The Incomparable Dr. Jorge G. Camara, 1950-2013

Dr. Jorge Camara with his wife, Binky, also a physician

I was not a close personal friend of Dr. Jorge Camara, more of a colleague owing to our common experiences as University of the Philippines products, though a generation apart. Still, it would be an understatement to say that I was shocked, stunned to learn of his untimely passing on August 30.

I had heard about Jorge long before I met him when we were already both in Hawaii in the early 1980s, he in the medical field and I at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. 

In time I would hear about his visionary project involving bringing over ophthalmologists from the Philippines every six months under the auspices of the UH John Burns School of Medicine. 

Jorge was affiliated with the School Faculty and he taught the Filipino doctors basic and specialized ophthalmological procedures. I met several of them in the course of their advanced training with Jorge's guidance. After their training they returned to the Philippines to help their own communities, ever grateful for the additional skills they had acquired under Jorge's tutelage. 

I always thought, here was someone who was not only a highly skilled eye surgeon, but also a sincere humanitarian, a caring human being and a "servant leader," as those of his caliber came to be known later.

Over the years of his private practice, in which he would have anywhere from 60 to 80 patients on a typical day, Jorge assiduously rendered extraordinary service especially to indigent patients in Hawaii, and free medical care to the homeless and uninsured and to recently arrived immigrants from the Philippines who had no visible support. 

With his tireless efforts came increasing fame, including being featured in international media as a pioneer in the use of telemedicine to guide another doctor from a distance to perform an eye operation that restored the sight of a young patient. 

Later in his career he discovered through a scientific study the healing power of music in bringing down blood pressure, heart and breathing rates among patients about to undergo eye surgery. An accomplished concert pianist, he would play the piano himself in the operating room. 

Here was someone who was not only a highly skilled eye surgeon, but also a sincere humanitarian, a caring human being.

Then in a later scientific study, he analyzed the effects of vog, a form of air pollution resulting from volcanic emissions, among his patients. There was no end to his innovative and creative energies.  

I will not repeat the numerous, awards, accolades, citations and commendations that he constantly received during his brilliant and productive career. They are only too well known.

But I take special pride in seeing him reap various awards from our alma mater, whether it’s the UP College of Medicine, the UP Alumni Association in the Philippines (UPAA), and the UP Alumni Association in America. Back in 2003 when we were both in Houston for the 10th General Convention, he was recognized for Outstanding Achievement as Distinguished Alumnus in Medicine. 

He was extremely delighted to be in Houston, where he had his residency program after graduating from the UP College of Medicine, as Class Valedictorian no less. Then again, during the UP Centennial observance in 2008, we were both in Diliman, Quezon City, to receive our respective awards. 

But through all these, he was far and away the quintessential UP achiever, not only as valedictorian and primus inter pares (first among equals), but also as a "doctors' doctor," a world-class scientist, a compassionate humanitarian and, above all, as a human being extraordinaire. I would keep wondering, what else has Jorge not done on this earth? He was just simply amazing and truly awesome. There are no words to describe his vitality, drive, creativity and sense of service to humanity and society. I was afraid he would run out of intellectual and social spaces to conquer with his expansive mind and indomitable spirit.

Yet for all his fame and glory, he remained the ever-humble, understated, charming, gracious and unpretentious guy that he always was—absolutely no tinge of arrogance, no airs, no pretenses! Even if you were not close to him, you liked him immediately when you met him at the first instance. Such was the power of his charisma, the dynamism of his personality, and he had such a great sense of humor to boot.

Another appealing trait of his was his simplicity and childlike innocence. He, Richard Pecson and I were once having dinner at Jorge's favorite hangout—the Goma Tei restaurant—in Ward Warehouse. He had been in the shopping center earlier checking out a shirt to wear to his next party. After dinner he asked me to accompany him to see the shirt he had chosen, for a second opinion. He took it out of the rack, put it in front of him as though to model it, and he kept asking, "OK ba, Lindy, not too loud? "For a while, I thought maybe I looked like an approving mother, andI probably unconsciously was, and I quickly replied, "Not at all and very OK! It is colorful, but somehow it expresses you!" And he laughed heartily and bought it flat out. 

What more can I say? He was like a perfect human being in an imperfect world.

It’s extremely heartbreaking and painful that you are no longer around, Jorge. And how we will miss you no end! I wish you had been around much longer in our midst to continue sharing with us your wonderful God-given gifts and talents.  

But you always loved the term and concept "journey" in your neverending quest for perfection. Obviously, you had come to what you thought was your Final Journey in life. You had arrived far more than we, ordinary mortals you left behind, have reached. 

And in your own way it was time to start a new Journey in another realm, where the ultimate quest for perfection and happiness that had eluded you in life would be yours forever. 


Link: Live from the Operating Room: Dr. Jorge G. Camara, the Piano-Playing Eye Surgeon

Dr. Belinda A. Aquino

Dr. Belinda A. Aquino

Dr. Belinda A. Aquino is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was the UP Vice President for Public Affairs (1989-91), Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Awardee of UPAA (2008), and Most Distinguished UP Alumna (2003). She finished a BA in English from UP, an MA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Ph.D from Cornell University.