At least once a week, a team of volunteer heart surgeons fan out to far-flung provinces to give indigent folk suffering from heart disease a new lease on life. Waiving their professional fees, these cardiologists perform open-heart surgeries, coronary bypass and similar operations on patients who otherwise cannot afford the expenses involved in a heart surgery.
Helping make this modern-day miracle possible is the 40-year-old Heart Foundation of the Philippines that, with the support of topnotch heart surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, nurses and medical technologists, can actually perform two of these delicate operations a day.
But what keeps the Foundation from doing this, says HFP Public Information committee chair Mildred Templo, is the lack of massive financial resources to cover other substantial expenses, such as the hospital stay and medicine to get the surgeries underway.
A simple open heart surgery normally costs around P300,000 to P350,000 excluding professional fees. Heart valves cost P90,000, so a patient needing two replacement valves would have to shell out P180,000.
The HFP, however, remains confident that it would get to that point of being able to afford the daily heart surgeries through the assistance of corporations, foundations and individuals who believe in the organization’s noble cause.
“It will take a miracle,” Templo told the Inquirer. “But I believe in miracles.”
That the foundation has been able to last for 40 years is already a miracle in itself, considering that it was initially founded by Dr. Avenilo P. Aventura, a cardiovascular surgeon, and the late Dr. Bonifacio Fontanilla, a cardiovascular anesthesiologist, to help those in the military who cannot afford expensive heart procedures.
The foundation’s mandate quickly expanded from the time the first heart surgery was done on patient Iluminada Asoy at the V. Luna Medical Center in 1972 to include indigent patients from all walks of life.
HFP credits former First Lady Imelda Marcos for providing that initial push to get the foundation on its feet. Soon after that first successful surgery, she summoned doctors, politicians and prominent business executives to take part in the official launch of the HFP in Malacañang on Valentine’s Day of 1972. When the former First Lady told them that the foundation’s main thrust was financial assistance for indigent heart patients, those in attendance were quick to open their wallets and pledge their support to bankroll the foundation’s projects.
In 1975, the former First Lady formally opened the Philippine Heart Center for Asia to support the growing number of heart patients needing surgery.
The Heart Center, Templo said, remains the base of many of the doctors who lend their time and expertise to operate on indigent patients for free.
To date, the foundation has helped more than 10,000 heart patients all over the country, with each one evaluated according to financial situation and medical condition.
Patients are carefully screened as the foundation wants to make sure that its limited resources reach those most in need of the assistance.
This explains why the foundation has expanded outside Metro Manila. Many of the patients, the HFP realized, cannot even afford to travel to the capital for their treatment.
Since its first open heart surgery outside Metro Manila in 1994 at the Perpetual Succor Hospital in Cebu City, the HFP has established surgical outreach projects in Batangas, Davao, Iloilo, Leyte, La Union, Bohol and just last February, in General Santos City.
Aside from the surgeries, Templo said the foundation has also started awareness campaigns on heart disease to address prevention and not just the cure for heart disease. With the changing lifestyles of Filipinos, heart diseases have become a major cause of death in the country, she said, adding that proper diet, exercise and timely medical care could reverse this trend.
To mark its 40th anniversary, the foundation has invested in lectures among different companies on preventive measures as well as proper ways to take care of the heart. It has also activated a Jump-A-Rope program to encourage the youth to be more physically active.
Meanwhile, the HFP’s fund-raising programs continue, as its work demands huge infusions of resources. Hopefully, Templo said, people will continue to open their heart to help those most in need. •
For more information, contact Mildred Ortega Templo at 0917-5581035.