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By Venus R. Salangsang
MOD Magazine 2008
That frightful hush that is a mix of hope and despair enveloped the whole hospital corridor where family and friends had formed little groups, hanging on to each other in the dead of the night. My daughter Cara and I had rushed to Makati Medical Hospital to be with Bettina, one of her very best friends, and the daughter of Angela del Rosario, who was my friend too. She had been fighting for her life the whole evening. 8 months pregnant, on July 6, 1999, her head began throbbing painfully. She refused to take any medication, protective of the baby she was carrying. Checking her blood pressure, her mom saw it was a shocking 240/120. Her parents rushed her to the hospital, where a C section was immediately performed since fetal distress had set in. Bettina heard her new-born baby cry, then she fell into a deep coma that would last for 10 days. The doctors had to do brain surgery. Her long day’s journey into the night had began.
The Young Girl Bettina (Betu)
Bettina, at 22, had a life that had more than its share of hills and valleys. Given away at birth, an uncomely infant, she fell into the loving arms of childless Angela, who, with husband Manolo, adopted her, giving her a very prestigious name of two “old-rich” families, bringing her into their privileged life-style. I came to know her as the classmate of my daughter Cara, Betu they would call her, in that highly rated, very nice Maria Montessori Cooperative School in Pasay. Even then, as a very young girl, she was a good “manager.” I was amazed to know that she practically run the household to help her very busy Mom, making the menus, taking charge of the kitchen and the helpers. She loved horses, and had her very own which she would ride at the Manila Polo Club. I saw her and my daughter bloom into high school-fun-loving, vacation-loving students at exclusive Assumption San Lorenzo. These teenage schooldays, usual parties, friendships, and vacations abroad were the fun times. The marital problems of her parents that were escalating, and the typical sibling rivalry with younger brother who was always a pain in the neck for her were the downside of her life. Then came the life-changing situation. Still in college, she learned she was pregnant.
Pregnancy/ Single Mom
The discovery of her pregnancy could not have come at a worse time. She and her boyfriend were having difficulties in the relationship and he had just broken up with her. In the doldrums of her heartaches, her pride much hurt by the break-up, the unexpected news of her being pregnant spun her world into a downward spiral. The boyfriend was in typical denial; later, convinced, he offered marriage. But Bettina, already very much the gutsy woman, knew it was best not to enter into that commitment. She decided to be a single Mom. The pregnancy was difficult especially during the first trimester. There was bleeding, and the need for bed rest. On July 6, 1999 Luis was born, and Bettina almost died.
The high blood pressure had caused internal bleeding in the brain. Scans showed she had a quite rare congenital condition called arterio-venous malformation or AVM which disables the correct flowing of blood to the necessary places. Surgeons operated on her to save her life, taking out one cup of brain matter. Prognosis was grim: she could die any time post-surgery. If she survived, she would be a vegetable since parts of her brain had been removed. And she would be paralyzed.
Bettina survived. Her whole right side was paralyzed. She had to stay three more months in the hospital. Luis was brought home, a beautiful healthy baby. Those three delightful months of being with her infant son were denied Bettina. When she woke up from her coma, she herself was like a new-born human being. She didn’t know basic numbers, letters, names of objects. She didn’t know how to talk. She couldn’t walk, what with her paralysis. She couldn’t even eat. Food was intubated through a NGT (Nasogastric Tube Insertion) and a hole in her throat for her to breathe, a Tracheostomy. When finally she went home, it was in a wheelchair. Still very disabled, back home, she could barely hold her baby whom she named Luis Xavier (HA-Vee-air), which means renowned fighter. She would often cry in frustration as she couldn’t be the Mom fussing over her darling baby. She was in a downstairs bedroom, made especially for her needs, and Luis was upstairs with the yaya and grandparents.
Recovery and Therapy
I would chance upon Bettina whenever I would go to Makati Medical for my own radiation treatments for breast cancer for she was there almost every other day, and the therapy rooms were on the same floor. Each time I would see her, I would be flooded with emotions of joy and pride. It was always a joy to see her so alive and well, stuttering, yes, learning to talk and yes, to walk, swinging her leg and arms mightily, with great difficulty, learning the needed balance and the rhythm from her therapy. Her leg brace was heavy; she hobbled around laden with metal, holding on to a cane. But she always greeted me with cheerful smiles and twinkling eyes; she was always so upbeat, so strong, so hopeful. She practically glows with strength, and she inspires everyone in the therapy rooms with her determination and faithfulness to her therapy. She keeps saying it is only a matter of time before she will be fully back to her old agile self. She admits though that the first two years were difficult. She had daily struggles with frustrations, self-pity, and the enormity of her disabilities. What kept her going? What made her so brave and so indomitable? Luis. Her parents. Her faith in God. And a new love.
