CHRISTMAS is a time of giving; with the much anticipated season decked with pretty lights, festive decors, fun parties, and tons of beribboned gifts. But what if we veer away from store-bought materialism and branch out to actually make a difference in someone else's life in a more meaningful way?
Dr. Seuss once wrote, “Then the Grinch thought of something that he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps...means a little bit more!” When I think about it, the Christmas story is the ultimate gift of love. God the Father sacrificed His only begotten Son for the sake of humanity.
Sign from Heaven
As I was pondering about Christmas lists and wishes, along with meandering on how to make this season more memorable beyond the material for my kids; Ann Velez's story flashed through my FB newsfeed. It was shared by Weena, my youngest son's god mother. I may not know Ann personally, but her story brought me to tears. She suffers from Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD), the same illness my daughter, Lourdes, was diagnosed at 10 years old.
Most RHD cases are acquired, meaning it is highly preventable. RHD actually stems from a simple case of strep throat (aka tonsilitis) that develops into rheumatic fever because it has not been treated or was undertreated. From the throat, the bacteria manage to make their way down to the heart, where they wreck havoc in the valves.
Ann said: “I first noticed the problem when we were preparing for our requirement for internship (1997). The x-ray of the work I applied showed that my heart was slightly enlarged. I got an ECG (a test the measure’s heart function) and it came back normal, so I moved on. But much later, when I got pregnant with my daughter (2004), I felt something was off. I finally had a 2-D echo which showed I had moderate damage in the mitral valve and mild damage in the aortic valve. The doctor helped trace my history, and we concluded that rheumatic fever happened when I had this debilitating fever in college (1991). The damage manifested after 19 years.”
Ann’s story corroborates what the pedia-cardiologist of my daughter told me. It may take months or even years after an episode of rheumatic fever for valve damage to develop or symptoms to appear. Antibiotics prevent strep infections from developing into this rheumatic fever. Any child with frequent and persistent bouts of sore throat should be checked. Untreated, it can lead to a disruption in quality of life due to limited heart function, which affects mobility. Worst case scenario is death.
Plea for Help
Ann was candid enough to say that she needs help: "I am due for an open heart surgery but cannot proceed due to financial constraints. The procedure is mitral valve replacement. As for my aortic valve, they will decide after they cut me open if they will repair it or replace it. My husband and I don't have the liquidity to cover the cost. I worked up so hard to keep myself fit and well, so I was able to delay the procedure for 10 more years after giving birth. But now, it has caught up with me!”
It was this part that truly tugged at my heartstrings. It is tragic that the Philippines does not have quality healthcare that is equally accessible for all of its citizens. If a Filipino does not have money, they have to face the consequences of suffering and waiting to die. May God have mercy!
I may not have the millions to fund Ann’s surgery from my pocket, but I have this little humble column space that connects to many other people. It may not encourage everyone to act and help, but it may inspire a few. Let us not underestimate the strength of one peso because many one peso coins make a million. I have faith in the power of kindness. Truly, nothing in life is an accident with people coming into our life for a reason. Ann gives me hope that my own daughter can move on to have kids and live a meaningful life.
The thing about Ann is that despite having a host of symptoms such as: chest pain, excessive fatigue, heart palpitations, a thumping sensation in the chest, shortness of breath, and swollen ankles; she still strives to live each day fully and productively with unwavering faith in the Lord. She still does her little bit to help with their small family business, plus she has not neglected her mommy obligations. When she goes out, she wears a mask because her immunity is compromised.
Ann admitted: “I am scared, of course. But I have to be brave because something better is waiting on the other side after I get the surgery. And it’s amazing because the lead of the team of doctors in Heart Center was referred to me by someone. I had helped them in the past, and when they found out about my ordeal, they offered to help. It is amazing how kindness works. But of course, we still need a lot because the surgery will cost a minimum of 1M pesos. I am knocking on your hearts to help me get through it, so I can prolong and improve my quality of life for my family. Hopeful, thankful, and faithful that this too shall pass! My heartfelt gratitude"
Please find it in your hearts to donate through these channels:
Go fund me page at https://www.gofundme.com/heart-operation-for-a-good-friend
You caring page at https://www.youcaring.com/annriveravelez-1017320
Account name: Ann R. Velez
Acct no. 000870514768
Asia United Bank (AUB)
Account name: Ann R. Velez
Account no. 320-11-000294-4
If you do not have the extra funds, it is also okay. Just please kindly say a prayer for Ann so that her faith may not falter and that she will have the strength to carry on until the day she gets her surgery. On top of that, kindly share information contained herein about RHD in order to spread awareness. More than anything, what I want people to take away from reading this is to never take a debilitating type of recurrent sore throat lightly. Rheumatic Heart Disease is a treacherous thief that can steal your life and that of the one you love.
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Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 16, 2017.