It is a very rare occurrence that common people get to have a personal encounter with Japan’s emperor and empress. Protocol dictates that there should be no selfies nor pictures taken with the royal couple unless they oblige the request. One does not shake their hands unless they first offer their hand to you for a handshake.

All these were breached during a luncheon hosted for the Japanese Royalty at the Caliraya Springs Golf & Country Club last Jan. 31, 2015 when the Empress Michiko suddenly approached a man amongst the Club’s guests. She then started to talk to him, which left the protocol and security officers baffled.

Empress Michiko and Emperor Akihito talking to Dr. Lu

Empress Michiko and Emperor Akihito talking to Dr. Lu

This mystery man’s picture got published in Asiaweek, a weekly magazine from Hong Kong, and circulated in Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, including Taiwan and China. Asian Dragon identifies this mystery man as the Philippines’ top cardiologist, Dr. Carlos Lu, whom the publication featured on its January-February 2014 issue.

The chance encounter appearing on Asiaweek

The chance encounter appearing on Asiaweek

It really must have been Dr. Carlos Lu’s lucky day. He was invited by the owner of Caliraya Springs Golf & Country Club, Robert Chan, for a game of golf and some fishing aboard his houseboat. Dr. Lu was ready to ride back to Manila when, while waiting for his car at the driveway of the Calatagan Clubhouse, Empress Michiko, who was likewise waiting for their vehicle with Emperor Akihito, suddenly approached him and talked to him for at least a good two minutes. Emperor Akihito followed suit and even shook his hands twice.

“Perhaps it was a mistaken identity. My late eldest brother, in his younger days, used to be called Akihito by friends because of his resemblance to Emperor Akihito. The empress must have thought that I was a Japanese because she asked me how I was and where I was from,” says Dr. Lu of the chance encounter.

Empress Michiko and Emperor Akihito talking to Dr. Lu

“The royal couple were really down-to-earth, warm, cordial, sincere, and very diplomatic. They acted as if we were the only three persons in the big building. I congratulated the emperor on his apologetic sentiments regarding the World War and he shook my hand and the empress followed suit,” he added. They even allowed pictures to be taken and shook my hand again before boarding their vehicle.

The royal couple must have seen something good in Dr. Carlos Lu’s aura, which drew them to him and accorded him an experience of a lifetime.

Who is Dr. Carlos Lu? Below is an excerpt from my article on Dr. Lu in 2014.

asian dragon magazine Dr. Lu

Dr. Carlos Lu, one of the Philippines’ top cardiologists

The heart doctor with a heart

The legendary Dr. Carlos Lu is more than just a cardiologist; he’s a firm believer in the influence of genetics and the power of good nutrition, and has used his extensive knowledge, skill, and extraordinary instincts to save lives and keep patients hale and hearty, even in their advanced years

In 1961, at age 22, while driving on a dusty road from Marbel to Gen. Santos, medical student Carlos Y. Lu’s car fell into a ditch and turned turtle several times, leaving him with three broken bones in his back and putting him in a hospital bed for a month. It was a difficult recovery, but his experience with a doctor who cared deeply about his patient left such a good impression, it made the young man decide to be just that—a caring doctor.

Dr. Carlos Lu is one of the best cardiologists in the Philippines today. He has thousands of patients, many of whom literally owe him their lives, my niece Michelle Tañedo included. He saved her from a deadly viral disease, myocarditis, when she was only four years old. He got an emergency call from the family when Michelle was having difficulty breathing. Before Dr. Lu arrived, her heart stopped so Dr. Lu administered CPR to keep the heart going and simultaneously inserted a pacemaker wire into Michelle’s heart.

After earning his medical degree in the University of Santo Tomas, he went to the US for his internship and residency. “Those were my good years.  My parents gave me US$1,000 and that’s it. It was a work/study program. My second year there, my fiancée Elena joined me in the US, and we got married there,” he recalls. 

The biggest learnings in the US were the tolerance and the attitude. “They really appreciate talent, and they’re not judgmental. My mentors were very basic and polite. They never said anything they didn’t know, which I appreciate, and which I think has made me a good doctor. They never used high-sounding words to teach. They’re great teachers and very original, which molded me to become that way. Then there are things I started questioning, including science itself. So I became more down-to-earth in my practice. My eyes were opened and my attitude changed.”

He decided to be a cardiologist because most of the senior doctors he knew and respected were cardiologists. “It is a very demanding field, because you practically have to know the whole of internal medicine. Sometimes a patient will present himself to have indigestion, but it is actually heart pain; sometimes fainting is not just caused by the head, but the heart. It was challenging and I thought it was the best field I could get into.”

After finishing his fellowship, he felt there was no place for him to practice in the Philippines, because the technological infrastructure was quite backward then. So he wrote his family, saying he would practice in the US so as not to waste his medical training. His elder sister replied that their father would be disappointed, and broke the news that their father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Dr. Lu quickly came home in 1969 to take care of his father for six months, before the old man passed away.

His elder sister also said that the family wanted to fund the purchase of equipment to help Dr. Lu start his cardiac catheterization laboratory. The Lu family fulfilled their promise and donated the instruments to Chinese General Hospital, the same year Dr. Lu returned from the US. This made Chinese General Hospital the first private hospital with a cardiac catheterization laboratory. “Thanks to my siblings, we were able to do heart surgeries. This made the former first lady, Imelda Marcos, put up the Philippine Heart Center.”

His first few years in practice were in true cardiology. However, he realized that “as one gets more well-known, you also get more of all the other kinds of cases.” Sometimes even people with fractures and orthopedic cases would like to be under him, or would ask to be recommended to a proper specialist.  “Sometimes they get lucky. I remember one patient scheduled to be operated for a fracture. He opted to be transferred to me, and after we took the x-ray, there was no fracture. Something was wrong with the x-ray machine or the angle of the previous x-ray,” he recalls.

This is why he has now also become a general practitioner, but he doesn’t mind, because the trust the patient has for a doctor is something very precious.

“I always and still maintain that our genetics play a very big role in our health,” Dr. Lu says. “Knowledge of how to modify the effects of our genetic inheritance is the key to a healthier and normal life. Some people with poor genetics may already suffer heart disease at the age of 40.”

The thing is, although many still want to be his patients, Dr. Lu actually stopped accepting new patients in the late 1990s. However, he does have a lot of mentees who share his medical philosophy. He encourages new patients to talk to new generation doctors and find one that they can grow old with, like the many patients of Dr. Lu who have become not just patients, but friends and compadres and comadres through the decades of patient-doctor relationship.

His simple advice to patients near or over 80:  “You should know you will be facing another enemy now, not just heart disease. In fact, if you are taking your medicine, you won’t get heart disease. So eat well and get enough nutrition to increase your immunity against diseases such as pneumonia or cancer. We all have many cancer cells in our body, but with good nutrition and resistance they don’t get the upper hand.

“Life is so short,” concludes Dr. Lu. “Make it enjoyable and worthwhile.” 

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