The greatest inspiration for her recovery came from Luis. Bettina was determined to be there for her son in all ways as a healthy and active Mom. And so from the start, 1999 till today, she has never let up. This means years of long hours of therapy – physical, speech, occupational. She has literally moved forward from paralysis of half the body to almost full recovery of her movements and full feeling. She had to deal with memory losses, memory lapses. She had to re-learn everything with her left hand: writing, doing things. Determined to take care of infant Luis, she would change his diaper painstakingly with one hand, dress him up, prepare his formula, feed him, put him to sleep beside her. With therapy, her garbled and inverted speech improved, and she is back from being barely understood to her old expressive self. So much so that she even run for Kagawad in Magallanes Village, Makati last barangay elections! Moreover, the equestrian in her has survived this crisis. She has revived her old loves of riding and cooking for she believes in doing what make her happy. In 2004, she went to Detroit, Michigan to join a Riding for the Disabled International Competition and in 2005 she joined the competition again, this time in Hongkong. Very much at home in the kitchen, she resumed accepting food orders. She taught basic cooking in a Summer Arts Program in Magallanes Village. She joined a cooking contest and her recipe was selected for the December 2007 issue of Yummy Magazine. She looks forward to running her own restaurant. Valiant, outgoing Bettina is engaged in a variety of activities. She shares herself , doing more than many others who are NOT disabled. She believes this is both right and therapeutic She has numerous volunteer projects with her barangay in Magallanes. For example, just a few weeks ago, she participated in the organization of Magallanes Village’s Recyclables Market. Her slogan all these 9 years has been “DISABILITY DOES NOT MEAN INABILITY.”
Her parents, themselves strong survivors, are great sources too of inspiration and support. Angela is one of these perpetually busy, practical, big-hearted women who can multi-task, ran the whole world, and still find time to play golf and enjoy lunches and dinners with friends and family. She totally amazes me. I have often watched her as she answers a thousand phone calls and queries as manager of a big travel agency, this for a woman who had a double heart by-pass when she was only forty-something. As for Manolo, for the past four years he has battled stage 4 lung cancer, gone abroad for surgeries, and is on a new experimental drug that is doing wonders for him. Is it any wonder Bettina has such a big fighting spirit? It practically runs in the family! And when burdens such as these beleaguer a family, God cannot be far behind. “He will never give us what we cannot handle,” Bettina trustfully proclaims.
The Young Mom,Marvellous Bettina
Luis is one of those blessed children who have a special aura. I saw this for myself. As a toddler,he delighted me with his good manners, his vocabulary, his amazing memory( as a one year old, he remembered what he had “nicknamed” Edwin, the husband of Cara, Bettina’s friend, on an earlier visit months past ). Even as a baby, he already had this special self that palpably exuded charm, brightness, wholeness, graciousness. He even hummed himself to sleep! Such EQ! Bettina would often say, “He must have gotten all the brains I lost!” He is a “fun” person, very much a boy running around with his cars and toys. Bettina brings him to his school and to his soccer games, They cook favorites like “mushroom risotto” and concoct pizzas. They have “kwentuhan” time at bedtime, sharing all sorts of silliness. He is a very dear and sweet boy. Just a few days ago he saw his Mom crying out of her sheer frustration over the sudden departure of her trusty yaya of 6 years. He went over, patted her back and said, “Don’t worry Momma, I”ll take care of you.” And he does! He carries Bettina’s handbag when they are out, and helps her with the stairs. He is Bettina’s greatest pride and joy – so good, so affectionate, and he binds the family as only a beloved child/grandchild can.
In this life, things have a way of coming round, as we all know. Just recently,Bettina consented to have Luis meet his father for the first time. He stayed with him and his family for three days. The anxiety Bettina had over this encounter quickly disappeared, for it was a delightful and healing visit. Luis grew happy and assured upon finally meeting his Dad. And the Dad had only amazement and awe over the wonderful, outstanding, well-brought up loveable son that Luis had turned out to be.
People have said that Bettina’s recovery is a miracle, a gift from an infinite wisdom and a divine providence that keeps working in all of our lives, His presence more felt in some, more dramatic, for whatever reason or purpose. For Bettina, God’s love is there through Luis, through the person that she is and that she has made of herself, through her parents, her family, her many friends, and especially in one friend who loved her well, brief though this was. “He made me believe in myself again, “ Bettina said. What can be more empowering for a woman than to be in love and to be loved! This came at the right time for Bettina. With him Bettina must have experienced what Kahlil Gibran talks about:
“But let there be spaces in your togetherness
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart.
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each others’ shadow.”
