Adolfo Bellosillo, Physician Par Excellence

After graduating Doctor of Medicine at the University of the Philippines, Adolfo B. Bellosillo, MD, FACC, FSGC, FPCC, FPCP, FPCCP, FPSE completed fellowship trainings in cardiology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and cardiac rehabilitation at the Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

The founder and president of the Foundation for Lay Education on Heart Diseases (FLEHD), he also served as president of the Philippine Heart Association/Philippine College of Cardiology (1990–1991), Philippine Society of Echocardiography 1992– 1994, Cardiac Rehabilitation Society of the Philippines 1994–1999 and the 7th World Congress of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention (1996–2000).

Throughout his career, Dr. Bellosillo was conferred the following awards and recognitions: Most Distinguished Fellow by the Philippine Heart Association (PHA)/Philippine College of Cardiology (PCC) in 1998; Dr. Jose P. Rizal Memorial Trophy of Honor as Outstanding Filipino Physician of Distinction by the Philippine Medical Association in 2003; Lifetime Achievement Award in Cardiology by PHA/PCC in 2004; Outstanding Filipino Physician in Medicine – Cardiology (TOFIL) by the Philippine Jaycee Senate and Insular Life in 2005; Outstanding Alumnus by the University of Iowa in 2006; and Golden Heart Award by the PHA/PCC in 2008.

He was also named Outstanding Filipino Physician (TOFP) by the Department of Health and the Philippine Jaycee Senate in 2009; Pillar of Philippine Cardiology by the Makati Medical Center in 2013; Most Outstanding Alumnus by the University of the Philippines in 2015; and the first Dr. Mariano Alimurang Memorial Award of Distinction in 2019.

Dr. Bellosillo has written and published nine books, including Cardiac Rehabilitation: Adding Life to Years and Years to Life; Learning Preventive Cardiology through Music and Poetry; Stories the Heart Sounds Tell; Knowing, Avoiding and Surviving a Heart Attack; When the Heart Fails, Exercise; Stress Testing the Heart; and How To Remain Young at Heart: A Musical. Remembering and Looking Forward chronicles 13 years of public service by the Foundation for Lay Education on Heart Diseases, Inc. The Heart in the Elderly will be released soon while a tenth book, The Heart in Women, is in the works.

What is the Foundation for Lay Education on Heart Diseases (FLEHD) all about?
While enjoying some relaxing days in New York in late 1998, I had plenty of time to think about what we as physicians might have neglected in the management of cardiovascular diseases.

Prevention is definitely the better approach to decreasing cardiovascular mortality and morbidity. And the success of prevention can only be maximized through education. This prompted me to create a foundation to address the matter of educating the Filipino community in regard to heart diseases. FLEHD was formally launched on February 22, 2000 at the 7th World Congress of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention at the Philippine International Convention Center. A Board of Trustees was formed to govern the activities of the foundation.

Recognizing the advantages of collaborating with government agencies to facilitate the Foundation’s activities, FLEHD partnered with the Department of Health, the Department of Education and the Department of Interior and Local Government. These partnerships were sealed with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement on July 30, 2001. The Foundation has grown over the years and has logged 496 educational outreach activities since 2000.

What is the role of the FLEHD chapters in the provinces including the Capiz Chapter?
We formed the chapters to effectively reach out to the Filipino population in the provinces outside Metro Manila. There are currently 25 chapters in the country.

What is the core curriculum of FLEHD public forums?
The core curriculum includes:
1. Know your heart and how it works.
2. How do I know I am having a heart attack?
3. The risk factors for atherosclerosis
4. Cholesterol: the good, the bad and the ugly
5. Hypertension: the silent killer
6. Smoke gets in your heart.
7. Exercise to your heart’s content.
8. Sex and the heart: fact and fiction

We published a primer on coronary artery disease which contains most of the pieces of information lectured during forums, seminars, assemblies, etc. by the faculty of the Foundation. Translated to Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Cebuano, Iloko, Pangalatok, and Pampangueño, the primer has been distributed to barangay health workers.

All FLEHD activities are conducted for free.

How can an ordinary citizen attend one of these seminars or public forums?
Usually the seminars are arranged by civic organizations and groups. Occasionally, FLEHD sends out invitations and notices.

How does FLEHD reach out to senior citizens who are most vulnerable to cardiac disease?
The Filipino population is getting older. Hypertension and coronary artery disease are among the health problems encountered by those over 65.

Our seminar for senior citizens includes the core curriculum discussed at public forums. It also addresses the proper medications of hypertension and coronary heart disease. Other topics discussed at the seminar are diabetes, obesity and alternative forms of management for significant artery obstruction. It also covers helping male cardiac patients with erectile dysfunction.

How to Remain Young at Heart: A Musical Drama has been well received by the public. How often is the musical presented? Why is the musical an effective tool in teaching the prevention of heart disease?

Knowing fully well how much Filipinos love music and how we, too, need to keep our audience wide awake through half-day and full-day sessions, I attempted to teach about heart disease through music. At the 2006 FLEHD annual convention, I premiered my song, “Haw Haw Hee”, which teaches awareness of the risk factors of heart disease and how to control them.

The musical grew from the compilation of songs introduced at the lectures over the years. Jeremiah Calisang from the University of the Philippines composed and arranged the music while I wrote the lyrics and libretto. The first provincial performance was presented at the Colegio de la Purisima Concepcion (CPC) Auditorium in Roxas City in October 2007. The show was preceded by a whole-day seminar on preventive cardiology for public school teachers in the city.

“How to Remain Young at Heart” is about a 36 year-old executive who is rushed to Makati Medical Center where he dies of acute heart attack. He leaves behind a wife and three children. The musical traces his life and lifestyle that led to his early demise.

When the musical was performed in October 2008 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza in Makati, it received rave reviews. In 2019, it was presented eight times in various cities throughout the Philippines including a performance at the CPC College Assurance Plan in Roxas City. How to Remain Young at Heart has been translated to Italian, Hiligaynon, Cebuano, Chabacano, Bikol and Iloko. In 2011, the cast of the musical traveled to Tuscany, Italy where they performed it in Italian.

What are the risk factors of coronary artery disease that we should be aware of?
There are risk factors that promote early development and progression of coronary artery disease. These are grouped into two: (a) non-modifiable risk factors—chronological age, male gender and heredity and (b) modifiable risk factors—hypertension, tobacco smoking, lipid abnormalities [high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low high-density lipoprotein, high triglyceride], sedentary living, personality and diabetes mellitus. Risk factor modifications can very well be realized through extensive public educational programs.

At what age should healthy heart awareness be made available? Should this be taken up by the school system?

Because babies born to women subjected to physical, emotional and gustatory abuses during fetal development have been seen to have higher incidence of premature atherosclerosis and diabetes, awareness should start early in life. This could prevent rapid progression of the disease and development of serious complications. Awareness could be facilitated through public education. If preventive cardiology can be included in the school curriculum, this will be a tremendous help.

What do you miss most during this pandemic?
My special interest in life is teaching. And I have been very much involved in the training of interns, medical residents, cardiovascular fellows and my colleagues in the medical profession, especially those in cardiology. However, with the onset of the pandemic, all face-to-face activities have ceased for the moment. I wish I could still go on with my involvement in the international lecture circuit. But the ravages of time and the pandemic negate this.

*Charie Albar is a travel writer and lifestyle blogger. She is the founder of Balay ni Charie Foundation, a grassroots organization that gives school supplies to the children in Capiz. She divides her time between Capiz and California.

Conversation with a Capizeño is a series of interviews with Capizeños who are making a difference in their community.