Penniless Nobel Laureate dies after private hospital refused to treat him


PEOPLE the world over are angered and disgusted over the news that the 2010 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry died last Saturday October 10 after being refused treatment at a Manila private hospital because he had no money.

The wire services ran the story that Rappler on October 12 gave the title “Refused admission to Manila hospital, Nobel laureate Heck dies.”

Rappler’s story said, “Despite earning a Nobel Prize in chemistry, illnesses left Heck surviving on a monthly pension of $2,500.

“Two personal nurses took turns caring for Heck during the past year, according to a report from GMA News.

“One of the nurses, Jane Rose Pido, said Heck was rushed to a private hospital due to severe vomiting. Heck, however, was reportedly turned away due to unpaid bills.

“Of being turned away, Pido told GMA News, “It was painful to see, that the man was fighting for his life but he was left to die, because he did not have money. How could it end up like that? We didn’t know which hospital to take him to, so much time was lost. He could have been revived.” They then brought him to a government hospital where Pido said Heck’s “vital signs deteriorated rapidly, until he died.”

AGHAM condemnation
We agree with the group of scientist-activists, AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, who issued a statement saying the Nobel Laureate’s death “proves medical services in PH has prejudice against the poor” and condemned the hospital’s “inhumane treatment of Richard F. Heck that led to his tragic demise.”

Feny Cosico, Secretary General of AGHAM, said, “It is lamentable that it took the death of a renowned scientist who went through financial difficulty to open our eyes on the reality of the social services such medical treatment in the country is not for the poor. Heck was a victim of a profit-driven health care system and government neglect in the Philippines.”

Richard Heck was an American chemist who lived in Quezon City since 2006 with his Filipina wife Socorro Nardo-Heck, who died in 2012. Heck received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2010 jointly with Japanese scientists Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki “for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.”

Their study became very useful in broad range of medical applications such as testing potential anti-cancer drugs, creating new antibiotics, and breakthrough in automated DNA sequencing, including industrial applications such as in technology used in making thinner computer screens.

AGHAM said “Heck had survived prostate cancer and had been taking maintenance for diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and slight dementia. He has been in and out of the hospital for pneumonia since 2013 which sucked out all his remaining fortunes.”

AGHAM’s Cosico added, “It is very ironic that Heck’s research has been used to advance medical breakthroughs aiming to save millions of lives yet he died not receiving treatment. This reflects the systemic problem with the health care system in the country wherein long queues of indigent patients hoping to get medical support for their loved ones is a common scenario in public hospitals. The right to public health and medical care regardless of race, religion, political belief, economic and social condition is a UN Declaration that the government must be reminded of whenever hospitals dismiss sickly people who can’t afford medical fees.”

The AGHAM statement explained that “Patients confined in public hospitals shoulder 73 percent of the total cost of confinement, while only 27 percent is covered by PhilHealth. The average cost of confinement in a public health facility is 43 times larger than the minimum wage, while private facilities cost 66 times.”

The “Philippine government’s allotment for health expenditure in 2013 is only 1.4 percent of GDP, which is relatively lower than its neighbor countries. Thailand is allocating 3.7 percent of their GDP, while in Cuba, their government spends 8.2 percent of their GDP.”

Something is gravely wrong in our society which is supposed to be made up mostly of Roman Catholic Christians.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. Everyday Filipinos die because they couldn’t get the basic medical care that they need.
    You are writing about it now because Mr, Heck is a Nobel Laureate winner? What is wrong with you?

  2. If Santiago and Marcos, Jr. get elected, I hope both of them will see to it that funds will be allocated to all gov’t run hospitals, so it will be equally equipped with latest medical technologies just like those private hospitals. By modernizing those gov’t run hospitals, many Filipino retirees or foreigners and the less fortunate will have proper medical care and have better choices other than St Lukes Hospital . During the late Pres FMarcos time he built several state of the art (Phil Eye Center, Phil kidney Center hospitals) free of charge for all who will need medical care but those hospitals were left poorly maintained after Cory Aquino and succeeding presidents.This Aquino admin is even planning to sell it and make it a PPP , meaning run by private corporation and understandably it will be like St Lukes hospital another profit driven healthcare facility for the rich and elite, nothing left for the less fortunate to go to.

  3. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    15 October 2015

    I am truly saddened by this news about RICHARD HECK, an American Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, married to a Filipina, and a resident of Quezon City, was refused treatment by St. Luke’s Hospital because he had no money!

    Does not St. Luke’s Hospital have a charity ward where Mr. Heck could have been admitted and treated?


    • I think that’s overly judgmental or animosity against the Binay’s. Lest you have forgotten, the President of the Republic is PNoy and if you could accused Binay of such act; then, why can’t you point your finger at PNoy as well. Talk about selective justice here. Mind you, I am not even pro-Binay as I support Santiago for the Presidential election next year along with Bongbong Marcos as her VP. But sometimes, I think that people going against the Binay’s are missing some point and that is being objective and prudent.

