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Dr. Artemio Arciaga Jr., longtime St. Joseph Medical Center surgeon, dies

Dr. Artemio M. Arciaga Jr., a Filipino immigrant and longtime surgeon at what is now the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center who made regular house calls to patients, patching them up regardless of whether they could afford to pay, died Tuesday of complications from diabetes at the hospital where he spent his career. The Timonium resident was 83.

Artemio Melendres Arciaga Jr. was born Aug. 27, 1933, in Tanay, Rizal, Philippines, to Dr. Artemio Arciaga Sr., a surgeon who was the local medical officer, and Virginia Arciaga, an operating room nurse. He grew up in the Philippines — practicing sewing stitches using thread and cloth — and graduated from the University of Santo Tomas Medical School in Manila in 1956.

On June 16, 1958, he married Antonia Avila Mallonga, a nurse, in Manila and moved to the U.S. as part of a medical work-abroad program. Dr. Arciaga was hired at St. Joseph that same year, beginning a nearly 50-year career as a general surgeon at the hospital. A devout Catholic, he was drawn to the hospital in particular because it was originally operated by Catholic Health Initiatives.

Having watched his father treat people from all walks of life, Dr. Arciaga never turned away a patient who couldn't pay, according to his son, Noel Arciaga, a police officer in Baltimore County. Instead, Baltimore's Italian families would return the favor in the form of big pasta dinners; Jewish ones would offer their famous corned beef; Polish ones sent their thanks with sausages.

"He didn't care about payment," Mr. Arciaga said. "If he had patients who couldn't pay for services, he would treat them, no matter what."

"Oftentimes, patients would come to our house and he'd treat them right there," he added. "Somebody would lose a finger cutting the grass, and he'd stitch it back up. Come over to the house, and he'd be stitching away and helping the people."

Dr. Arciaga was constantly on call and studying medical journals, but he made time for family vacations to Europe and Asia and loved being around his wife, children and grandchildren, said his daughter Cindy Hodor, 47, of Annapolis. In their younger years, Dr. Arciaga and his wife would take up collections from hospitals and return to the Philippines on mission trips to treat those who couldn't afford care.

In his spare time, the surgeon was an amateur photographer and kept a meticulously neat garden at their home, his children said. He loved the family's pets, especially dogs, and seemed to have a natural ability to attract them, his son said, "because of his passion and his compassion."

Dr. Arciaga enjoyed spending time with a tight-knit group of doctors with whom he worked at St. Joseph, Mrs. Hodor said.

"They embraced him, I imagine, coming to the States as a foreigner," she said. "He felt like he got treated very well, and it motivated him to take what he'd learned and give back to the community here because of the opportunity he was given."

Like his father, Dr. Arciaga raised his children Catholic and inspired them to pursue service-oriented careers, they said. Mrs. Hodor works in public health, she said, "all because of my dad and grandfather, who were both in the medical profession and giving back." Dr. Arciaga's eldest daughter, Maria Goode, of Towson, is a nurse.

"He was really ingrained in his profession," Mrs. Hodor said. "He was a hard worker and dedicated. He operated on and saw a lot of patients in the community."

He took his Hippocratic oath very seriously, and when he was forced to retire from surgery for medical reasons, he declined to even diagnose a cold in the family, Mrs. Hodor said. On a subsequent mission trip to the Philippines, though, where he was still allowed to practice, he lit up while connecting with patients, his family said.

"Because he was legally able to practice there, he was really alive again," Mrs. Hodor said.

Dr. Arciaga taught his children by example the virtues of hard work, honesty and providing for their family, his son said. The surgeon's devotion to medicine and his patients differentiated him from other doctors, Mr. Arciaga said.

"He always thought about the patients first and cared about their well-being," he said. "Everything he would do would be for the patients, to make sure they were cared for. His reward was taking care of the people."

A Celebration of Life and Funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph Church, 100 Church Lane in Cockeysville. A burial will follow at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

In addition to his wife and children, Dr. Arciaga is survived by his sisters, Emy Magwili and Cora Trinidad; his brother, Benjamin Arciaga; and 10 grandchildren. His son Eric Arciaga of Parkville died in 2009. He was also preceded in death by his parents; his sister, Ophelia; and his brother, Carding.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

@cmcampbell6

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