‘Gloria Arroyo needs spine surgery or she could be paralyzed’
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo needs surgery to realign a portion of her spine at the neck and free up nerves that transmit signals to her upper extremities, her main attending physician said Tuesday morning.
Dr. Juliet Gopez-Cervantes said a team of doctors had diagnosed Arroyo, now a representative of the second district of Pampanga, as afflicted with “a damaged cervical spine with multilevel cervical spondylosis.”
If not addressed immediately, the condition may lead to “irreversible” paralysis, Cervantes said.
The Mayo Clinic defines cervical spondylosis as “a general term for age-related wear and tear affecting the disks in [the] neck. These changes later contribute to the development of cervical osteoarthritis in the joints that link [the] neck bones…”
Arroyo, 64, was taken to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City on Monday afternoon from Porac, Pampanga province, where she spent a couple of hours with her constituents, skipping President Aquino’s second State of the Nation Address. Earlier in the day, she attended the opening session of the 15th Congress.
“We suspect that this attack was probably induced by her continuing to work countless hours despite her stresses,” Cervantes said, reading from a medical bulletin.
“We also suspect that this was probably the same cause of the similar acute pain attack which also [caused her to be hospitalized] at St. Luke’s last month,” the doctor said, adding:
“When she was admitted [on Monday], we advised her to rest completely and not receive visitors.”
Call for ceasefire
Arroyo was subjected to a series of diagnostic tests starting Monday afternoon. On Tuesday she was undergoing preliminary work-up to prepare her for surgery in the coming days, Cervantes said.
Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo told reporters that Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, was at her side. Her youngest child, Camarines Sur Rep. Dato Arroyo, was seen entering the hospital earlier Tuesday.
Pelayo, one of the former President’s staunchest allies in Pampanga, called for prayers for her and virtually appealed for a ceasefire from her critics.
“It’s our right to sue her. But for the time being, I hope she could have a break from this,” Pelayo said in Filipino. “After she gets better, again, it is our right. I myself want to know the truth.”
A sixth plunder case was filed against Arroyo on Tuesday.
‘Reform goes on’
In Malacañang, the President’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said: “We would wish Representative Arroyo well. We hope that she will have a successful surgery, and we ask the people to pray for her.”
Lacierda also said in response to a question that “the work of reform goes on regardless of who’s going to be affected.”
Mr. Aquino himself indicated that the government was determined to prosecute wrongdoing regardless of a respondent’s condition.
Asked at his regular press briefing if Arroyo’s health would affect the government’s plans to take her to court for questionable transactions during her presidency, he said: “If ever cases will be filed, it will be only after the evidence has been gathered and collected, and after an assessment that there’s probable cause.”
At his second State of the Nation Address on Monday, the President said he expected cases to be filed against “the corrupt and their accomplices” with his appointment of retired Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as the new Ombudsman.
He had previously said that prosecutors were building at least four cases against Arroyo.
High pain threshold
Cervantes said the medical team had taken note of a “progressive weakness” in Arroyo’s upper extremities, particularly her arms.
The weakness may be easily overlooked because Arroyo can move her arms without any problem, but physical examination and evaluation of the patient indicated the need for surgery, the doctor said.
Until Arroyo’s admission to the hospital on Monday, doctors had managed her neck pain through medication and rehabilitation, to which she responded very well, Cervantes said.
“She has a high threshold for pain,” the doctor said. “That’s why she can still afford to work despite our advice that she … limit physical activities. This time, I think we really have to consider definitive management, [which is surgery].”
Cervantes said Arroyo felt pain in her nape, and that “when the attacks occurred,” the pain was between nine and 10 on a scale of one to 10 (the latter being the highest).
Asked about the surgery, Cervantes said it would be risky “because it involves a very sensitive area in the spinal cord.”
“The nerves that are involved, which are being compressed right now, are nerves that supply [signals to] the upper extremities or the arms, hands, [and] some nerves responsible for the movement of respiratory muscles as well,” the doctor said.
Asked whether the suits against Arroyo had anything to do with her condition, Cervantes said: “In general, based on our assessment, all the stresses that are happening can contribute to the problem.”
Last month, Arroyo was also diagnosed with a neck ailment called cervical radiculopathy after being admitted to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City.
She was discharged a day later wearing a neck brace, and advised to do physical therapy and take medicines. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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