Keep growing tall and strong, Bettina! This country needs miracles like you.
partially handicapped, and a fighter all the way.By Ieth Tatoy Inolino
COSMOPOLITAN MAGAZINE, PHILIPPINES AUGUST 2006
Fun Fearless Female
The leg brace attached to her right ankle drags her feet as she walks. Clutched towards her body is her right arm, hardly swinging as she moves. The religious pendant she wears rests by the scar caused by the tube that went through her trachea. Even after countless physical, speech, and psychological therapy, Bettina shows neither a trace of remorse nor distress.
Seven years ago, Bettina A. del Rosario found herself pregnant. She was still in college and had just ended a three-year relationship with the man whom she thought of marrying.
Apart from stress and anxiety she was going through with her pregnancy and her relationship, there was also trouble at home. “So many things were happening at the same time, I didn’t know what to do,” Bettina admits. It came to a point where she felt like giving up and just leaving everything behind. “I tried to kill myself, hoping that it would make things easier,” she confesses.
Ticking Time Bomb
It was on her eighth month of pregnancy when Bettina experienced a terrible headache. She couldn’t remember anything after being brought to the hospital. “I passed out after giving birth,” she recalls. Little did she know that her seizure was caused by Arterio-Venous Malformation or AVM, a condition wherein the blood does not go to the tissues but is pumped through the shunt and back to the heart, leaving tissues without its needed nutrients.
Most patients do not know that they have AVM, and its cause is still unknown. People are born with AVMs although it does not appear to be hereditary. There are neither signs and symptoms nor are there preventive measures. Since Bettina was adopted, her parents had no knowledge of her medical history. She was in a coma for 10 days. The doctors gave her the same number of days to live. They took one cup of brain mass in the operation but she had a lot more.
Scars and Souvenirs
For three months, the hospital became Bettina’s second home. It was the paralysis of the right side of her body that led to a brain process malformation. She had to relearn everything from numbers to letters and how to write them was another lesson on its own. “I was right handed so I needed to learn how to write with my left,” says Bettina. Even her speech was affected. Whenever she tried to say something another word would come out.
For someone as outgoing and dependent as she was, the most challenging part was how to get back on her feet. “I had to relearn walking up and down the stairs and riding the escalator,” she reveals. She never gave up. Whenever she felt the gravity of a difficult situation, she would think of her son. “I can’t give up, no one will take care of my son,” Bettina feared.
Getting Her Life Back
She’s become a local celebrity at the hospital where she goes to therapy
twice a week. Bettina’s story of survival continues to inspire many patients. Her strength and perseverance encourages them to try harder. “I’m glad that I am able to help other people by sharing what I’ve been through,” she warmly says.
Being an equestrian has helped her condition as well. Hippotherapy, a rehabilitation program through horsebackriding , allows Bettina to improve her condition while enjoying what she likes most. During her spare time, she volunteers for the Riding for the Disabled where she helps young children affected by autism and cerebral palsy. In 2004, Bettina received an invitation to compete in the Riding for the Disabled International Competition in Detroit, Michigan. With the support and pledges of friends and family, Bettina flew to the States, making her dream to compete abroad come true.
An Able Disabled
Bettina did everything at her own pace, in her own time. She tries to live her life as normally as she can. She takes care of her son, Luis, and gets him ready for school he also brings him to his soccer games.
Her son is her reason for living. “If not for him, I can’t imagine living at all,” says Bettina. They enjoy making pizzas and pasta dishes together and share them with their neighbors. Before bedtime, she and Luis tell each other stories about their day. Luis tells her of his classes and friends, she tells him how her therapy sessions went. “A lot of times I forget I’m disabled,” she laughs. “When I go down the stairs, Ill suddenly realize that I have a procedure to follow otherwise I’d fall”, she adds.
After the Storm
At 29, Bettina has fought for her life and has managed to survive. With all that she’s been through, she’s learned not to take things seriously. She now takes pleasure in the small things she ignored before. “Give me a pack of M&Ms and I’d be happy. It’ll make my day na”, she says.
Because of her love for cooking, Bettina plans to put up her own restaurant in the future. It will take some time but she is in no rush. “Nothing is certain. You can be the healthiest person and die the next day,” she says. Despite her positive outlook, there are still times when she feels low. Her survival secret: a stash or Hot Fudge Sundaes.
HOW TO DEAL – Bettina shares the sanity-saving strategies that helped her get through the worst:
Cut Your Losses: In her case, it was Luis’ father, whose lack of moral and child support left her constantly disappointed. “When I put my foot down and removed him from my life, I was able to breathe again”
Do Something You Love: “I started to ride (horses) and cook again,” she says, setting up a small food-order business business. ” I just became happier.”
