Prominent Endocrinologist Killed in Philippines Van Crash

Marcia Frellick

January 31, 2018

Colleagues and friends are remembering Nunilo Rubio, MD, in memorials and prayer services this week after the well-known Chicago endocrinologist and six others were killed in a van crash just before a medical mission in the Philippines.

He and his wife, Elenita Rubio, MD, a Chicago internist, both 74, were among 10 passengers in the van on a sightseeing tour of Alegria in Cebu province, the Philippines, on January 20, before starting a 3-day medical mission in Camiguin Island to help bring surgical, medical, and optical services to the poor.

A report published in the Chicago Tribune said the driver told police he had fallen asleep at the wheel just before the van crashed into a tree. The newspaper reported he was taken into custody.

Sons Have Flown to Be With Their Mother

Elenita was seriously injured in the crash, and her three sons flew to be with her as she begins recovery in a Philippines hospital after multiple fractures and two hip replacements, according to the husband of Elenita's sister, Noel Lasala, MD, a family physician in Chicago.

Drs Nunilo and Elenita Rubio

Dr Lasala is affiliated with Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, where Dr Nunilo Rubio served as medical director for more than 25 years until his retirement in 2015.

Dr Lasala told Medscape Medical News that Dr Elenita Rubio would be moved to Manila the end of this week to begin rehabilitation while her sons — Nunilo Rubio Jr, MD, Noel Rubio, MD, and Nathaniel Rubio, an occupational therapist — attend a memorial service for their father in the town of Bacoor in Cavite province, where both their parents were born and began dating. Dr Lasala said his wife had also flown to be with her sister.

Drs Nunilo and Elenita Rubio were "practically inseparable," Dr Lasala said, even before their marriage 47 years ago. "They were living happily for so many years," he said.

They also shared a passion for giving back, he said, especially helping those in the Filipino community in Chicago and in poor, rural areas in the Philippines, even after retirement.

The couple had just traveled to Australia and New Zealand before the mission and were planning to extend their stay in the Philippines and return to the United States in spring, he noted.

"This was a tragedy not just for family, but for friends, loved ones, and patients. They were enjoying life to the fullest."

Doctor's Gift Helped Open Diabetes Center

Jim O'Connell, communications director at Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, told Medscape Medical News that one of the greatest physical legacies Dr Rubio leaves is his contribution to the Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Care at the center, which opened last year.

"It was in large part due to a financial gift Dr Rubio made at his retirement that gave us the funds to create that clinic," he said.

O'Connell noted that the west Chicago region the clinic serves has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the United States. In addition to full clinical services, it offers educational and dietary classes for the public in a community room that bears Dr Rubio's name.

He said a mass would be held for employees this week.

A statement from Presence said, "Dr Nunilo Rubio was a beloved member of our community and the Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth family. His generosity, compassion, and commitment to our patients, hospital staff, and his fellow clinicians was truly special."

According to the Philippine Medical Association in Chicago (PMAC), Dr Rubio received his medical degree from Far Eastern University, Manila, the Philippines, in 1967 and completed his residency and fellowship at Edward Hines Jr Veterans Affairs Hospital and Loyola Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and American Board of Endocrinology.

Both Leaders in the Philippine Medical Association of Chicago

Dr Elenita Rubio is the incoming president of PMAC and Nunilo was president in 1984–1985.

Both were well-known lecturers, according to Chicago pediatrician Nida Blankas-Hernaez, MD, past PMAC president.

They both loved to teach, Dr Blankas-Hernaez said, and Dr Nunilo Rubio often lectured to alumni at Far Eastern.

Additionally, he was a clinical associate professor of medicine at Loyola Stritch School of Medicine.

The husband and wife regularly served on annual mission trips, Dr Blankas-Hernaez said. On these trips volunteers paid their own way and brought supplies to treat indigent patients who needed diabetes, dental, and optical care, and surgeries, among other services.

According to PMAC, the couple donated 5 acres of land with Dr and Mrs Ben Alibudbud to build the Jose Rizal Community Center in Jacksonville, Florida and in Cavite they donated a water tank and well to the Trece Martires Psychiatric Hospital, and a classroom and bathroom to a local public school.

Dr Blankas-Hernaez said of Dr Rubio, "He was a philanthropic man. He was a service man and humanitarian, who was soft-spoken. His heart was full of generosity."

She had known the couple, who moved to Chicago 50 years ago, for the past 10 years.

"They loved each other. They were never separated. They were very close," she said.

Nearly 50 people were part of the group on this year's mission, and they continued the work without their colleagues, Dr Blankas-Hernaez said.

She stressed the mission trips will continue, adding that for some impoverished people these volunteers represent their only hope of getting certain procedures. Teams often see 1000 patients a day, she noted.

"We need to continue the work. We need to help these people."

The six other volunteers killed were Aurora M Gagni, from Orland Park, Illinois; husband and wife Reynaldo J and Diane I Pascual, of White Plains, New York; Joseph and Juvela Huang; and Berenice Roxas, New York City, according to

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