Fil-Am NYPD detective, film director, doctor among latest virus casualties

The Filipino community in New York continues to mourn the loss of some community members to complications arising from the coronavirus infection. New York City has more than 130,000 as of press time, roughly about 17.5 percent of the 830,000 reported cases in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

For the past few weeks, we have documented the deaths of front-liners, from doctors to nurses to heath aides. This week, we are looking into the lives of an occupational therapist who was also a filmmaker, a New York Police Department detective, a doctor, and a couple married for 44 years.

Gerry Balasta

Gerry Balasta (New York City)

On March 15, Gerry Balasta posted on his Facebook wall the story of Penn Baluyut’s brother, one of the earliest deaths caused by the coronavirus.

“My friends and colleagues, Please stay safe everyone. Something to ponder in these difficult times as this gets so real so quick and very close to home,” he wrote. “This is so tragic and kindly share if you can, I’m not able to tag everyone. Please be careful and take care. All the best, and we will make it through this.”

Exactly a month after he wrote it, Balasta died. He was 49 years old.

A registered Occupational Therapist, Balasta is also an entrepreneur and a filmmaker, among other things. He is the CEO of Wonderful Beginnings NY, which specializes in early childhood and early intervention program for children from birth to 3 years old and beyond and he was looking forward to going full blast this year.

He is also a film enthusiast and made a film, The Mountain Thief, which made the film fest circuit a decade ago. Among the festivals where Balasta’s film screened was the D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival, where he received the 2010 George C. Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award.

Balasta co-founded the International Film Festival Manhattan (IFFM) with his friend and colleague Luis Pedron.

“He was supportive to me, and his family, his film community, [the] Filipino community in NY and the Philippines and medical community as an OT,” Pedron told the Asian Journal. “He was always thinking of how he can help and how he can make a difference. Marami siyang natulungan.”

Pedron recalled meeting Balasta more than ten years ago in community events in the city. Their love for film bonded them.

“About 12 years we met throughout different Filipino events but we spoke about filmmaking during an IFP (Independent Feature Project) event at FIT in Manhattan,” Pedron said.

NYPD Detective Raymond Abear

Raymond Abear (New York City)

Det. Raymond Abear was one of the two NYPD officers who died on April 13 due to the coronavirus. He was 43 years old and is survived by his wife, their 2-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter

“He had this amazing ability to make you feel connected,” Det. Kevin Fulham told CBS News. “Before I walked through the door, I just heard this voice, and that’s what he was. He was loud and he was funny.”

Abear, who has been with the NYPD for 19 years, was the first person Det. Fulham met at the Queens Special Victims Division.

He’s one of at least 32 members of the NYPD to die from COVID-19. According to the NYPD, 4,435 of its members have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began.

Abear’s cousin Maricel Evasco posted her own tribute on her Facebook wall. She called Abear a loving uncle to her kids.

“His loss is so painful. I think about him in my sleep,” she wrote. “Like his dad, my Tito Boy, Raydil was one of the most genuinely caring relative[s] in our large clan. We always knew he got our backs.”

The Detectives Endowment Association, the second-largest labor union in the New York City Police Department, uploaded a video that showed the transport of Abear’s body from the hospital to the funeral parlor in Staten Island.

The video’s caption read, “Today, with masks on our faces, the DEA and hundreds of our brothers and sisters in blue lined up to salute hero Detective Raymond Abear — another tragic loss due to COVID-19. Honoring fallen Finest is a tradition unstoppable by any force. Our responsibility does not stop there as we vow to never forget Raymond, and forever be here for his loving family. Please keep them all in your prayers.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds for Abear’s wife and two small children.

Dr. Tomas Pattugalan

Dr. Tomas Pattugalan, Private Practice (Queens, NY)

Dr. Tomas Pattugalan, 70, a primary care physician in Queens fought the war against coronavirus. He passed away on March 29, 2020 in the emergency department at Nassau University Medical Center.

“It is with profound sadness that I announce the death of our colleague, Tomas Pattugalan, MD,” said Harry S. Jacob, MD, Chief Executive Medical Officer of Primary PartnerCare. “Dr. Pattugalan loved and cared for his patients, truly exemplifying the profession of medicine, and the critical role of primary care in our country.”

“Being a doctor was not a job for Tomas, it was a calling and a profession. He loved being a doctor.” Dr. Jacob stated.

The frontline, private practice doctors are silently fighting this war with little recognition or support. He continued to see patients in his Queens practice up until mid-March when he converted to telehealth.

Susana, 64, and Alfredo Pabatao, 68, of Palisades Park, are among those in New Jersey who contracted coronavirus and later died. The couple died four days apart. | Photo courtesy of Sheryl Pabatao

Alfredo & Susana Pabatao (Palisades Park, NJ)

Alfredo & Susana Pabatao, both health care workers and married for 44 years, died four days apart in the same hospital in New Jersey.

On March 26, Alfredo succumbed to COVID19 at the age of 68. His wife Susana, 64, died four days later. They were both admitted to the Hackensack Meridian Health Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, where Alfredo worked for 18 years as a transport aide. Susana worked as an assistant nurse at a nursing home.

“They are wonderful, dedicated, medical front liners, amazing grandparents, loving parents, caring siblings, extraordinary Tita and Tito, exceptional friends, coworkers and colleagues,” their youngest daughter, Sheryl Pabatao, wrote on their GoFundMe page. “They were everyone’s shoulder to cry on, lean on and even just someone to listen to.”

Sheryl started a GoFundMe page for her parents’ funeral and memorial expenses, saying that the sudden death of their parents has taken a toll on their family mentally, emotionally and financially.

In a moving tribute to her father, Sheryl said that Alfredo had the most vibrant attitude: he was always optimistic, always smiling and telling jokes. He was nurturing and welcoming to his family, colleagues, coworkers, family friends and relatives.

“He was hardworking and had an incredible work ethic. But of all the roles he fulfilled throughout his lifetime, the most important one was being Dad. He never failed or disappointed us. He’s a hand to hold when everything is uncertain. He stays with you to your lowest point of your life and will pick you up over and over with unconditional love. This virus will never define him nor defeat him. He was a true warrior,” she wrote.

“It breaks my heart twice to write another obituary for my mom just a couple of days apart from my dad’s passing. My mom Susana Pabatao lived her life full of compassion,” Sheryl wrote. “She genuinely loved her job, she took care of the elderly with her whole heart. She’s the one that’s there to hold their hands and consoled them when their own family doesn’t show up.”

Sheryl hopes to be able to honor their last wishes and bring their ashes back home to the Philippines. She and her siblings are also planning to start a nonprofit foundation or scholarship that will cater to low-income families.


Editor’s note: The Asian Journal is working to document those of Filipino descent who have lost their lives because of the coronavirus in the United States. If you know of someone or would like to offer a remembrance of someone who has died of COVID-19, please tell us about them by emailing [email protected] with the subject line “Remembering Lives Lost.”

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at [email protected].

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