Socialize: Dinners out, live band gigs, and videoke nights top Bettina’s list. She also started making mommy friends in the village. “It took six years to ‘mend’ my broken heart.”
Fall In Love Again: “Though short-lived, my time with one guy I was recently with cannot compare to all the years of serious relationships I’ve had.”
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING PHILIPPINES, AUGUST 2003 ISSUE
GOT PROBLEMS: Your Emotional Surviving Kit
Learn how three women how to cope – and come out even stronger.
By: LEA WYNETTA DIZON
p.58 to p.62
HER CHALLENGES: BRAIN SURGERY AND SUBSEQUENT PARALYSIS
At 22, Bettina del Rosario found herself in what must have been like an avalanche of trials. Though adopted, she has always felt lucky to be with a great family. Unfortunately, her parents were having marital problems that caused them to later separate. Her own relationship was going awry; her boyfriend of three years broke up with her. She says this took its toll on her self-esteem. Another blow: She soon found out that she was pregnant.
Her ex-boyfriend initially doubted her condition. A second checkup convinced him, enough to propose marriage. Bettina declined. “I wanted to get married but I knew that it wouldn’t be the right decision”. When she told her parents, they were supportive of her decision to remain single.
Bettina had high-risk pregnancy. In her first trimester, she found herself bleeding and was told by doctors to get two months of bed rest. Then she got ill and was unable to carry her baby to full term.
On the evening of July 6, 1999, Bettina’s head started to throb painfully. She refused medication; afraid it would harm her child. When her mom insisted that Bettina have her blood pressure taken, they found it at a dangerous 240/120. Her folks rushed her to the hospital, where her doctor decided to perform an emergency Caesarian section. Her astoundingly high blood pressure was causing fetal distress. Bettina remembers how it was: “The last thing I remembered was hearing my baby cry. Then all I wanted to do was fall asleep”
Her ordeal was not yet over. Apparently, her high blood pressure caused a vein in her brain to pop, which in turn led to internal bleeding and blood clotting. The diagnosis: congenital condition called arteriovenous malformation. Bettina was undergoing brain surgery the day after she gave birth. The doctors, who had extracted one cup of brain mass from her, didn’t think she would make it. “They all thought I’d either die or be a vegetable,” says Bettina. She was in a coma for 10 days after brain surgery.
“When I woke up from my daze, I remembered giving birth. I was wondering were my baby was,” Bettina says. “I couldn’t recall much except flashes of my dad shouting at me and slapping my leg to wake me up. It all felt like a dream.”
When she fully came to, Bettina was not a vegetable , but the entire right side of her body was paralyzed. She had to stay in the hospital for three more months to recuperate; her baby leaving two months earlier.
Bettina shares how it was like: “I had to undergo speech, physical, and occupational therapy. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t even eat. I had to be fed intravenously. I couldn’t even remember what I cell phone was.”
“If there was something I wanted, I had to point. Sometimes I blinked, I shook my head, or make a fist just to send my message. I couldn’t recognize numbers and letters. I had to learn to do everything again. I had to go through all these diagnostic tests. I could remember everything that happened to me before the operation; after that, my memory was mostly selective.”
She eventually got well enough to leave the hospital in a wheelchair. At home, she had to endure being bathed in bed. For a long time her food had to be mashed so she could ingest it through a hole in her throat. “There were times when I fell into despair and succumbed to self-pity,” Bettina says. “I realized that things were not the same anymore.”
Fortunately, in a few months her memory and skills started to slowly return, although up to now she has yet to get everything back.
Bettina is determined not to be handicapped forever. She religiously attends all her therapy sessions. “I just try to look at all the physical work I have to do as like going to the gym. I’m really stubborn.” She isn’t one to dwell or mope either. “I just kept in mind that I have to move on – that mine is not a really big problem and that it will all pass. I know my son needs me.”
“I named him Luis Xavier, which means renowned fighter. When he was born I couldn’t fight, so I made him a fighter.” That’s how the boy, four years old now, motivates his mother to keep getting better.
And there there’s her spiritual inspiration. “God knows who I am,” says Bettina. “I trust that He won’t give me something I cannot handle. People always say that I am a miracle. I guess I am.”
Today, the woman is a picture of faith, hope, and strength: She can raise her right hand, although still not fully. She has complete feeling throughout her body. She can walk with a cane. She’s even gotten back
into one of her passions—horseback riding (equestrian). “I’m really feeling good,” she is thrilled to share. “In fact I was invited to join the World Dressage Championships for the Disabled. I’m also back in my small business of cooking specialty food.”
After all that has happened to her, Bettina and her family remain confident – even as they face yet another hardship, “My father has stage four cancer of the lungs and kidneys, yet we are unfazed,” declares Bettina. “After what happened to me, we are just too strong”