Dr. Teofredo T. Esguerra: Reaching The Top Of The World
By Henrylito D. Tacio
Dr. Ted Esguerra at Mt. Everest
Growing up near the rolling foothills of Mount Apo in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, to scaling the world's highest mountain in Nepal, Dr. Teofredo T.
Esguerra has come a long, long way indeed. The only high altitude physician of Southeast Asia, he was also the only doctor who joined the First Philippine Mount Everest Expedition Team in 2006.
"There were 35 of us but the selected initial participants turned out to be only 24," said Doc Ted, as he is more popularly known among his family and friends. He was chosen as part of the team as he is a flight surgeon and the only highly trained and experienced expedition, remote and wilderness medical doctor in the country.
Mount Everest is 8,848 meters above sea level. Its summit ridge marks the border between Nepal and China. "We stayed for 3 months around the Himalayan ranges to acclimatize our bodies to high altitude," he recalls. "We climbed lower peaks to train and adapt to the environment where we were in.
Nobody just climbs the highest peaks there without acclimatizing."
Doc Ted stayed for the most part at the base camp, which is 18,000 feet above sea level. "Aside from taking care of the health of everyone," he says, "I also took charge of the nutrition, the safety procedures, the rescue evacuation if something happened, and the acclimatization training before the climb. I presided on their training by trekking or running at some peaks in the Himalayan region; then got their vital signs and tabulated if the climbers had adjusted to the environment. If there were instances of 'delay' of acclimatization, I usually started giving medicines to somehow enhance the process."
He became the most popular figure in the mountain when he rendered medical treatment for free (where charges were as much as $75 for checkups and treatments). "Along the way, I ended up a doctor to everyone – Tibetans, Spanish, Italian, South African, Israeli, Belgian, Indonesian, Singaporean, Malaysian, American, French, German, Swiss, everyone!"
One memorable case was saving the life of Indonesian trekker Amalia Yunita.
She was suffering from cerebral edema, meaning her brains were filled with water. "This was an ICU (intensive care unit) case," recalls Doc Ted, "but she could not be brought down because she would die of the extreme cold."
Incidentally, the Italian team had a laboratory at Lobuche known as the Pyramid. Despite the fact that Doc Ted was from another country, they allowed him to use their equipment. The next day, Yunita recovered fully from her ailment.
"This is my profession and a service I want to do as a Filipino doctor," he says. "What was important is that they remember that a Filipino doctor treated them, and treated them well. So, next time a Filipino passes through this area, I hope the locals will remember me and treat those Filipinos well too."
If that sounds very patriotic, well, it is because he is. "If we are just given the chance in time and place, equipped with determination, sense of sacrifice, and team work, every Filipino can make good things happen. We start to believe in ourselves again. We are a great race and a great nation. Let's just transcend beyond the bickering of our confused leaders."
Doc Ted was also part of the team of the three Filipinas who climbed Mount Everest last year. He took care of Noelle Wenceslao, who suffered from pulmonary edema. "Every step of the way, the doctor was monitoring her condition," team leader and former Transportation Undersecretary Art Valdez was quoted as saying.
Doc Ted had his initial studies in Davao Medical School Foundation from 1989 to 1991). "But I was so active in the world of activism and music which cost my studies," he admits. "I stopped for a year and concentrated on pursuing music and arts."
Then he had the chance of going back to school. He attended the Bicol Christian College of Medicine, where he finally graduated in 1994. He took his medical board examination in 1996. He had his aviation medicine training when he was working at the Armed Forces Hospital Southern Region in Saudi Arabia. "I was an ambulance doctor there handling both ground and air," he informs. "I like flying. My childhood dream was to be a pilot."
Today, he is with the Philippine Coast Guard Medical Service handling air medical evacuation, remote and wilderness rescue and conducting training anywhere. "I usually handle the difficult advance life support
interventions," he says. "Right now, I am busy teaching rescue and
humanitarian operations to several local composite rescue teams. I found glory in that. We'll make each day a safer one by training anyone how to save lives."
Unknown to many, Doc Ted considers himself "a hard core humanitarian worker." He is connected with the Knightsbridge International Humanitarian Organization, which extends works particularly in the hostile areas of the
world. "I always render and facilitate humanitarian support locally and
internationally," he says.
Doc Ted is also a man aware of what is happening with our environment. In fact, he is a member a member of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. When asked if he were to be born again, he chooses to be a tribal chieftain. "As chieftain," he says, "I have more the power to protect the environment, preserve the cultural richness, uphold the purity of science in its simplest presence, be dauntless defender of my community, be freedom fighter, be the elder teacher of my constituency, and be the patriarch in the belief to a Supreme Being who made this wonderful world we are in."
Doc Ted indeed has a long, long way since he was a little boy in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, where he had so many fond memories. "I biked around the town," he recalls. "I played along the Miral River and took a bath. I feasted on durian during season, watched waling-waling blossom at the backyard, and hunted wild ducks on some occasions."
But there were some regrets though as he was far from his family when he left for Luzon. "I never had the chance to visit my parents often while they were still alive," he laments. "The time I went home, they were already gone – not your way of saying goodbyes. Worst is that I am a doctor and my parents died not in my arms. I could have extended some skills I have on them. I mean my expertise is saving lives in the field. I could have done it on my parents."
He attended Christian schools like Southern Mindanao Academy (elementary) in Matan-ao, Cor Jesu College (high school) in Digos, and University of
Immaculate Conception (pre-med course) in Davao City. "Most of my good
bearings are remnants of what I have learned at SMA," he says. Although he is now a practicing Muslim, he respects other religions. "In the humanitarian world, we don't talk about politics and religion. We just talk how we can redeem the poor."
Also a poet, he has written several poems. One of those he titled, "My Existence." At the end of the said poem, he wrote these memorable words: "Freedom is my intention / Justice is my conviction / God's peace is my religion / One God is my submission." -- ###