Family and friends of surgical assistant Filbert John S. Aquino described the Henderson man as the first to help in any situation, including volunteering to be in the operating room with COVID-19 patients.

But before Christmas, Aquino, 51, became ill with the coronavirus himself. Although previously healthy and without underlying health conditions, he remained hospitalized for five months with complications from the disease.

Slowly, he improved. During a recent visit, on a ventilator and unable to speak, he wrote a note to his wife, Cynthia, that he had turned the corner and would be coming home.

It was not to be. After battling pneumonia, Aquino died on May 19, leaving behind his wife, two teenage sons — Thomas, 19, and Timothy, 15 — and an extended network of family, friends and co-workers.

“Whenever there’s a bad situation, he’s guaranteed to be helping out, diving head on into it,” recalled his older brother, Fernand Raymund S. Aquino.

Leah Arruiza, who worked at Desert Springs Hospital with Aquino until his illness, said that he volunteered to come into the operating room every time there was a patient with COVID-19 to ensure that “everybody had their gear on properly, everybody knew the protocol.”

“That’s just the type of person he is,” she said. “He wants to protect all of us. He’d rather take the bullet.”

It’s unclear how or where Aquino contracted the virus.

Mentor for youth

Aquino worked at Desert Springs as a certified surgical first assistant, meaning he played a leading role in assisting doctors in the operating room, Arruiza said. He also worked at St. Rose Dominican Hospital campuses.

Aquino encouraged those around him to strive to achieve their goals.

“He pushed me. He was my driving force to want to go back to school,” Arruiza said, who also helped to drive efforts to expand the hospital’s robotics program. “He’s a firecracker. If you didn’t want his opinion, he would still give it to you.”

Arruiza said one of the things she’ll miss most is his “chipmunk” laugh.

“He has the best laugh,” agreed friend Mariel Nole, a surgical equipment sales manager who met Aquino on the job. “I’m sorry I don’t have a recording of it.”

Nole recalled how when she was going through a divorce, Aquino insisted she and her daughter move in with his family although they already had a full house.

“Without even hesitation. Without thinking twice,” she said. “He didn’t have to do that. He was always taking care of everybody.”

He also insisted that her daughter neededthe experience of camping and, she learned later, bought extra gear so that the mother and daughter could accompany his family on a camping trip. He taught her daughter, among other things, to fish for crawdads and to use a bow and arrow.

Aquino easily connected with young people. Cynthia Aquino said he mentored dozens of youths, pressing them to excel at whatever interested them. Her voice broke as she told of how teens he mentored years ago, who are now adults, contacted her after learning of his death.

They referred to him as “Uncle Filbert,” in the Hawaiian style, she said.

Born in Philippines

Born in the Philippines, Aquino migrated in 1993 to Hawaii, where he met his future wife. The family moved to Nevada in 2006. With each move, Fernand Aquino followed with his own household.

“My brother and I were always covering each other’s back. … We did everything together, in good times and bad,” he recalled.

They would go with their kids to the shooting range, he said. Aquino was an outdoorsman who “loved the water,” including boating, kayaking and fishing.

“If he had a day off , which was very rare, he always wanted to be doing something,” Nole said.

She recalled him saying, “We shouldn’t be sitting at home. We should be experiencing life.”

In addition to his widow, children and elder brother, Aquino is survived by his mother, Leticia S. Aquino of Las Vegas. He also is survived by brother Frederick Angelo S. Aquino and sister Lyanne Rosalind S. Aquino, both of the Philippines.

Services will be held on June 12 at La Paloma, 5150 Stephanie St. A viewing is at 1 p.m., followed by a funeral Mass at 2 and then a reception.

A Filbert Aquino Memorial Fund to assist the family with medical expenses has been set up in Thomas Aquino’s name at Wells Fargo Bank (account number 8362355235). A GoFundMe account has been organized by relative Francis Aquino to benefit Cynthia Aquino.

Contact Mary Hynes at or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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