  4. It is lamentable that Mr Heck was not given back the treatment he deserves after the contributions he made to the science world. It’s like he was betrayed by the very people around it! How savage is that!? In fact, he should be treated free! kz his discovery benefited millions of people. Imagine if those people will just donate P1.00, his hospital admission is more than paid. If the hospital didn’t know of his identity, when life is at the edge, timely treatment must be given.

  5. Public health care has long been devolved to the local government units, with only a few public hospitals remaining under the DOH, mainly as research or training facilities. Malacanang can’t do anything about this even if it tried, unless the Local Government Code is changed.

    This means that the state of health care in Manila is the direct doing and responsibility of Mayor Estrada. That in Makati is the doing of Binay, and so on. If anyone is to be forcefully reminded, it’s the Mayors and Governors who decide how much of their LGU budget goes into their public hospitals.

    • if only those elected politicians do their job and allocate funds thru Local gov;t unit by spending the budget properly without corruption , nor withholding the availability of emergency care especially to the less fortunate this malpractice incident could have been avoided. Filipinos who has no choice but seek treatment in a gov;t run hospitals , should be provided with detailed (leaflets) information , that way they know should they become sick . its very odd that when politicians are campaigning around they distribute fliers describing all their promises to the voters but they forget their constituents once they get elected.

  6. I cannot understand why Mr. Heck would die penniless. What happened to his Nobel prize money? His share of the 1.4 million US dollar prize was at least 307,000 US dollars. At 40 pesos to one dollar, this amounted to a total of almost 12 million pesos (12,280,000). “Saan napunta ang pera? Ano and nangyari sa pera”. Some accounting of this money should probably be undertaken just to find out what happened to his prize money such that he died penniless.

    It is unfortunate that AGHAM did not keep in frequent contact with the only Nobel prize winner to retire in the Philippines. Maybe then something could have been done to help Mr. Heck survive and prolong his life a little longer.

    As for St. Luke’s Medical Center, I guess it exists to earn money, not to save lives. Is that what medicine is all about? And their doctors probably went to UP and other universities that are subsidized by taxpayers! What a travesty to have St. Luke’s name attached to this medical center! So unlike St. Luke!

  7. I am a Canadian citizen but my wife is still in the Philippines waiting for the paper work to get approved but we recently had a child but needed an emergency c-section. When I went to settle the bill it was unbelievable the obsticles that I encountered. Firstly they want cash to which I said I would use my debit card, which to me is the same as cash, but the doctor’s fees had to be paid in cash and I was charged an additional 2% because those doctor fees were not paid in cash. There were other obsticles but that was mainly due to the archaic equipment used for processing the transaction. The one thing that struck me as strange was the response from the lady in the cash office who said that I should have been prepared…omg who carries p100,000 in their pocket. I am glad in Canada we have universal healthcare where everyone, rich or poor, can go to any hospital and receive proper care and not have to worry about paying for it.

    Maybe if one of the presidental hopefuls was serious about making the Philippines a better country and cared for their people should explore universal healthcare rather than making promises and doing nothing.

  8. That was very unfortunate. If only they were aware that a US citizens are entitled to:

    Emergency Help for Americans Abroad

    If you are a U.S. citizen abroad or if you’re the relative of an American citizen needing help abroad, visit “Get Help in an Emergency” on Department of State (DOS) website. They can help with emergencies including:

    Lost & Stolen Passports
    Medical Emergencies
    Victims of Crime
    Arrest & Detention
    Missing Persons & Contacting Loved Ones
    Parental Child Abductions
    Death Abroad
    Natural Disasters
    Financial Assistance

    The Department of State (DOS) can assist you if you need money transferred or wired. If you have no other means to get money, you may be able to get a temporary loan through the DOS or a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  9. Mr. Heck condition must have been under the radar of US Embassy in the Phils. All hands on deck should have been the special order for Mr. Heck, but where is the almighty Uncle Sam, did its spy satellite failed to monitor Mr. Heck? A very special citizen of USA in RP, a red flag must have been raised in US Embassy. This case I believe is a joint failure of USA and RP.

  10. I have two queries and one comment:
    My queries are (i) Why did AGHAM failed to come to his rescue? (ii) What happened to his work? Was he cheated of his share of money that the largest pharmaceutical firms had been generating hundreds of millions out of his scientific research?
    My comment, is:
    To be an awardee do not mean contributed efforts that enhance medication and advancing pure scientific research, pushed him into penury rather than enjoy a decent retiring years?

  11. In the case of Mr Heck, who receives $2500.00 while in retirement in the Philippines should have been able to live a very comfortable life if his finances were managed properly. Being a US citizen Medicare health program for retirees under US Social Security System of USA from which his wife Socorro and Mr Heck were both entitled to receive medical treatment whenever and wherever they need it anywhere in the world in case of emergency. This is a rude awakening for many tourists who may encounter same situation, if they have been robbed or lost their money while on vacation and have to be hospitalized. It is a shame and a big disgrace for Philippine private hospitals to turn away a very sick man ( a scientist)refused to render emergency treatment he urgently needed in order to survive just because he is penniless and cant afford to pay. . Kudos to the nurses and doctors of the gov’t run hospital ( one of the many neglected and poorly maintained gov’t infrastructure of the country ) who took care of him regardless.

