Nearly four decades ago, back when International Community Health Services (ICHS) was just a tiny, storefront clinic on South Maynard Street, Lourdes “Ludy” Limbo walked in with a job application, seeking a position as a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner.
At that time, Limbo had lived in the United States for just two years. She’d been working part-time at Harborview and came to the ICHS hoping for full-time work and a chance to serve the local Asian Pacific American community.
She got the job.
“I was so excited and happy,” she said. “It’s a community clinic and I was happy because many of my patients were Filipino patients.”
Now, 35 years later, Limbo is retiring from the ICHS as the clinic’s longest-serving staff member to date. Her retirement comes after a long career, dedicated to providing accessible, affordable health care to low-income community members. Her colleagues speak strongly of her passion during her career.
“It is unusual to have people in the community health center who had been there for a long time,” said Dr. Kimo Hirayama, a colleague of Limbo’s. “Ludy is unusual in that regard. She has been here and has stayed with the system and that just shows her commitment.”
Limbo comes from a family of doctors — for her, the medical field was a natural profession to pursue as a young adult. She graduated from medical school in 1968 in the Philippines and worked there for seven years before coming to the United States in 1975.
“It’s a long career,” she said. “You have to study hard; it’s very hard to become a doctor nowadays.”
Over her years at ICHS, Limbo has served a variety of patients including Vietnam War refugees, Filipinos heading off to work in the Alaskan canneries, and elderly Filipino and Chinese patients who were living in single-room apartments in the International District. One unique skill of hers was conversing with patients in fluent Tagalog.
“A fair number of her patients were most comfortable in Tagalog,” Hirayama said. “For that reason especially I think it was very important to have her be there.”
Colleagues of Limbo’s would joke that she had the “complicated” patients, with more complex issues.
“One of her patients would come in and it was always sort of hard to see them because they had so many things going on,” Hirayama said. “But she did a great job managing them.”
The truth was that Limbo had a knack for treating the elderly — most of her patients tended to stick with her for decades. If patients had problems, she had her phone beside her at all times. They could reach her even in the evening after a long day of work.
“Most of her patients have grown old with her,” colleague Dr. Alan Chun said. “She is from the Filipino community and understands that community and culture and works very well with adults.”
Breaking the news of her retirement to such longtime patients was not easy.
“Some of my patients were crying,” Limbo said. “Some of them were really, very sad.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn designated March 16 as “Ludy Limbo Appreciation Day” in the City of Seattle to honor her 35 years of providing care to community health center patients.
Her retirement comes at a time when she’d like more hours of the day to spend with her elderly mother. She also hopes to travel more with her husband — one stop she’s planning to visit is the Philippines.
Her biggest goal for retirement is simple. “I will rest,” she said. “For 35 years I have been working, so I would just like to rest.”