Amazing men of medicine

MANILA, Philippines—“The brighter the sun gets, the less I see the ball when I drive it into the sky. I used to watch it land at over 200 yards but now I cannot even see it in flight,” so I complained to Dr. Jack Arroyo that sunny morning on July 15, 2008 as we played golf at The Country Club.

Restored 20-20 eyesight. That very afternoon, he and his team at the American Eye Center examined me. “You have cataract at the center of the pupils of your two eyes. That is why the brighter the sun gets, the more the pupils contract and the lesser you see. I do cataract replacements but my real specialty is Lasik. The best in cataract surgery is Dr. Cesar Espiritu.”

On July 17 (Thursday) and after some medical preparations, Doctor Espiritu surgically replaced my more clouded right eye lens with a “ReSTOR model SN6AD3 power 13.0 D Alcon” implant. On the next Tuesday (July 22), he installed the same implant with “power 14.0 D” on the left eye. The operation, which took only 10 minutes for each eye, was painless before, during and after the incision.

I have been wearing eyeglasses since my high school days. But after the surgical implantation, my eyesight was restored at 20-20. If you see me wearing spectacles now, they are purely aesthetic. My dear wife Leni thinks retired chief justices look more honorable wearing eyeglasses! Incidentally, I played tennis four days after the last operation, and golf a week after, without any difficulty or complication.

Tenacious specialists. It is said that God works His healing miracles through doctors. So I celebrate Easter, the most important day in the Christian calendar, by writing some amazing medical stories that I personally know.

“The electrocardiogram (or ECG) is the equivalent of the Municipal Trial Court, the treadmill stress test is like the Regional Trial Court and the Two D Echo, Court of Appeals ’yan,” Dr. Dante Morales—the noted cardiologist—mused.

“In our search to find the cause of your heartbeat skip, we lost in all three courts. So, you should undergo the final test, the angiogram—the equivalent of the Supreme Court in cardiology. These three previous tests show that your heart muscles may be thick or your right coronary artery and left circumflex artery may be blocked. Only an angiogram can conclusively tell us,” he added.

Dr. Jorge Garcia, the famous heart surgeon, validated the need for an angiogram. He explained, “The tests show possible coronary ischemia. The angio should be able to determine what is wrong exactly, how serious and what medical care would be needed. Have it done in the Philippines. No need to go to the US. If necessary, I can operate on your coronary arteries in the Philippines.”

And so, on the afternoon of April 13, 1996, I was wheeled to the angiography room of the Makati Medical Center. The process was fast and painless. Doctor Morales and Dr. Dy Bun Yok—whom Doctor Garcia hailed as the best in angiogram procedures—were in attendance. In the end, they chorused, “Your coronary arteries are clear and good.”

Alleluia! I was not expecting a complete clearance. I thought all along that my arteries needed surgery. “You are one of the few people whose heartbeat has a natural skip. It is normal for you,” Doctor Morales explained. “When you die, it will not be because of a bad heart,” Doctor Garcia reassured me later.

For more than 20 years, my liver secretions have been hyperactive. The normal range for GGT, a liver secretion, is 18 to 85, but mine was always above 200, sometimes skyrocketing to 425. Many specialists told me not to worry. But Dr. Augusto Litonjua, the celebrated endocrinologist, worried. He faithfully monitored my blood test every three months. Finally, in January 2008, he prescribed “Actos.”

“Take one tablet daily. This new medicine is for diabetes but its side effect reduces GGT secretion,” he advised me. True enough, in three months, my GGT secretion normalized. One year after, he reduced my intake to only half-a-tablet daily. He removed it altogether later but my GGT has remained normal to this day. Then he told me why he was tenacious in finding a cure: “I had a patient, a high official, whose elevated GGT led to liver cancer.” Bless Doctor Litonjua for his tenacity.

Modern medical centers. Though not a physician, banker George S.K. Ty recently donated three hectares of prime land, worth P2 billion, along Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay to the Metrobank Foundation to be used exclusively for a 1,000-bed hospital. Metrobank Foundation already owns and operates Manila Doctors Hospital (MDH) in UN Avenue, Manila. “Doctor” Ty says that this enlarged MDH medical facility is his legacy to our people’s health and well-being.

Business whiz Manuel V. Pangilinan took over Makati Medical Center three years ago. He turned around its finances instantly and constructed an annex to house new outpatient services. Not content with one hospital, MVP took in Cardinal Santos Hospital in Mandaluyong and purchased a controlling stake in the Davao Doctors Hospital in Davao and hopefully also in the Riverside Medical Center in Bacolod, presaging the country’s first chain of top-rated hospitals.

Robert Kuan sold his Chowking fast-food chain to Jollibee so he could devote his full time as chairman and chief executive officer of St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City. Recently, he inaugurated St. Luke’s Global City, reputedly the most modern and most patient-friendly in the country.

Such selflessness from these business tycoons deserves the nation’s accolade.

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