MANILA, Philippines?Three-year-old Catherine Erica Buenaventura plays with her Barbie doll in the hospital bed, smiling and showing no signs of the liver ailment that had afflicted her since she was a baby.
The video clip of Erica playing and attempting to walk was shown during a news briefing at The Medical City (TMC) Monday as her parents and doctors narrated her ordeal and the country?s first successful liver transplant performed on a child.
Dr. Alfredo Bengzon, president and CEO of TMC, described the operation as a historic event and a landmark achievement for the country.
?This is the first time a successful pediatric liver transplant has been performed in the Philippines by an all-Filipino medical staff,? Bengzon said.
The 11-member surgical team performed the operation on Jan. 7, removing Erica?s liver entirely and replacing it with a graft from the liver of her uncle, Jefferson Llantino.
The P4.5-million procedure was shouldered by TMC and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
The procedure started at 7 a.m. on Jan. 7 and ended early the following day.
The child was confined at the hospital?s pediatric intensive care unit for the first eight days after the surgery and was then moved to a regular room on Sunday.
?She is on her way to full recovery. We are slowly teaching her to walk and regain her strength. Her appetite is improving,? said Dr. Ma. Vanessa de Villa, director of TMC?s Center for Liver Disease Management and Transplantation
She said Erica had already expressed interest in playing with other kids and going to school.
For the child?s mother, Carmela Buenaventura, seeing her youngest daughter happy and becoming healthy every day was ?God?s gift for a new life.?
She said her gratitude to her 18-year-old cousin Llantino was overflowing.
Llantino has not only touched the Buenaventuras but also PCSO Chair Margie Juico who has promised to support his high school and college education.
The donor, a dropout from high school, had to convince his parents to allow him to donate a portion of his liver. ?Bakit hindi natin ibibigay ang kaya nating ibigay (Why can?t we give what we can afford to give)?? he said.
Carmela?s eyes welled with tears as she recalled Erica?s illness.
Two months after she was born, Erica immediately showed signs of jaundice, the yellow discoloration of the skin while her abdomen became swollen due to an enlarged liver and spleen.
Begging for help
Two years later, a liver biopsy and other tests indicated Erica had liver cirrhosis and an end-stage liver disease and could die without a liver transplant.
The Buenaventuras went from one hospital to another to find a cure for their child?s sickness and begged for financial help.
?I did not expect this. Even if some have ignored us, more have offered help,? Carmela said.
She noted encountering people making snide remarks about their appeal for financial assistance.
De Villa said that in the history of liver transplant surgery in the Philippines, one survived, apart from Erica, while the rest died a month up to a year after the operation.
The other survivor, a 21-year-old whose name was withheld, received a liver from a ?brain-dead? donor in 2002.
?Due to the limited treatment options available in the various medical centers in the Philippines, many people with liver conditions have in the past chosen to leave the country to seek treatment abroad,? De Villa said.
Filipinos, she said, had to spend large sums of money for transport and accommodations, in addition to the costs of care, abroad.
Bengzon said TMC established the P32-million Center for Liver Disease Management and Transplantation in response to the ?tremendous gap in the healthcare industry.?
The center, he said, is a comprehensive facility that offers patients the ?seamless integration of medical, surgical and radiologic expertise? and an extensive array of state-of the-art diagnostic and therapeutic services.
Erica?s transplant is a culmination of four years of preparation, including investments in facilities, equipment and the training of doctors and nurses, Bengzon said.