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Arroyo losing faith in local doctors, says House ally

Having unsuccessfully gone under the knife three times with homegrown medical specialists, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may be losing faith that local doctors can still fix her lingering cervical spine problem, one of her allies said on Friday.

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez acknowledged this possibility after Arroyo’s cardiologist, Dr. Robert Anastacio of Makati Medical Center (MMC), was reportedly given a dressing down by the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) for saying that the former president needed a fourth operation right away, and that it could be done only either in the United States or Austria.

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“The comfort level of the patient should be considered because it has to be that the patient believes that this doctor can make [her] well,” Suarez said in a phone interview.

Given her three failed surgeries, Arroyo may no longer be confident that she can find the appropriate treatment in the country, he said. He said Arroyo was still having a difficult time eating because of the shifting titanium plate blocking her throat area.

Backtracking, flip-flopping?

Arroyo, who is now a Pampanga congresswoman, is suffering from cervical spondylosis, a degenerative disease of the bones and cartilage of the neck. She had three surgeries performed by Filipino surgeons at St. Luke’s Medical Center in 2011.

Following a recent hospitalization after Arroyo choked on a piece of melon, Anastacio told an Aug. 17 press conference that the titanium brace that had been implanted in Arroyo’s neck had shifted, blocking her air and food pathways.

The cardiologist said the condition was life-threatening and could cause “sudden death.”

Anastacio said Arroyo’s condition necessitated a fourth operation that could be handled by a team of experts—composed of a surgeon, neurophysiologists, biomedical engineers and medical researchers—that was not available in the Philippines.

However, after Anastacio was called out by the PMA for supposedly violating the organization’s code of ethics for pronouncing on the mode of treatment for Arroyo when he was not a bone specialist, the PMA claimed that Anastacio had apologized, explaining that he had not advised Arroyo to have the surgery abroad.

Dr. Eric Nubla, MMC director for patient relations, refused to comment on the PMA’s claim that the hospital’s resident cardiologist had backtracked on his earlier diagnosis on Arroyo’s medical condition.

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“We don’t intend to comment. No comment,” Nubla said over the phone.

Repeated calls and text messages to Anastacio went unanswered on Friday.

 

Likened to Ninoy case

Suarez clarified that Arroyo has yet to decide whether to ask her lawyers to formally ask the courts to lift the hold-departure order against her. The Aquino government has brought electoral sabotage and plunder charges against the former President. The Pasay Regional Trial Court has granted Arroyo bail on the electoral sabotage case but she is barred from leaving the country.

The Inquirer also called Arroyo’s lawyer Ferdinand Topacio but he said, “Sorry, I am not authorized to speak on that subject (possible treatment abroad).”

Suarez likened Arroyo’s medical predicament to that of President Aquino’s late father, the former senator and martyred opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.

The elder Aquino was allowed to leave for the United States to undergo heart bypass surgery even if he had been convicted of murder, subversion and illegal possession of firearms, and sentenced by a military court, and despite the availability of heart specialists in the Philippines.

Suarez said a relative of his had also suffered a shattered kneecap from an accident. After two failed operations in a Makati hospital, the patient was brought to the United States where doctors finally fixed the problem.

House resolution

The Quezon congressman earlier filed a resolution in the House of Representatives asking the chamber to “give an objective consideration and review of the serious and delicate medical condition of a colleague and incumbent congressman.”

However, the resolution made no reference to any medical procedure to be performed outside the Philippines.

While the decision on whether Arroyo should be allowed to leave lies with the courts, Suarez said the Aquino administration could get Arroyo’s doctors and independent specialists together to determine if she indeed has to go abroad to get a second opinion.

“As far as the [House] minority is concerned, we have done our part” by filing the resolution, he said. With a report from Niña Calleja

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TAGS: cervical spine, Dr. Robert Anastacio, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, Makati Medical Center, Philippine Medical Association
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