At 81 years old, Dr. Arthur Tayengco had no plans of retiring and continued seeing patients at his private practice along Charleston Blvd in Las Vegas.
An obstetrician-gynecologist for over 50 years, Tayengco practiced until he physically couldn’t anymore after he contracted COVID-19, the disease linked to the novel coronavirus.
“He loved medicine. He just wouldn’t stop. I kept asking, ‘Don’t you want to retire yet?’ He would say, ‘No, I’m not done,’” his eldest daughter Michele Tayengco, told the Asian Journal.
Dr. Tayengco reportedly got infected in mid-March after two medical assistants at his office tested positive for COVID-19, according to his ex-wife Delia Tayengco, with whom he remained close.
He started exhibiting pronounced symptoms associated with the illness, such as a fever, cough and loss of taste. He was able to get tested for the disease and the result came back positive.
Tayengco self-isolated at home until he told Delia that it was time to go to the hospital on April 5. She called 911 and paramedics took him away with a non-rebreather mask on.
The doctor stayed in the hospital for 16 days and was transferred to hospice care on April 21. In the early hours of April 22, he died.
He became the first practicing Filipino doctor in Las Vegas to die from COVID-19, according to Dr. Teresita Melocoton, a pediatrician who is the president of the Philippine Medical Association of Nevada, an organization of which the late doctor was a founding member.
Melocoton recalled Tayengco’s peacefulness and compassion — qualities she strived to emulate while attending to patients. He was also instrumental in helping her start her solo practice in the city.
“Every time I see newborns, the mother would always say, ‘I hope Dr. Tayengco will not retire because I want to have another child.’ That’s how good he was,” she told the Asian Journal.
Tayengco instructed hundreds of residents over the years, as he served as a clinical assistant professor at the University of Las Vegas School of Medicine.
His daughters estimate that the number of newborn deliveries he made over the course of his career would be equivalent to the student populations of four high schools.
“He loved the idea of being able to bring new children into the world. With every child that he met, he was always super engaged,” Tayengco’s younger daughter Stephanie, who lives in Washington, told the Asian Journal. “He would try to get on their level and speak to them both as children but also treating them like miniature adults.”
The extent of Tayengco’s medical work continues to surprise Michele and Stephanie as stories of him trickle in.
When he was at home, he was foremost a father and made it a point to eat dinner each night, even if late, and attend Sunday mass together as a family.
During a company mixer some years ago, the husband of one of Michele’s co-workers came up to her and introduced himself by saying, “Your father saved my mother’s life.”
“My father was so modest that when I recounted this story to him, he said, ‘From God through my hands,’” Michele recalled.
Born in Iloilo City, Philippines on October 18, 1938, Tayengco received his medical degree from the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center College of Medicine in Manila.
There, he met Encarnita Tinio, a classmate who would later become his first wife.
Tayengco came to the United States in the early 60s for his OB-GYN residency at St Clare’s Hospital And Health Care Center in New York, while Tinio pursued pathology. He also completed a fellowship at Nassau County Medical Center.
The couple married in 1966 and had two daughters, Michele and Stephanie.
They moved west in 1972 after an opportunity was presented by Nita Pablico, a registered nurse in Las Vegas whose cousin was Tayengco’s childhood best friend. Pablico had called him to say that her boss was looking for another doctor to help run the OB-GYN practice.
Tayengco worked with Dr. Kenneth Turner, a prominent physician in the city, for a year before venturing off in 1973.
“Art was one of the most caring doctors I have worked for. Some nights, he stayed alongside patients until they gave birth,” Pablico, who worked at Tayengco’s practice for 10 years, told the Asian Journal.
The practice, which was originally located inside a medical office building along Rancho Drive, was managed by his wife Encarnita until she died in 1986. (Tayengco is set to be cremated and buried next to her at a local cemetery.)
Tayengco purchased a property for his practice on the corner of Charleston Boulevard and Darmak Drive in 2004. That was where he worked each day until his passing.
“He would have loved to pass his practice onto me and my sister, but neither one of us wanted to do OB-GYN. In the end, we both decided that we didn’t want to become medical doctors,” Michele said.
Though he lived in Las Vegas for 48 years, Tayengco was still connected to his home country and took part in regular medical missions, his classmate Dr. Cefereno Cheng, a retired physician in Torrance, California, said.
“We’d organize medical missions back to the Philippines and go to provinces to help those in need. Of course, we wouldn’t forget to visit our medical school and see old friends,” Cheng said.
In addition to his daughters and ex-wife, Tayengco is survived by sisters Gloria Lopinco, Yvonne Pacquing, Rose Tayengco, and Anne Tayengco; and stepdaughter Guinevere Torres and her husband Gino, and their children, Gino, Gianna, and Giovanni.
Outside of his medical practice, Tayengco was fond of playing craps and watching a good game of basketball.
He was an avid reader, crediting Father Ian Madigan, a Redemptorist priest at his elementary school, for instilling in him a love for books. Tayengco’s favorite authors included Ian Fleming and Ernest Hemingway, whom his daughters suspect “influenced his love of hunting and fishing.”
The priest was also credited as a mentor who guided Tayengco to reach his potential.
In the 1985 book “Bringing Out the Best in People” by Alan Loy McGinnis, Tayengco was quoted as saying, “I don’t know where I’d be, if Father Madigan hadn’t noticed me and talked to me about my possibilities.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Remembering Lives Lost.”