Dr. Egar and Dr. Belen at the retirement party for Dr. Belen
-by Rankin MacDonald
“He came for the money and stayed for the love,” was how Dr. Jamie Belen described the past 44 year he has spent in Inverness County.
His friends in health care and those he cared for gathered at Route 19 in Inverness on Saturday night to say thank you from the bottom of their hearts as well as wishing him a long and happy retirement.
One thing he hasn’t lost over the past 44 years was his welcoming smile, which was much in evidence on this historic evening.
Father Dan MacDonald, in saying grace, asked for blessings on all who work in health care taking care of our loved ones when they are most vulnerable.
Inverness hospital nurse, Maria deBont, in her role as emcee said they gathered on this evening to honour “our beloved Dr. Belen, who not only is a wonderful doctor, but a highly-skilled surgeon and a man who took his skills overseas to various missions.”
She said many people proudly display their Dr. Belen scars, which were always so well sutured that he could have been a very successful plastic surgeon.
She pointed out one of his greatest attributes, “You care,” she said.
She told the story of a little four-year-old girl who was scared in the big hospital, but when she would summon Dr. Belen he would come and read to her until she was feeling better.
“In later years she worked with Dr. Belen in the OR,” she pointed out. “You were always thoughtful to the patients, families, and co-workers.”
DeBont said working with him over the past 11 years brought her to know a wonderful person and doctor.
She spoke of his night trips to Halifax, his tendency to be a night owl who would drop in on the nurses late at night, deciphering his writing (hieroglyphics) and learning the sign language in the OR.
She said he taught them Latin, always had a smile and a joke to share, and insisted he was better looking than Dr. Lok.
“We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, the hospital will not be the same without your love, laughter, and friendship,” she said.
Dr. Pillai told of a boy born in a small village in the southern part of the Philippines in 1936. He went to school in Naga, The University St. Thomas in Manila, and obtained his medical degree in 1963; and in Manila he met a young nurse named Neri and they have been together ever since.
They raised three children in Inverness, Paul, Pierre and Hope.
They wanted to go abroad for three years, but were granted immigrant visas and Neri got a job in New Brunswick so Dr. Belen followed her there. After marrying in 1968, they headed to Halifax where at Dal Dr. Belen became a surgeon.
“In 1974, when the sod was being turned for the new ICMH, Mr. Sutherland, who was a hospital board member, enticed Dr. Belen to come to Inverness. Dr. Belen came in December...Neri stayed in Halifax with the children and JO did weekly commutes until 1979 when Neri and the children relocated to Inverness. Initially Dr. JO stated that he would come for a year and that one year turned into 44 years. Dr. JO stated that he had no regrets moving to Inverness...felt welcomed, accepted, and felt that he belonged here!!” Dr. Pillai said.
“Dr. JO is a highly-respected surgeon in Nova Scotia, meticulous surgeon - particularly with placing his sutures...Vogue dressmakers will probably be looking for him now...the best seamstress ever!!”
Dr. Pillai added the following points:
– He has done many things including pulling teeth (molars)...when there was no payment for teeth extraction!
– JO recalls the first colostomy he did with nurse Beulah MacLean assisting and Dr. Sullivan giving the anesthesia.
– He has witnessed the introduction of endoscopic procedures with Dr. Pillai doing the cystos and himself doing the colonoscopies.
– Brought laparascopic surgery to Inverness, namely the laparascopic cholecystectomy...taking out the gallbladder with his chop sticks!!
– JO has always said that ICMH is the shining light on the western side of Cape Breton. He has always strived to make ICMH an outstanding hospital and has wanted the community to rally to keep his dream alive and realized.
– Awards received: Rural Services Award in 2005, Doctors NS Award in 2007, ICMH Silver Award for years of service.
“Dr. JO is a very charitable man, not only in his local community but afar in his homeland. He is a member of the Society of Philippine Surgeons in America and he has been part of the Mission Work that is done in the Philippines,” he added.
“Dr. JO is a very humble man...a man of few words, lots of smiles, and hugs, and Dr. Lok’s younger brother!!” he joked.
“We will miss the sound of the clogs coming through the nursing units!”
Dr. Susie Egar on behalf of his co-workers presented him with a “small symbol” of their gratitude for his professionalism.
“Dr. Belen has been a source of inspiration for me ever since I arrived in Inverness as a resident over eight years ago. As a resident, and then when I started working here, Dr. Belen was always incredibly kind, always happy to swoop in and save the day when there was a challenging surgical case or difficult wound to suture in the Emergency Room, and he was eternally gracious and patient and always willing to teach me every single time, no matter how insanely busy he might have been,” she said.
“Our hospital and community owe so much to Dr. Belen, and something that I think is especially fitting tonight is that we have our two brand new residents, Zofia Tundak and Indi Noel here tonight, who will be the first residents to be part of the two-year family medicine residency program, where they will do the bulk of their training right here in Inverness. It is in large part thanks to Dr. Belen’s tireless work and dedication to our hospital, and to the community of Inverness at large, that we are now in a position to be able to have a permanent residency program here. Dr. Belen was always thinking about the future of our hospital, and having an Inverness Residency training program is one way for our hospital to continue to thrive and look forward, and to continue to serve our community in the many years to come. Dr. Belen, we won’t ever be able to properly thank you for the hours you dedicated to the well-being of this community, for the long nights and busy days you spent diligently getting the work done. The legacy you are leaving is immeasurable, and we will do our best to honour that and continue to learn from you going forward,” she added.
“Where have all the years gone?” Dr. Belen asked. “Thank you all, especially the community. I came for the money but stayed for the love of the people.”
“Look to the future,” he concluded.
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