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PMA: Arroyo doctor flip-flops

Cardiologist faces ethics inquiry, apologizes

former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

The cardiologist of former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has apologized after being scolded by the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) for publicly saying that she needed immediate cervical spine surgery and that she should get it abroad because there were no specialists here who could handle the operation.

Dr. Leo Olarte, an orthopedic surgeon and a PMA governor, said in a separate interview that Dr. Roberto Anastacio might have broken the organization’s code of ethics by recommending treatment for Arroyo even though he was not a bone expert.

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“You should stick to your field, especially in sensitive cases,” Olarte said.

Asked if Anastacio’s statement to the committee meant that he admitted being wrong in saying Arroyo needed surgery abroad as soon as possible and that there were no specialists who could handle the operation here, Olarte replied: “Exactly. He said he did not advise surgery in the US.”

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Dr. Mike Aragon, PMA spokesman, said in a phone interview Thursday that the organization’s ethics committee called Anastacio on Wednesday night to explain his statements to the press last week that Arroyo had no choice but to go abroad for cervical spine surgery.

Aragon said the PMA ethics committee questioned Anastacio to determine if he had violated the organization’s rules. Anastacio’s questioning lasted till midnight, Aragon said.

Anastacio could not be contacted for comment on Thursday.

Dangerous condition

Anastacio called a news conference on August 17 and told reporters that the titanium brace that had been implanted in Arroyo’s neck had shifted, blocking her air and food pathways.

The condition, Anastacio said, was dangerous, as it could cause cardiac arrest and “sudden death.”

When asked by reporters if Arroyo’s condition was life-threatening, Anastacio firmly replied, “Yes.”

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He said, however, that he ordered Arroyo discharged from Makati Medical Center (MMC) but advised her to seek surgery in the United States or Austria.

He explained that Arroyo’s condition needed a “complete support structure” of specialists used to “repetitive reconstruction.”

Arroyo is suffering from cervical spondylosis, a degenerative condition of the cartilage and bones of the neck caused by the chronic erosion of the cervical spine.

She has had three surgeries since July 2011.

Anastacio said the team of experts that Arroyo needed to handle her fourth operation—composed of a surgeon, neurophysiologists, biomedical engineers and medical researchers—was not available in the Philippines.

Unauthorized statements

On August 18, Olarte challenged Anastacio’s statements and criticized MMC for allowing the press conference.

The MMC responded quickly, denying it had sanctioned Anastacio’s news conference, adding that his statements were his own.

Marc Funelas, MMC chief for corporate communication, said the press conference was not held at MMC but in a restaurant across the hospital.

Apology accepted

Aragon and Olarte disclosed the questioning of Anastacio before the PMA ethics committee on Thursday.

Olarte said Anastacio apologized to the PMA for stating that Arroyo needed to have an operation abroad as soon as possible and saying that the country had no specialists who could handle the former President’s surgery.

Anastacio, according to Olarte, told the ethics committee that he did not mean to malign his Filipino colleagues and that he spoke out of his expertise.

Aragon said Anastacio told the PMA that he was “sorry.”

“He promised that it will not happen again,” Aragon said.

“He apologized for what he said,” Olarte said. “He said he was misinterpreted by the media.”

He said Anastacio explained to the ethics committee that he did not advise Arroyo to go to the United States for surgery and that he only mentioned Austria because of recent findings he had read in a medical journal that Austria had breakthrough research regarding Arroyo’s condition.

The PMA accepted Anastacio’s apology, Olarte said.

Who paid the bill?

The ethics committee also asked Anastacio for information about his press conference, Olarte said.

Anastacio, he said, told the committee that he did not know who paid for the bills at the restaurant where the briefing was held.

Reacting to the seeming urgency of Arroyo’s condition as described by Anastacio, Malacañang said on August 18 that it would consult an independent medical expert to evaluate her condition before deciding whether to allow her to travel abroad.

The government has brought electoral sabotage, breach of ethics and plunder charges against Arroyo, who now holds her Pampanga district’s seat in the House of Representatives.

The Pasay City Regional Trial Court has granted Arroyo bail in the electoral sabotage case, but ordered her not to leave the country.

Not life-threatening

In challenging Anastacio’s statements on August 18, Olarte said Arroyo did not need immediate surgery and that her condition was not life-threatening.

Olarte said Arroyo could have another surgery only after her bone had become stable after enough bone growth.

Arroyo is 65 years old and at that age, Olarte said, bone growth takes about a year.

Olarte said the surgery that Arroyo needed was a simple process and there were many surgeons here who could handle it.

‘Comfort level’

But one of Arroyo’s allies in the House, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, said Thursday that her “comfort level” should be considered in deciding where she should get surgery.

“She’s been operated here three times already and these were not successful,” Suarez said by phone. “If you open her up for the fourth time and it’s not successful, what’s next?”

Suarez said seeking expert opinion abroad was a good idea.

He said the House minority had no plans of withdrawing a resolution asking for an objective review of Arroyo’s condition.

The resolution does not categorically call for allowing Arroyo to seek medical attention abroad, as that, according to Suarez, should be decided by medical authorities.

“What we just want is that there must be some action [on her condition],” he said.—With a report from Leila B. Salaverria

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TAGS: Arroyo health, Dr. Leo Olarte, Dr. Mike Aragon, Dr. Roberto Anastacio, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, neck ailment, Philippine Medical Association
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