Ailing street sweeper finds goodness in Net SamaritansBy Jaymee T. Gamil
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Never underestimate the power of a mouse click, a viral photo and a simple act of kindness.
After a chance encounter with a modern-day Good Samaritan, Ernesto Chua of Tandang Sora, Quezon City, is finally receiving treatment for a condition he has endured for years. The blessing comes two months before his scheduled retirement as a government employee.
Chua is the street sweeper shown in a series of photos that spread on the social networking site Facebook last week. The shots captured the 64-year-old taking a break on a footbridge, wearing a big smile on his weathered face but nursing large gangrenous wounds on his legs and bare feet.
The photos came with a caption from Sam V. Sevalla, who posted them on Tuesday on the Facebook page of Chua’s employer for 34 years, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
Sevalla said he encountered Chua when he was crossing the footbridge going to SM City North mall from Edsa in Quezon City. He admitted ignoring Chua at first, but said he was later bothered by his conscience.
Sevalla’s Facebook profile identifies him as a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas and a member of the Catholic group Couples for Christ.
“I was never at ease after seeing him, so I returned,” Sevalla said in his post in Filipino. “I thought that I couldn’t just leave him there when I knew that I could do something to help him.”
“So please, let’s help him. He really needs your help. For it looks like he’s forcing himself to work despite his condition just to survive, yet he’s actually putting own life at risk,” he stressed.
“I’m literally begging you not to put this issue aside,” Sevalla said, his message mainly addressed to the MMDA.
The post struck a chord with thousands of netizens who have since “liked” it over 23,000 times and “shared” the photos over 14,000 times as of Thursday—the same day the MMDA heeded Sevalla’s widely echoed appeal.
The agency brought Chua to its main office in Makati City for a checkup, before bringing him to East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City where Chua is currently confined and undergoing laboratory tests to have his condition diagnosed.
The MMDA is shouldering his treatment, according to its chair, Francis Tolentino. “Mr. Ernesto Chua will go on rehabilitation leave until his retirement on Dec 15. MMDA will shoulder all his medical expenses at the hospital,” he said.
Tolentino added that Chua, who works under the MMDA’s parkway clearing unit, will be receiving his leave credits, pension and other benefits in full.
The MMDA’s resident physician, Dr. Annabelle R. Ombina, said Chua may be suffering from Buerger’s Disease, a condition associated with heavy smoking and drinking and which often leads to gangrene.
The MMDA conducts annual medical examinations and its clinic is open daily for the employees, but the last time Chua came for a checkup was in 2009, Ombina said. “He already had lesions then, but it wasn’t this bad,” she recalled.
She remembered Chua saying that he had never gone to the hospital for fear that his condition already required amputation. He instead tried to self-medicate by applying Betadine on the wounds—which only worsened the infection—and wrapping them with handkerchief, the doctor said.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Chua admitted concealing his wounds for a long time whenever he went out to work, “until I could no longer hide them.” Once, he had them treated at the hospital but he stopped after the first session because he could not afford the prescribed medicines.
“I just tried to endure it since I’m already retiring in December,” the father of four said. “All I wanted was to complete my tenure of service in the government.”
He said he had just unwrapped his wounds one day at the Quezon City footbridge when Sevalla spotted him by chance.
He profusely thanked Sevalla, the MMDA, his coworkers and the thousands of netizens who spread the word about his condition. “I’ve always believed that God would help me. And I’m so thankful that my prayers were answered before my retirement.”