SAVING Nino Joshua Infante-Molintas was a collective effort of relatives, Catholic nuns, folksingers, missionaries, doctors, lawyers, pony boys and such. Some were touched by his parents’ made-for-the-movies love story, others by the widow’s might and courage.

In the long run, it was a mother’s love that inspired people to reach out to the family for the boy’s survival.

A corporate lawyer of Philbanking and his young son, also named Joshua, pooled an amount which, together with a letter from the boy, the local branch delivered to the Wright Park using its armored vehicle.

“Kuna mi ketdi no inikkan da ni Joshua ti maysa nga trak nga kuarta (We thought they gave Joshua a truck full of money),” a pony boy quipped.

Aside from the Samaritans were the curious. Datsu was surprised one day to have a stranger knocking on her door. He had driven up all the way from Metro-Manila, apparently determined to find for himself if a woman of Datsu’s strength was not fiction.

“Tinanong n’ya kung ako talaga si Datsu,” she recalled. “I asked him in, and, before long, he was seeking advice how he could relate with his rebellious daughter.”

The late Philippine Star columnist Art Borjal proved the key to Nino Joshua’s admission to the Heart Center. He wrote about Datsu’s love story and Joshua’s plight and worked on support, including finally getting a bed in a facility where thousands of charity patients line up daily.

In one of those post-surgery check-ups, Nino visited Borjal in his office. The boy handed him a tape of Billy Dean’s plaintive folksong “If It Hadn’t Been You.” It summed up Nino’s feelings and those of his mother. Borjal liked the tune and the lyrics which he printed in his column that told Samaritans the boy’s ordeal was over and that he had found anchor.

“I went to a music shop to order some copies to share with friends and those who lifted this collective spirit for Nino,” he told this writer. “The sales girl apparently misunderstood and led me to several copies of Michael Jackon’s ‘Billy Jean’. She couldn’t find any tape by Billy Dean.”

When Nino was strong enough after surgery, he would follow doctors doing their rounds, in the process himself lighting up the day of other patients. Among them were a mother who asked Datsu to bring Nino for lunch in her Quezon City house during the post-surgery check-ups.

Even the medical staff he encountered were disarmed by the kid’s demeanor, with some trying to suppress tears when he was bidding them goodbye during his release for home. “Paano na, at wala nang magulo ditto,” one of them uttered.

Nino himself would later reach out to other patients, especially during concerts-for-a-cause mounted by musicians the likes of Conrad Marzan, Bubut Olarte and other pioneers of the local folk and country scene who had sang for his deliverance. Always, Conrad would belt out that Billy Dean composition.

The surgery was arranged by Dr. Emerenciana Collado, a pedia-surgeon at the Philippine Heart Center and performed by Dr. Serafin de Leon who came in from the United States to do pro bono cardiac operations

Nino’s elder brothers and their fellow pony boys got back at Dr. Collado when she and her family came up for a vacation – with a “hanggang sawa” ride around the bridle path. Later, Datsu would receive another devastating news: Dr. Collado had succumbed to cancer.

Datsu herself developed back pain. She attributed it to having to stoop down to tend to anthuriums and symbidiums or having to carry planting material and pots. During those months she was bed-ridden, physical therapy students worked to help her back to her feet. She now stands and walks with a cane. She underwent heart surgery and is on medication to stabilize her heart and blood pressure.

Time and again, her elder sister Emilia, a nurse, would visit and stay with the family for days. In her last work assigned in the Middle East.

Emilia turned ill and was bed-ridden. She never told Datsu, who learned of her sister’s condition from another hospital worker who came home.

Datsu and the other Infante siblings worked on their sister’s repatriation. Emilia recuperated in Bacolod and in a small lot in Tubao La Union that an aunt bought for Datsu’s children.

Datsu had turned the elongated lot into a garden. She tried raising vegetables and pigs. There, she learned to paint, hoping to be able to sell some of her work, if not to adorn the home she gad slowly built.

The older boys have grown. Mike Jr. now works in a computer shop. Mark has married and, with his wife, helps tend the family patch in Tubao.

Jules Byron has given his mother two grandchildren.

In 2006, Nino missed the deadline to have his scoliosis fixed through surgery in a children’s hospital in the United States. He had overshot the age limit, having turned 18 before his charity case could be approved.

Datsu, who turned 56 last December, is still figuring out how her youngest son’s scoliosis could be fixed so it won’t affect his lungs.

Meanwhile, Nino, stooping from the bone ailment, will be 30 next May. Reason enough to celebrate an unbreakable family bonding galvanized by years of seemingly unending trials and ordeals.

Reason enough to toast to a widow’s might, a mother’s love, an orphaned family’s triumph.

Reason to share again a love story that goes beyond Valentine’s Day. (Email: mondaxbench for feedbacks)