Tzu Chi Foundation changed the life of a young woman by sponsoring her open-heart surgery at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City.
Since she was 9 years old, Grace Durain suffered from rheumatic heart disease. It is a complication of rheumatic fever in which the heart valves are damaged.
Her condition began when Grace developed a recurring tonsillitis along with a high fever. Her mother refused to send Grace to the doctor for the lack of money to afford the consultation fees and medicines.
Since her father passed away of typhoid fever when she was five years old, Grace’s mother had been the sole breadwinner of the family. She raised her three children by peddling bananas.
However, in January 1995, only a few months after her father’s death, Grace’s mother got hit by a running bus while she was selling bananas along the street. Although she underwent a successful surgery, to this day, she couldn’t use of her arm well.
Because of the accident, Grace’s elder brothers were forced to quit school and work instead.
When Grace fell ill, the most they could do is to bring her to a faith healer, who advised Grace to drink water mixed with herbs.
“My joints grew swollen. I easily get tired that even changing clothes was a struggle for me,” Grace recalled. “That time, I had no idea what complications that fever had brought to my health. If only my mother was able to send me to the doctor then my illness would have not worsened.”
A determined heart
When she reached high school, Grace noticed that she often experienced heart palpitations. She couldn’t join in physical activities because she easily gets tired.
It was only when she entered college, when she was looking for a job so she can support herself, that she found out about her condition. “I was very worried. I didn’t expect that all this time, I have been suffering from this condition,” she shared.
The doctor instructed her to undergo a series of tests, but without the money for these procedures, she wasn’t able to push through with one.
Although she was aware of her illness, Grace have yet to determine how serious it was.
Despite this, she worked hard for her dreams. She managed to finish her degree in Elementary Education and eventually passed the Licensure Exam.
Wanting to help her family, she volunteered as a kindergarten teacher at Calayugan Elementary School for one year.
“As soon as I received my first salary, I decided to consult a doctor about my condition. I immediately had an X-ray and I found out that the mitral valve of my heart is already damaged and needs to be operated,” she said.
Dr. Baluyot, her physician, referred her to the Gift of Life of Foundation hoping that someone with a kind heart would be willing to help her with the expenses for her heart surgery. While waiting for help, she applied as a substitute teacher at a private school in 2013. The following year, she married and got pregnant.
“I have always wanted to have a child and to get married. Despite my doctor’s protest about my pregnancy. She said it is very risky, either on normal delivery or through caesarian section. There was a big chance that my baby could die, or both of us would,” she said. “But I thought that I will not let this illness stop me from building my own family.”
Thankfully, she delivered the child safely. However, she was not allowed to breastfeed the baby since she do not have enough nutrients to sustain her own body. After recovering, she helped her husband work for their family’s needs.
Along with stress and hypertension, she eventually acquired pneumonia. When it attacks, it would become hard for her to breathe and blood would ooze from her nose and mouth. This would last for an hour and would persist every week.
“I knew that my condition was getting worse as time goes by. There was never a week when I wouldn’t catch a flu and pneumonia. I was afraid that I would pass out in front of my students. Many times, I tried giving up teaching but if I do, we will not have the money to support our child,” she said tearfully.
Accumulation of Great Love
Just as Grace was about to give up that she will have endure her suffering for the rest of her life, the principal of Pondol Elementary School, where she was teaching, told her about Tzu Chi Foundation.
“Ma’am Neyflor [Cantones] said that Tzu Chi Foundation might be able to help me. I immediately grabbed the opportunity. Whatever chances that came my way, I was willing to take it for my operation,” she said.
Together with Tzu Chi’s social worker, Grace went to Cebu for a check-up at Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center. There, she found out that three valves of her heart were already damaged. The surgeon referred her to The Philippine Heart Center for a surgery.
On May 2017, a group of doctors from the Philippine Heart Center, led by Dr. Florente Lumibao, visited Bohol to conduct a screening of patients who will be operated for their heart ailments. Grace was one of the patients screened. Dr. Lumibao suggested that Grace’s surgery be conducted in Manila since the equipment at the Philippine Heart Center are more complete.
“Dr. Lumibao was very positive about my condition. He assured me that my surgery will be successful. I was very hopeful,” said Grace.
Learning about her approaching surgery, support came pouring in for Grace.
Administrators, parents, pupils, and teachers from Loon North District, where Grace’s school belongs, pooled their money together, collecting a total of P15,746.25 as donation for Grace’s surgery. The provincial government of Bohol and the Department of Health (DoH) in Manila also donated an ample amount. Many individuals, touched by Grace’s story, also donated.
Finally, on July 21, 2017, Grace underwent an open-heart surgery that lasted four hours. Two valves of her heart were replaced: the mitral valve and aortic, while the tricuspid was repaired.
After the operation, Grace was filled with gratitude.
“There were many things inside my head prior to surgery. I know that anything could happen while inside the Operating Room. When I woke up, I felt so thankful. I know that my life will change forever because of this,” Grace said.
The doctor instructed Grace to rest for a year until her wounds have completely healed. When she recovered, Grace plans to continue teaching and do something to pay forward the concern she had received from complete strangers.
“As soon as I’m done with my recovery, I would also want to become a Tzu Chi volunteer and inspire other people,” she said, smiling.
Tzu Chi volunteer James Chua encourage Grace Durain to maintain a healthy lifestyle as she waits for her surgery. Encouragements also pour from other Tzu Chi volunteers. 【Photo by Juvy Ann Radaza】
Grace Durain visits the Tzu Chi office in Bohol after her successful surgery. She expresses her gratitude to Tzu Chi’s help in making her operation possible. 【Photo by Juvy Ann Radaza】
On June 2, 2017, Manila-based Tzu Chi volunteers James Chua, Manuel Siao and Joven Uy pay Grace Durain a visit. The visit lets the volunteers see the health condition and the situation of Grace’s family. 【Photo by Juvy Ann Radaza】