Dr. Helen Santos Schaefer, of Little Rock, passed away peacefully on April 15, 2019 at the age of 93.
She was born in Victoria, in the province Tarlac of the Philippines, on Feb 4, 1926 to Valentin Santos and Godofreda Yñigo Santos. Her parents were both teachers. Helen was the second oldest of eight daughters. She spoke five languages: English, Spanish, Japanese, Filipino, and Ilocano. Helen and her family survived the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II. Being fluent in Japanese, Helen was able to translate for the Japanese and American soldiers. She and her sisters secretly aided the American P.O.W. in concentration camps near Pasay City by providing them with food. After the war, Helen attended the University of the Philippines in Manila planning to be an educator but eventually shifted to studying medicine at the University of Santo Tomas where she completed her medical degree in April 1951. As a physician, Dr. Helen Santos then completed a twelve month rotating internship at St. Tomas.
Helen immigrated to the United States in June 1953 and completed a one-year transitional internship at Deaconess Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. She began her residency in Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. In 1955, Helen and her younger sister, Priscilla, were passengers in a tragic motor vehicle accident that claimed the life of her sister. Helen was told by her physicians that she could never have children or walk again. After a few months of rehabilitation, Helen was not only walking, but completed her residency in July 1957. She moved to St. Louis and began an additional two-year residency in Internal Medicine at St. Louis City Hospital. Helen met Dr. Robert F. Schaefer, a pathologist and residency teaching professor, at St. Louis City Hospital. They were married Feb. 7, 1959 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. After completing her second residency in July 1959, Dr. Helen Schaefer served as a Fellow of the St. Louis Heart Association in Hemodynamics. The couple moved to Little Rock in 1961. Together they had five children: Robert Francis Jr., Helen Angie, George Valentine, John Paul, and Agnes Priscilla.
For 10 years, Dr. Helen Schaefer chose to stay home and raise her children. She returned to work as a full-time staff physician of Internal Medicine at the Veterans Administration Hospital System in North Little Rock in June of 1972. Dr. Helen Schaefer devoted 30 years of unwavering service in the Internal Medicine and Geriatrics Units, Nursing Home Care Units, Post-Surgical and Rehabilitation Units, Alcohol Detoxification Units, Medical Clinics and the Domiciliary Care Program within the Veterans Administration. She was loved and admired by both her patients and staff. Dr. Helen Schaefer was always professional and practiced medicine with compassionate care and excellence. She retired from practicing medicine in June of 2002 at the age of 76.
Helen was passionate about her Catholic faith and was an original and longtime parishioner of Christ the King Church in Little Rock. She was also a strong supporter of Catholic education, with her children graduating from both Catholic High School and Mount St. Mary Academy. Helen was also proud of her Filipino heritage and founded the Filipino American Association in Little Rock. Her family was the most important element in her life. When her sisters immigrated to the United States, Helen opened her home and invited their families to stay as long as they needed. She emphasized family traditions, celebrations, and fellowship. Her personality was vivacious, energetic, courageous, intelligent, friendly, compassionate, and generous. Her spirit of hospitality welcomed many people to her home who were always treated as family. She taught her children to pursue academic excellence, an appreciation of the arts and music, respectfulness toward their elders, determination with perseverance, and a love for the Catholic faith. She humorously referred to herself as ''the thermostat of the home.'' Dr. Schaefer believed in being a ''life-long learner'' and challenged herself to new experiences. Other interests included: playing the piano, cooking, traveling with her husband, weekly visitations to the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at Christ the King Church, and spending time with her children, grandchildren, and their beloved family dog, Cocoa.
She is preceded in death by her parents: Major Valentin and Godofreda Santos, her husband of 59 years Dr. Robert F. Schaefer, her in-laws: Dr. George and Agnes Schaefer, her sisters: Nieves Arayata, Flora Santiago, and Priscilla Santos, her brother-in-law, George Schaefer and his wife, Dr. Aida Sison Schaefer. Helen is survived by her sisters: Nonie San Pedro of Little Rock, and Lourdes Werner and her husband, Robert Werner, of Little Rock. She is also survived by her sister, Paulita Ching of the Philippines, and Priscilla II (Elma) Roxas of the Philippines, and brother-in-law the Reverend James Schaefer of Ozora, MO. Helen is also survived by her five children and their spouses: Dr. Robert Jr. and Lisa Schaefer of St. Louis, Helen Angie Elser of Little Rock, Dr. George and Alesia Schaefer of Rogers, John Paul and Linda Schaefer of Grapevine, TX, and Agnes Priscilla Condren of Maumelle. She is also survived by 26 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.