Today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. In 1979, Pope John Paul II gave him another title, “patron saint of ecology” to remind us that he was “an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation.” When Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, was elected to the papacy in 2013, he chose “Francis” as his name, the first Pope to do so.
Today, I write about a different “Francis.”
In 1997, I underwent what some medical practitioners refer to as a “CABG” operation, meaning a coronary artery bypass graft. Most of us simply call it a “bypass.” As the word implies, it involves creating a bridge over blocked arteries. In my case, it started with chest pains and difficulty of breathing, as three arteries were affected with one completely closed. The surgeon who performed the operation was Dr. Stan de Castro with Dr. Cesar “Butch” Recto, a classmate of my son at the UP College of Medicine in attendance. My cardiac rehab program was handled by Dr. Helen Ong Garcia. Among my classmates with the same rehab schedule were Butz Aquino, Renato Constantino Jr., Dean Rodolfo Palma whose wife, Supreme Court Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma, was also in the hospital after a severe asthma attack, and Brig. Gen. Zosimo Paredes, father of Renato and Zosimo Jr., both members of PMA Class of 1971.
Several years ago, my kidneys started to malfunction, causing me a lot of discomfort. The primary function of the kidney is to filter waste products and excess sodium and water from the blood, and eliminate them from the body. It also helps regulate blood pressure and red blood cell production. So, one can readily appreciate the importance of this particular organ. The first signs of trouble were gradually increasing creatinine levels, with decreasing hemoglobin readings. By the time I became aware that things were going haywire, it was too late. And I ended up in a dialysis center for twice a week, four-hour sessions.
In late September 2015, I was again in an operating unit at St. Luke’s Medical Center for transplant surgery. My surgeon was Dr. Rose Marie Liquete, UP College of Medicine Class of 1973, and the first woman transplant surgeon in the Philippines. She is currently the head of the National Kidney Transplant Institute in Quezon City. My nephrologist was Dr. Oscar Naidas, UST College of Medicine, while Dr. Helen Ong Garcia was the cardiologist in attendance.
As I was being prepped for major surgery, a few thoughts crossed my mind. First was family. With a wonderful wife, three great kids, and three beautiful granddaughters, I had no regrets. Should St. Peter call on the hotline, I was prepared and ready to follow his summons. Second, as a young boy, I entered the Philippine Military Academy not out of any sense of patriotism or desire to serve my country—those ideas were farthest from my mind. Actually, I was at a loss as to what to do with the rest of my life. A few of my classmates at UP High were headed for the PMA, and I figured the Academy offered something new, mysterious, and challenging. As things turned out, a career in the armed forces opened up many doors and opportunities. No regrets here. Third, the country was headed for another presidential election. So far, there was Vice President Jojo Binay, Senators Mar Roxas, and Grace Poe vying for the presidency. Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City was being prodded to run but nothing was certain. He seemed reluctant about the whole idea. After a while, I opened my eyes and a voice whispered to me that all went well and that I was back in my hospital room.
So now I had a third kidney implanted on the right side of my body. I dubbed him “Francis.” Just as the Holy Father in Rome has given new hope and new beginnings for the Church, my friend Francis has also provided me with a new lease on life as well as hope for a few more years of quality living. There are a few restrictions to be observed, a few medications that have to be taken for a lifetime, but as the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” I am only too happy to pay the price.
Fast forward to October 2021. Francis marks his sixth anniversary in my system. He is doing quite well. The country is not. The reluctant mayor won the presidency and was previously reported to be running for vice president. Some say this is a violation of the Constitution. There are others who see no problem with the idea. I would like to see him run for this office. With his name on the ballot, it would be an opportunity for our people to register their approval or disapproval with how the country has been run for the last six years.