Dra. Minguita Padilla: Healing the Blind, Healing the Nation

Dra. Ma. Dominga 'Minguita' Padilla - Founder of The Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines

by Kyla Nievera, Content Editor, World Executives Digest |

“Be aware of what’s happening because your patients will ask you. Be aware, be responsible for what you advise them because they will also listen to you; and you can heal a nation just by being a good physician.” – Dra. Ma. Dominga ‘Minguita’ Padilla, 2017

In a sea of what ifs, Dra. Ma. Dominga Padilla, most commonly known as Dra. Minguita, is one of the few who braved the waters towards change and public service. Aside from being a remarkable ophthalmologist and being the founder of the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines in 1995, Dra. Padilla’s strong love for the country led her to being an advocate of truth, anti-corruption, and good governance in the Philippines.

Dra. Padilla is a multi-awarded physician.
Dra. Padilla is a multi-awarded physician.

She grew up being capable to do a lot and wanted to be many things. As a child, Dra. Padilla aspired to be a concert pianist, a stage actress, a singer, a lawyer, and even a spy. But, a single retreat in Baguio way back in High School, revealed a profession that was at the bottom of her list – a doctor.

She recalls, “Then, so High School, 4th year, I went to the retreat, and I had one question I asked God. Again, you ask God. He answers eh basta (as long as) you listen. You have to know how to listen when you pray. ‘Where can I use all the talents you gave me the most in the best way you want me to?’ ‘Yun lang naman ang tanong ko, eh (that was my only question). Natulog ako (I slept). [Then] the next day, I said, ‘I will become a doctor.’ That’s how I decided, really.”

It is not every day that you think you can restore a bruised country like the Philippines. But for Dra. Padilla, she believes that one can always heal a nation through the simplest acts such as fighting for the truth and always prioritizing public service.

Dra. Padilla sat on the front seat of making history in the field of medicine in the Philippines. During trying times without the Eye Bank, she, as well as all other ophthalmologists in the country, would just have to tell her patients who needed corneal transplant to sign their names on the list and wait for corneas to be available.

She narrates, “We would tell them that but we knew the call would not come. So they’d go home, and there would be no hope. The corneas [that] we would get with the eyeballs [were] from Sri Lanka because Sri Lankan religion encourages donating the eyes. But when it would come to us, they were not in good shape. They were in Styrofoam boxes, tapos (then) when you open, yung mga mata naka-ganun (the eyes were just there), staring at you. Walang mga testing-testing (no tests were done). None of the studies that we have today. Or we would get rejected eyeballs from the States – the ones that the doctors there would not use. So we were beggars.”

Life in the field then was really hard for ophthalmologists. Dra. Padilla recalls how they had to steal eyes in the past from morgues. In her residency years, they had to look for ways on how to get eyeballs. They would get calls from lookouts in the morgue, telling them that there are possible donors whose bodies were unclaimed. Dra. Padilla, together with her team, would come with their Jollibee lunchboxes, apologize and say a little prayer as they removed eyeballs from the cadavers.

As Dra. Padilla continued to secretly slide into morgues for eyeballs, a ray of epiphany struck her. She saw how much the country needs a better system.

She describes, “I was about to go on a date, I was coming from duty. I was fixed up – perfume and all. Then my lookout man said, ‘May potential donor sa morgue. Puntahan ninyo. (Go here. There’s a potential donor in the morgue.)’

Eh ako naman (On my end), I wanted to prove myself to my senior because nobody thought I could be doing this because I was an advertising model. Pero (But) I wanted to prove myself, so I went with my lunchbox, ready to remove the eyeballs. And lo and behold, that particular day, there were so many cadavers in the morgue. They were patong-patong (piled on top of one another). Then the cadaver of interest was underneath, so I had to move the gurney. And when I moved the gurney, nahulog sila sa akin (they all fell on me). So I was like there, pinned down, perfumed, ready for a date… Pinned down under a couple of cadavers. And I said, “My God, there’s gotta be a better way to do this.” I said, “God, we have to have an eye bank.”

Together with that defining moment, one of Dra. Padilla’s mentors, Dr. Salvador Salceda, kept encouraging her to put up an Eye Bank.

“You were not meant to do the ordinary. You were meant to do the extraordinary”, Dra. Padilla quotes Dr. Salceda.

Dra. Meguita was "never meant to do the ordinary."
Dra. Menguita was “meant to do the extraordinary,” according to renowned opthalmologist, Dr. Salvador Salceda.

It was his words, plus all the suffering that she saw at PGH, that pushed Dra. Padilla enough towards her journey in making the Eye Bank a reality. Upon putting up the Eye Bank in 1995, she promised that it will be for the people, and not self-serving. As Founder and President, she told the board members that no one will use the tissues for themselves within the first six months. All will be for other surgeons around the country, and everyone agreed.

Dra. Padilla has inspired not just patients, but also students. In the course of her career, she strived to serve the people.

She would always tell her students that, “All of us, especially when you’re a doctor, if you’re a physician, you’re in a very very special place to heal a nation. Not just because of the physical ailment, but also spiritually, psychologically.”

She has always been positive in handling adversity, firm in implementing good governance, and faithful to her Creator. Dra. Padilla has been many things. She has been part of passing legislations to support the Eye Bank, has fought for rights of doctors against criminalizing malpractice, and is an active advocate of truth, anti-corruption, and good governance.

So aside from the ones who physically helped her, to whom does Dra. Padilla owe her successes? Her answer is God.

“I have so many stories. My life and my work is testimony to how God works, and He really works wonders. And if you want something and you have to make sure it’s not for you. It’s for as many people that’s really for the good of most, He will help you”, she says.

And when asked about her thoughts on her current professions, she answers, “So my path has been a very interesting path and if anyone still doubts that there is God, I can tell you so many stories that will prove that He’s there. Kasi ganun talaga eh (Because that’s how it works). It’s a life of answered prayer. That’s basically my path.  And I have fought many battles. Never for myself. My battles had been for the blind, for medicine, for injustice, for victims of corruption”, Dra. Padilla concludes.

Dra. Padilla has remained faithful to her calling as a doctor who heals the blind. Beyond being a physician, her other calling of healing a nation has remained steady as well. Her previous work in government and other current social actions put Dra. Minguita among distinguished public servants.

Watch Dra. Padilla in this one-on-one interview by WED content editor, Kyla Nievera (Part 1 of 2 segments):

Video Director: Kyla Camille Nievera
Editor/Videographer: Nikka Francheska Luis
Videographer: Paul Nicholas Bautista