hospital duty, maghahanap ako ng doktor na puwedeng pumalit sa akin.

"Pero mukhang mabait naman talaga si Lord, hindi niya hinayaang may conflict sa time.

"When I checked iyong repatriation flight, sa day time naman. 'Tapos iyong hospital duty ko, puwede naman mag-start ng 7 p.m.

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"So tinake ko iyong dalawang trabaho na iyon."

FROM pilot TO DOCTOR IN ONE DAY

Geared in his pilot uniform, Dr. Abueva left his house at 4:10 a.m. and started his aviation duties at 5 a.m.

He described how his day went: "As early as 5 a.m., we were at our head office sa Pan Pacific Aseana.

"Then from there, we went directly to NAIA Terminal 1 kasi we were scheduled to depart from NAIA at 7 a.m.

"Ako po ay kasama sa leg na iyon as the first officer.

"Ako iyong nasa right seat kasi ang right seat, dedicated iyon sa first officer, iyong nasa left seat, iyan iyong capitan. So ibig sabihin, kami ang team."

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Their plane landed on East Timor four hours after it departed Manila.

Dr. Abueva told PEP.ph he was glad to have been given the task to bring home around 50 OFWs yearning to reunite with their families.

He said, "We landed at around 11:00 a.m. sa Dili, East Timor and talagang andoon na mga kababayan namin, talagang naghinintay na sila.

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"Talaga palang lahat sila, gustung-gusto na nila umuwi kasi lahat sila, halos wala nang trabaho doon.

"Wala na rin silang pera, wala na silang matirhan, kaya excited silang umuwi."

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He continued, "At around 1 p.m., naka-depart kami sa East Timor 'tapos at around 4:30 p.m., naka-land kami sa NAIA with OFWs.

"Naging smooth naman ang flight. In high spirits naman ang mga Pilipinong napalipad natin at saka ang maganda doon, may nasunod na safety protocols both para sa passengers at cabin crew.

"Kasi kami, mga naka-personal protective gear. Sila naman, naka-face mask, saka may social distancing o physical distancing na nasunod sa eroplano."

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He added, "After namin maka-land, nag-report ulit kami sa Pan Pacific office ng 6 p.m."

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On that partcular day, while his airline crew were heading home, Dr. Abueva was starting the second half of his day.

He recalled, "I left the office and drove directly to CHMC at 7 p.m. I had to be there.

"Iyon iyong reporting time ko, e, bilang physician sa emergency room, and, luckily, hindi naman ako na-late.

"Then after that, tuluy-tuloy na kinabukasan hanggang May 26, working as a physician naman."

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getting HIS MEDICAL AND PILOT LICENSES

His mother, a nurse, wanted him to become a doctor, but Dr. Abueva did not take it seriously until he was about to graduate from college.

He told PEP.ph, "Exposed ako noong bata pa dahil ang mother ko ay nurse sa local hospital... lagi niya akong sinasama.

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"Dati nga, nagkaroon ng program sa school and my mom, binihisan niya talaga ako ng mag-doktor... that was 1984, I think, five years old ako.

"Pero noong lumalaki na ako, although maraming nagsasabi, 'Ay magiging doktor iyang si Erwin,' pero ako, hindi ko naman naisip mag-doktor."

What he wanted was to become a pilot.

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However, he settled on taking up Biochemistry in college because his mother and his father, a policeman, couldn't afford to send him to aviation school.

He proceeded further to pursue medical studies at the University of the Philippines, Manila, where "wala naman gaanong tuition fee."

The pilot-doctor continued, "Naging interested lang talaga ako mag-aral ng medicine noong nasa fourth year college na ako, graduating na ako ng BS Biochemistry...

"Siguro iyon talaga ang nakaguhit sa palad ko kasi natanggap naman ako sa UP College of Medicine.

"Kaya noong nakapasa ako doon, tinuloy ko na.

"And then awa ng Diyos, hindi naman tayo nahirap masyado, naging doktor ako on-time hanggang ngayon."

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Dr. Abueva then recounted to PEP.ph how he achieved his long-held dream of becoming a pilot.

He said, "When I graduated from medicine course, the only specialty I wanted to pursue was neurosurgery.

"I was lucky that I got accepted in a neurosurgery training program at the UP-Philippine General Hospital.

"I was a resident-in-training for more than two years, but did not finish my third year.

"After I left UP-PGH, I started working as a general practitioner in many tertiary hospitals in Marikina and Batangas.

"I tried applying again for training in neurosurgery in other medical institutions, but to no avail.

"My wife, who's a flight attendant at Philippine Airlines, encouraged me to study aviation instead.

"At first, I was hesitant. But after a few months of self-examination, I considered the idea. After all, flying was my childhood dream."

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Dr. Abueva resolved to work three times as hard so as not to compromise his responsibilities as a doctor and father while striving to become a pilot.

He recalled, "When I started flying school, I was a full-time doctor in many hospitals.

"I did not stop work because I have my own family to support and bills to pay (with help from my wife).

"Many times, I flew two hours a day (7 a.m. to 9 a.m.) in our training airport in Plaridel, Bulacan before proceeding to my hospital duty in Marikina at 11 a.m.

"I did that routine for almost four years until I completed 200 hours of flying time, which is the minimum requirement when applying in airlines.

"I got my private pilot license in 2014, commercial pilot license in 2017, airbus 320 rating in 2019, and got accepted as a first officer pilot in Pan Pacific Airlines in June 2019."

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DR. ABUEVA AS FRONTLINER IN THE SKY AND ON LAND

Now that the country is facing a health crisis, Dr. Abueva is thankful he can do more as a frontliner.

He related, "I am grateful, blessed ako, at nagpapasalamat kasi marami rin naman ang may gustong maging part ng solution, maging kasama ng frontliners, although lahat hindi nabibigyan ng pagkakataon.

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"Ako grateful ako kasi in this pandemic, iyong pagiging doktor ko, mas na-feel ko na I am here kasi kailangan ako ng mga kababayan natin, kailangan ako ng mga may sakit...

"Marami na akong nakasalamuhang pasyente na COVID patient.

"Dahil sa emergency room ako, lahat ng tao, kami nag-a-accept sa ER, e.

"So iyong iba sa kanila, confirmed COVID cases na, meron na silang results ng swab test.

"Meron namang iba na suspect palang. Once na lumabas ang result doon palang namin malalaman na positive sila.

"Siguro hundred of patients na simula March ang nakasalamuha ko na confirmed COVID case."

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He continued, "So iyon ang nararamdaman ko, iyong pagiging grateful.

"Lalo din noong nabigyan pa ako ng pagkakataon makasama sa repatriation flight.

"Hindi naman din lahat ng piloto nabibigyan ng chance na maghatid ng mga kababayan natin na gustong umuwi.

"Kaya pasalamat lang ako kay Lord kasi nagagawa ko ang expected sa akin bilang doktor at piloto, as a frontliner in the sky and frontliner on land."

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Meet frontliner Erwin Conrad Abueva, an emergency room physician and pilot.
PHOTO/S: Erwin Conrad Abueva on Facebook
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