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.