Emilie Gurango’s Determination to Become a Physician
By Mila Glodava
PARMA, OHIO –– One month after she opened her very own “Emilie M.E. Gurango, M.D. Primary Care Inc.” in 1987, Emilie only had about five patients and was anxious to have more. On a late afternoon one day. Emilie heard a knock on her office door, and became excited. “Oh good,” she told her staff, “we have another patient.”
Much to her surprise, the caller was not a patient but a fellow physician, Elena Ceicys, who, she thought was upset with her. Emilie recalls that as a house doctor at Parma Community General Hospital she did not notify Dr. Ceicys on an emergency medical management she undertook on Dr. Ceicys’ patients. Dr. Ceicys made sure that Emilie knew about her displeasure.
Yet there she was in her office, and quite friendly. Dr. Ceicys wanted Emilie to know that she was retiring and was offering her to take over her practice. Taken aback, Emilie’s response was, “You know that I am just starting, and I don’t have the capacity to buy your practice.” Dr. Ceicys response was even more of a surprise. Emilie need not pay her anything for this offer. All she had to do was take care of Dr. Ceicys’ patients. Obviously their early incident, though a blow on her ego, made a positive and lasting impression on Dr. Ceicys. Emilie accepted the offer and her practice has blossomed ever since. “You have to bloom where you are planted,” said Emilie.
Road to success not easy
The road to Emilie's success, however, was not an easy one. Growing up in Infanta, Emilie was a pale and sickly little girl, who, this writer remembers, seemed to have a maid in tow to carry her thermos bottle or her books. “I was overprotected,” said Emilie, laughing. “In fact, all of us - Brenda, the older sister; Elizabeth (Pinky) the younger sister; and Edward, the youngest - were overprotected.”
Her parents - the former Nenita Estrada, a home economics teacher, and the late Amando Gurango, a physician - thought Emilie needed protection. She seemed to be fighting for survival all her life. While only eight months old, Emilie had to be air-lifted to Manila to be treated at UST (University of Santo Tomas) Hospital, where she was given a grave prognosis “at death's door,” said Emilie, who was baptized right then and there. "I'm very grateful to my parents who chartered a small seaplane," to take her to Manila.
Emilie survived the ordeal, but “Growing up,” she said, “was very painful” due to her illnesses - despite her father's occupation - causing her to do poorly in school. No matter. “I decided to be a physician at age seven,” said Emilie, remembering how “I would bring in to my father's clinic some of my playmates with cuts and bruises, to treat them as ‘my patients.’” And she never deviated from that goal. "I stayed focused on becoming a physician," she said, “despite the many obstacles in the form of various illnesses, which derailed my career every now and then.”
Emilie recalls as a high school “interna” at La Concordia College, “I would periodically be rushed to the San Juan de Dios Hospital in mother director's car!” Then it was smooth sailing for her through medical school at the University of Santo Tomas.
After coming to the United States in 1971, however, “I had a replay of my early years,” said Emilie, who had a severe case of chicken pox, while doing her first rotation in pediatrics at Lakewood Hospital in Ohio. After that she had bouts with viral infection resulting in ear surgery due to complications. Recuperating was torture, said Emilie. “Even the sound of flipping newspapers was very painful” Yet she had to perform her duties as an intern, with 24-hour calls every four to five days, and through her three-year residency in general practice.
While she completed her general practice training, she could not do the same with her anesthesia residency. With only a year short of completion, “I had to quit this program with much regret,” said Emilie, because “I developed neuropathy.” Then just a year later, she was diagnosed with pituitary tumor, taking about four years for her to recuperate.
Setting up private practice
It was at this time, however, that Emilie established her own private practice with hospital privileges at Parma
Community General Hospital and the Deaconess Hospital of Cleveland (now P.H.S. or Primary Health Systems) “the fulfillment of my career.” Only a year later in 1988, Emilie would practice for two months on crutches. She had to undergo a knee surgery for an injury sustained ten years before playing tennis. And most recently she sustained a neck injury and “I had to learn how to swim (for the first time),” said Emilie, “and to use various types of exercise equipment with the help of a very patient trainer.”
The indomitable Emilie also would develop other interests - golf in the summer (she has received six tournament trophies since her 1993 surgery), photography (she even took classes), and ballroom dancing in the winter. In addition, she became involved in medical organizations and was recently reelected to a second term on the board of directors of the Advantage Health Partners, a physician-hospital organization of Parma Hospital and its medical staff. Also, she has participated in medical missions to the Philippines.
“Looking back,” said Emilie, “I realized that I was being prepared for my mission - to be a physician with compassion, and to have more empathy for my patients.”
Emilie also recalls being drawn to the church. “I practically grew up with the Carmelite missionaries,” she said. “I remember vividly Sisters Margaret and Josephine, Fathers Dominic, Andrew, Basil, arid, of course, Bishop Shanley, who would visit at home, with his ‘big dog’ - a German Shepherd. It was the first time that I saw a ‘foreign dog.’”
Finding comfort in Scriptures
Today, Emilie's life is guided by the Scriptures including the passage from Psalm 46: 10 “Be still and know that I am God,” and from Psalm 71: 19-21 “... 0 God, who is like you? Though you made me feel many bitter afflictions, you will again revive me; from the depths of the earth you will once more raise me. Renew your benefits toward me, and comfort me over and over.”
She also likes to ponder the words of Abraham Lincoln on class warfare: “You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by encouraging hatred. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.”
Editor's Note: To check out stories of other kababayans, please go to the "Kababayans' page in the Sidebar of the Home Page.