It took decades of vigorous resistance, but just before this last Christmas, retired educator Salud Idio relented and signed up for a heart procedure. She had advocated alternative medicine for 35 years and, even when faced with life-threatening illness, refused surgery and conventional drugs.
In her room at the Philippine Heart Center (PHC), Idio spent most of the two-week preparation meditating several times a day. Finally, in the operating suite—and while she was under general anesthesia—everything went her way via an apparent deus ex machina, with the surgeon aborting the procedure at the last minute.
Flashback to 2019 at the De La Salle University Medical Center (DLSUMC): A 2D echocardiography, a test that analyzes the heart structure, revealed that Idio had aortic stenosis (narrowing of the valve) between the left heart chamber and the main artery, which significantly reduced blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. She was advised to undergo surgery. But, she thought, she had managed to live with her imperfect heart for so long and she didn’t feel all that sick. Idio refused.
Pushing 80 at the time, she carried on as usual, routinely inching her way up and down the staircase of the Brahma Kumaris meditation and retreat center in Tagaytay, of which she is the coordinator. Soon, she was experiencing shortness of breath after walking a few meters. In the kitchen, she was easily fatigued and had to sit down every five minutes.
Last September, Idio had to take a 2D echo test at the Tagaytay Medical Center. Based on the results, which now showed severe stenosis, the attending physician urged her to go straight to the PHC for consultation.
Unmoved, Idio went back instead to DLSUMC for a second opinion. Not only was the earlier reading affirmed; both findings indicated that the right valve had started malfunctioning as well, which could lead to an enlarged heart.
Moment of truth
By October, an angiogram—a scan that shows blood flow through the arteries—gave Idio pause. The structural damage in her heart was serious, compounded by mitral valve regurgitation. This refers to a backward leak resulting from a malfunctioning valve—in her case, the left.
The waiting list at PHC was long. Meanwhile, in November, Idio endured a stinging pain in the upper arm, vertigo attacks and shortness of breath. Just in time, on Dec. 13, an emergency situation got her into PHC, where she immediately underwent diagnostic tests and checkups. During the intervals, short of forsaking sleep, she practiced Raja Yoga meditation, which upholds mastery of mind and body.
“It’s a universal approach to experiencing inner peace and generating positive thoughts,” Idio explains. “I believe it was because of my 35-year practice of Raja Yoga—meditation, clean lifestyle, goodwill for all— that I didn’t suffer in my thoughts from the results of earlier medical tests indicating the urgency of my condition. My mind was clear and calm.”
Accumulated moments of silencing the mind, she adds, helped her recognize her shortcomings, on top of which was stubbornness—putting off a procedure despite repeated medical counsel—and smugness in what she considered self-sufficiency, not acknowledging that she badly needed financial assistance.
She says meditation helped revive the most beneficial level of relationship between her mind and body, specifically, realizing the importance of attending to manifest physical needs.
‘Life is a risk’
PHC executive director Dr. Joel Abanilla, who led Idio’s medical team, warned her that the operation posed a risk. She replied, “Life is a risk. The greater the risk, the greater the achievement.”
“You are so brave,” the surgeon said. “I should be consoling you, but you are the one consoling me!” Abanilla gave his patient all the surgical details, even disclosing that she had a 50-50 chance of survival. Idio calmly signed the informed consent papers and waiver.
All manner of help started to flow in, thanks to Idio’s sustained affinity with friends and relatives. A last-minute donation of 32 units of blood (one unit is roughly one pint) from the Philippine Red Cross was facilitated by a stranger billeted in the adjacent room.
Every morning throughout her hospitalization, the cheerful patient, as she had come to be known, visualized sending healing light to every organ in her body, alleviating her aches and pains. While most patients almost always needed comfort, Idio distributed to everyone blessing cards inscribed with affirmations of virtues. Grateful members of the staff said it boosted their morale to be reminded daily of their strengths.
Rare turn of events
On Dec. 23, Idio was wheeled into the operating suite for minimally invasive cardiac surgery (MICS) via intraoperative transesophageal echocardiography (IOTEE), an ultrasound test that assesses the heart and determines the surgical plan.
The next day, Dr. Sab-diel Villanueva, head of the surgical team, informed the patient that he did not proceed with the MICS. He described the state of Idio’s heart as “beautiful” based on what he saw on the monitor in the operating suite. “That heart doesn’t need repair,” he declared.
Turned out, the heart muscle function dramatically increased from a dangerously low 30 percent to the borderline normal, 53 percent. A week before the surgery, Idio had been given three powerful medicines to strengthen the heart muscle and regulate the back flow of blood. Still, Villanueva cautioned that the stenosis would still need monitoring, although technically, it now posed “moderate” danger.
That was good enough for his grateful patient. “I came to know that it was a rare turn of events,” says Idio. “There just had to be some divine intervention there.”
The medical wing of Brahma Kumaris, an international educational institution and nongovernmental organization, has released studies on Raja Yoga meditation and its benefits to the body. The practice is based on the precept that life is an interface between physical energy and spiritual energy, the soul.
One study concluded that Raja Yoga practitioners were at a lower risk of developing cardiovascular diseases than nonmeditators. It showed that meditation helped lower blood pressure and stress levels, and improved metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
Indian cardiologist Satish Gupta, senior consultant of the Brahma Kumaris’ Global Hospital and Research Center and a proponent of spirituality in health care, sees this specific meditation practice as nothing less than a major lifestyle shift.
“Spiritual and modern medical heart care should be combined with exercise, avoidance of tobacco and sound sleep,” Gupta said, having led patients on the road to wellness. “By modifying our lifestyle, we can modify heart disease itself by as much as 90 percent.” —CONTRIBUTED
Brahma Kumaris Meditation Centers offer free medication courses. Contact their Makati center at tel. no. 88907960. For seminars and retreats, contact BK center in Tagaytay at tel. no. 0917-8621233.