  12. Roxas 2nd spends P257 million on TV ads to boost ratings

    Pretty sure Roxas is not spending his own money for those TV ads.
    Are these billions he is going to spend trying to get elected from the Treasury ? Are these funds rerouted DAP funds ?

    The amount of money these politicians spend to get elected could make a big difference for better causes such as medical care or education but then that would be money spent for the greater good of the country and not for personal benefit.

  13. Last month my sister died while waiting to be admitted in government hospital here in Iloilo City.
    She was at ER for 4 days waiting for charity room.On the fifth day she died despite all the efforts of doctors on duty,ER is full and patients were dying.Why can’t government do something about it.

  14. Ganito ang nangyari sakin nung sinugod ako sa private hospital sa monumento. Need ng 5k down or else, di ka tatanggapin ng hospital. Kung wala kang pera that time (knowing it was an emergency), talagang mamamatay ka. Laceration sa atay pa ang dinanas ko nun. After 1 day, need magbayad ng 10k agad. Kung hindi daw, tatanggalan ako ng maintenance. Ang saklap. Di na ako nagulat sa ganitong pagkakataon

  15. Stephen Hawking on

    The first hospital that allegedly refused to treat Mr. Heck due to past unpaid bills was the St. Luke’s Medical Center.

  16. Being a doctor myself, I cannot see why treatment was refused. That was totally unacceptable if it were true. Surely they have done the initial management if he was in a life or death situation. Two sides to the story though…investigate the hospital’s side too.

    • Being a doctor, you should know that if you don’t have money = no admission or treatment. Don’t try to be blind about it, instead, as a doctor, you should fight for the rights of the people to get medical care. It is so expensive to be hospitalized, its better to die than be hospitalized

    • Tell me doctor, is admission a decision ultimately decided by a doctor or a hospital bureaucrat? If the facility’s administration refuses, can a doctor overturn that?

    • Experienced this personally while visiting the Philippines last Aug. 22-Oct 5th.
      Spent 95% of my vacation days advocating for my brother and all stressed out (lost weight) dealing with the system which was based purely on money and not primarily and firstly on healing the patient. Spent more time dealing with this than caring for my ailing brother. Spent all my vacation money plus more,
      otherwise he will not get care or medication during hospital confinement. Total lack of compassion and focus on what a hospital should be, inspite of the fact
      that my brother was confined in a religious named hospital. Agree 100% to other’s comment that health care in RP is for the rich. Only 2 options: go to hospital to die or loss all the family fortune or hard earned properties that you may have (other words..go bankrupt to get treatment and be cured). In the end you will die from financial losses because once cannot afford or have money left for the aftercare. Sad part is, after what I tried to do and money spent, my brother still passed away.
      It does not have to be this way. People of the Philippines, especially middle class and poor, let your voices be heard and speak up. You are a democratic country and you are entitled to better treatment from your government. Or democracy is only one of those played out words, is it???

  17. For all the railing PNoy likes to employ about how the quality of life has improved. Let him answer to the fact that quality healthcare is lacking in all public hospitals. Even for Filipinos.

    The for profit models of healthcare are also lacking as they will not treat indigent patient.

    Sad it takes the death of an American living in the Philippines to highlight this. Despite the U.S. giving the Philippines over $144 million in direct aid in addition to $50 million in military aid.

    What an incredible way to say thank you.

  18. What is the name of the private hospital who refused Heck’s emergency care due to unpaid bills? Whoever withholds the information should be ashamed of him/herself. Both houses of congress shall immediately pass a bill to fund public hospitals and refund private hospitals for for emergency treatment of anyone. That’s the right and humane way to treat people most specially the poor.

  19. Admitting a patient without money is not the only problem one will encounter in hospitals in the Ph., but, if the patient passed away while in the hospital, the body of the deceased would not be released until all unpaid bills are settled by the family. I understand that hospitals, like any other business organization, need money in order to operate. They are not a charitable institution. But, isn’t life more precious than the money they would lose? Even if the patient fails to pay, the money they’ve lost could be earned or recovered in some other way, or at some point of time. But when life is lost, it’s lost forever.

  20. The Philippine politicians are all out to each and every electorate and promises us a ton of promises including health and wellness support. However, after they are elected they forget so quick and easily what they promise. This problem about hospitals not accepting emergency cases without a down payment, etc. have been going on for decades yet every time national budget is discussed, the one for health care for citizens are being cut and cut and cut, while the budget for all and any non=-allocated funds is growing in billions. What is important for these thieves are more funds to be bribed to them. One is awaiting what the spokesperson of the PNoy administration will say this time.