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  • Jacksonville pediatrician takes ‘walk the walk’ 26 miles further

Jacksonville pediatrician takes ‘walk the walk’ 26 miles further

Arnold Olegario, M.D., of Jacksonville Children’s & Multispeciality Clinic, completed his Bachelor of Science in Medical Technology at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Philippines and earned his Medical Degree at Cebu Institute of Medicine in Cebu City, Philippines. He is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics.

Sometimes experiencing the worst case scenario can set us on a healthier path in life. Jacksonville pediatrician Arnold Olegario knows this firsthand.

“The worst event in my life happened in 2009 when my wife, Fidelis, got diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer,” Dr. Olegario says.

That was only three years after they moved from New York to Jacksonville so Dr. Olegario could join the pediatric team at Onslow Memorial Hospital, and the family could enjoy a warmer climate. When his wife passed away in June 2011, their oldest child, daughter Justine Mae, was a week short of her high school graduation.

Turning back the clock, Arnold and Fidelis were married in 1992. She was a nurse; they’d met in medical school in the Philippines. “It was always a dream to migrate to the U.S.,” he recalls.

In ’92, the newly married couple started their life together in Toms River, New Jersey, where she worked at a community hospital. Dr. Olegario, however, had to wait two years for his status to be changed to a permanent resident before he could begin his pediatric residency at King’s County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Meantime, Justine Mae was born in 1993. With his wife as the temporary sole provider, Dr. Olegario took over on the home front.

What better training for a pediatrician than to become a stay-at-home dad with an infant to care for? “Yes, good training for me, maybe not so good for the baby!” Dr. Olegario jokes. Over the years, they were blessed with two more children: sons Mark Ervin and Nico Francis.

Moving forward on a promise

When his wife passed, Dr. Olegario realized it was time to ‘walk the walk’ – not just ‘talk the talk’ – when it came to health advice.

“I used to smoke, but my wife never did. When she passed, my blood pressure was off the charts, I had extremely high cholesterol, and I was twenty pounds overweight. My wife’s biggest worry was how I would take care of our kids. I promised I would make them my priority. Now I found myself a single parent with a very unhealthy lifestyle. For my kids’ sakes, I knew I had to do something.”

That ‘something’ started out as a short jog in the neighborhood. But he could barely make it around the block.

Since childhood, Dr. Olegario has battled asthma, likely a result of multiple factors, including a family history of the disease, family members who smoked indoors, as well as outside environmental factors, such as a prevalence of unpaved roads in the Philippines.

“I had friends back home in the Philippines who had started running clubs, so I thought ‘I can do that’, and I just started. I could barely run one mile without being out of breath. It took a lot of discipline, dedication.”

But a promise is a promise. So he pushed on. What he discovered along the way was that running did more than move his body – it moved his thoughts, emotions. “Running kept me focused on something in a healthy way. Running, being outside in nature, meeting friends – that helped me a lot [with grief] – sometimes now I forget how much it helped.”

From 6.2 to 26 miles

After he ran his first 10k fundraiser in Jacksonville in 2012, he was hooked. “I felt great. I was so happy,” he remembers. Not long after, he moved up to half marathons. Then came the day he was challenged to do a full marathon.

“I think I can do this,” was once again his response.

Dr. Olegario entered Canada’s Toronto Waterfront Marathon, known as the second fastest marathon in North America, in October 2012. “I had the idea of going to visit a place for a few days of vacation, run the marathon, stay a couple of days after, then come home.”

Although he made it across the finish line, reality kicked in immediately after.

“I could barely walk. It took me ten days to recover – it was so painful. But, once you get bitten by the bug, you can’t stop,” Olegario laughs.

Knee injuries, shin splints, back pain – nothing could keep him from setting his sights on the next run. In the process, he learned the importance of cross-training, and in 2013, set his sights on the Abbott World Marathon Majors, six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world. The series is known by runners as the “6-pack” – Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York.

His first World Major was 2014 in Berlin, where the standing world record for men was set at 2:02:57 by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya on September 28. “I can still brag that Kimetto was just ahead of me, breaking the world record,” Dr. Olegario laughs. “The next day, September 29, was my birthday – finishing the Berlin marathon was the best present to myself.”

Next came New York City in 2015, followed by Chicago in 2016. By 2017, he was ready for the marathon considered the toughest in the world to gain entry into: the Boston Marathon. In a lucky break, he was able to fill in a spot on the charity team of the Boston Bruins and exceeded the $5,000 fundraising minimum by raising $7,000 for the Bruins’ charity that donates medical care for children.

In 2018, Dr. Olegario finished with runs in Tokyo and London. Already thirsty for his second '6-pack,' he has begun training for the New York City Marathon on November 4th.

Three proudest accomplishments

It’s clear where Dr. Olegario feels his greatest sense of accomplishment – and it’s not from the miles logged in the world’s most elite marathons. It’s right here at home: Justine, age 25, Mark, 22, and Nico, 19. “My kids are all doing very, very well. The greatest compliment anyone ever gives me is when they say, ‘You raised your kids very well’ – that’s the most important thing to me.”

For any single parent faced with the loss of a spouse, his advice is straightforward: “Just stay positive, there’s always an end [to troubles], there’s always a life of service to pursue. And if you have kids, prioritize your kids. Eventually you’ll see the light return.”

To kids, he says: find your sneakers!

“Too many kids are overweight,” Dr. Olegario says. “They have really unhealthy eating habits and are addicted to soft drinks loaded with sugar. I want them to get away from video games, go outside and play! I tell them to get outside for one hour every day” – because who knows where a run around the block might lead you ...

“I never expected I could ever run, never mind finish the World Marathon Majors. If I can do it, anybody can!”


Managing your child’s asthma from summer to school

Many world class athletes have achieved incredible success while managing asthma. But whether you want to run marathons, or are a kid who just wants to be able to take part in a neighborhood game of kickball, careful and consistent management is the key.

Did you know that asthma is the most common chronic condition among American children? According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), approximately 8.3% of children in the United States have asthma. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports the number of adults who currently have asthma is 20.4 million.

To understand asthma, remember that when you breathe, it takes a lot of small air passages in your lungs to deliver the oxygen from the air into your bloodstream. If you have asthma, the lining of these air passages can swell and mucus can fill the airways, further limiting the amount of air that can pass through them. This is called an asthma “attack” – coughing and a sensation of tightness in the chest with a restricted ability to breathe.

Late summer can be an especially difficult time for asthma, as humid air is already harder to breathe. Breathing humid air activates nerves in your lungs that further narrow and tighten the airways. Humidity also makes the air stagnant enough to trap pollutants and allergens like pollen, dust, mold, dust mites, and smoke. These environmental triggers can also set off asthma symptoms.

It’s important to remember that asthma can be well controlled, as long as parents give their children the right medications, at the right times. “By far the biggest problem we see is that when parents see their child improving on asthma medication, they stop giving it,” Dr. Olegario says. “I explain that their child is doing well because the medicine is working. We can sometimes taper the dosage down, but we have to continue giving it,” Dr. Olegario explains. Be sure to talk with your child's school nurse.