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Certified exclusive: The Filipino surgeon who operated on Marilyn Monroe

Dr. Pastor passed away on Oct. 5 in his native Batangas City. He was 86.

MANILA, Philippines – Dr. Ramon Acosta Pastor, one of the surgeons who operated on Marilyn Monroe at a New York City hospital in 1961, passed away on Oct. 5 in his native Batangas City in the Philippines. He was 86.

He became closely acquainted with the late Hollywood icon when she underwent cholecystectomy (gallbladder surgery) on June 29, 1961 at the defunct Polyclinic Hospital in Manhattan and which was widely covered by the media. It was Dr. John Hammet, one of New York’s top surgeons, who led the surgical team.

Dr. Pastor’s photo beside Monroe appeared in several news publications, including the front page of The New York Times, wherein he is seen shielding Monroe from a mob of fans and members of the press while leaving the hospital after she was discharged on July 11, 1961.

That chaotic moment, the star of Some Like It Hot said in an interview, was the time she most feared for her safety.

Dr. Ramon Acosta Pastor escorts Marilyn Monroe as she exits Polyclinic Hospital in New York City

“It was scary. I felt for a few minutes as if they were just going to take pieces out of me. Actually, it made me feel a little sick. I mean I appreciated the concern and their affection and all that, but — I don’t know — it was a little like a nightmare. I wasn’t sure I was going to get into the car safely and get away.”

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Dr. Pastor managed to walk Monroe into her limo unscathed. He hopped with her into the car and stayed by her side until she reached home.

The famed actress and sex symbol was reportedly complaining of pain from an intestinal disorder when she was rushed to the hospital from her apartment at 444 East 57th Street in Manhattan.

A distressed Marilyn is safeguarded by Dr. Pastor

According to a New York Mirror story, Monroe awoke in distress in the morning of June 28, 1961, prompting her secretary, May Reis, to call her primary physician at Polyclinic. After diagnosis, the doctor decided her condition warranted immediate hospitalization. She was carried to the ambulance on a stretcher, with then husband Joe DiMaggio joining her in the ambulance.

Dr. Pastor’s elder brother, Antonio, who was staying with him in New York City at the time, related that Dr. Pastor told him he took care of Monroe for two weeks after the surgery, personally attending to all her medical needs.

“Marilyn Monroe instructed him not to accept any visitors while she’s recuperating, except Joe DiMaggio,” said Antonio, recalling a conversation he had with his younger brother.

Still in the hospital on the Fourth of July, Monroe complained of the noise coming from fireworks, Antonio said, adding, “Dr. Pastor said he gave her the best possible solution — putting cotton in her ears.”

It was the fifth time that Monroe was hospitalized in just 10 months, according to reports.

Marilyn, with Dr. Pastor, is mobbed by the press and fans —Photos from wires

The three-inch horizontal scar in the upper quadrant of Monroe’s abdomen as a result of the surgery was visible in the photos taken by lensman Bert Stern for the book The Last Sitting, commissioned by Vogue Magazine in late June 1962, just six weeks before Monroe died.

“Ramon was a very gifted doctor and he was very proud of having the honor of operating on Marilyn Monroe,” said an old-time friend, Dr. Rebecca Magbag, a New York geriatrician, who is also a native of the Philippines. “But he was also very humble that he really didn’t talk much about it.”

“He’s a very nice and warm guy, very handsome, very charming, compassionate with his patients and treated everyone equally,” Dr. Magbag also said. “As an eligible bachelor at the time, a lot of women were swooning over him.”

Born on Nov. 23, 1929 in Batangas City to Dr. Juan Pastor and Concha Acosta Pastor, Dr. Ramon was a 1955 medical graduate of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He took his internship at Yonkers General Hospital in New York and finished his training in general surgery at New York Polyclinic Medical School and Hospital, in which he served as chief resident during his last year of training.

“Ramon’s hobby was photography and he was passionate about it,” Dr. Magbag said, recalling Dr. Pastor’s life in the Big Apple. “He loved taking pictures of New York City.”

He became a diplomate of the American Board of Surgery, but decided to turn his back on a lucrative medical career in the United States and returned home a year later to better serve the underprivileged in his small town in Batangas City.

According to the Philippine College of Surgeons, which bestowed on Dr. Pastor the Legends of the Knife Award for 2014, Dr. Pastor was one of the pioneers of the Philippine Board of Surgery in 1969 and sat as examiner for more than 10 years. He organized surgery training at the Batangas Provincial Hospital and was instrumental in its recognition as an accredited program for surgical training.

For four decades, Dr. Pastor held the chairmanship at the Department of Surgery of the Saint Patrick’s Hospital Medical Center in Batangas City, where his physician father, Dr. Juan Pastor, also served. He continued to see patients there and conducted surgical procedures till his 80s.

Dr. Pastor shared his expertise in the Southern Tagalog region, with his practice encompassing the Philippine provinces of Batangas, Quezon, Laguna, Cavite, Marinduque, Mindoro and Romblon. He was a recipient of numerous awards including the Most Outstanding Physician for Batangas by the Philippine Medical Association in 1972 and 1973, and the highest provincial award for excellence in the field of medicine in 1978. 

In the civic front, he served as president of the Batangas Lions Club and remained an active member till his 80s.  “He was a dedicated philanthropist who helped numerous people in his hometown and sent young relatives to school,” shared Gavino “Ping” Abaya, a New Jersey-based cousin. “He’s really a generous man, a very good man.” 

Dr. Pastor died of cardiac arrest at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Batangas City, with family members, including surviving siblings, surrounding his bed. He was laid to final rest on Oct. 8 at Batangas Floral Garden in Batangas City, following necrological services at the nearby Holy Trinity Church.

Dr. Pastor left behind a wife, the former Cynthia Borbon, and two sons, Ramon Juan and Gabriel.

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