Nobody wants to undergo surgery, not just because of the struggle before and after but also the cost. But one that struggles with life and death doesn’t have the luxury of refusing, no matter the circumstance.
Diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect (VSD), three-year-old Martin Christius Malate doesn’t have a choice in the matter. A hole in his heart’s septum or wall forces oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood to mix, resulting in shortness of breath. As a result, he has missed years of his life playing with the other kids his age and exploring the outside world. He spends his days confined at home in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City with his older siblings and toys to share.
“I was scared all the time. Whenever he loses consciousness, I run to my neighbors to help me get him to the hospital. Sometimes, along the way, he would regain consciousness. The doctor told me that it’s normal because he lacks oxygen in his brain,” says his mother Ma. Christina.
As much as Martin’s parents wanted to push through with surgery following his birth, he was too young and may not survive. For three years, medications such as furosemide and digoxin kept him alive. Of course, parents can’t help but fear for his life whenever he loses consciousness all of a sudden.
“It’s very sudden. One minute you see him playing, the next he suddenly collapses. I would be scared since the child’s life is on the line,” says his father Mario.
A surgery costing upwards of Php750,000 is Martin’s only saving grace. Despite having secured Php600,000 through government assistance, his parents can’t afford the remaining Php150,000 balance. Mario would have to work for months on end earning Php8,000 a month as a truck driver to save enough—months the Malate family doesn’t have.
Word of the family’s struggle reaches a handful of Tzu Chi volunteers and their acquaintances. With their donations covering the balance, Martin was finally admitted to the Philippine Heart Center on August 5. Because of a fever, however, the actual operation was put off until early September.
The donation from Tzu Chi volunteer Beng Lim, straight out of her savings, accounted for a third of the total balance. Having been briefed of Martin’s case, she thought that Php50,000 is a small price to pay for a child’s life.
“I told myself I can afford the Php50,000 donation. I just have to cut back on my expenses for a while. I have so many blessings in my life that I should share it with others, which is what Master Cheng Yen has taught me,” Lim says.
“I want to make one person happy, even for just one second,” Lim adds.
Fellow volunteer Nelly Yung donated an equivalent amount through inspiring her colleagues at work. For her, by helping one life, she gives him the chance to help another. The cascade soon spreads to a broader spectrum, helping countless lives all because of one life helped.
“When we help a person, we give him or her the chance to help another. This is what I always take to heart: to help those in desperate need,” Yung says.
Today, Martin is still confined in the house as he gradually recovers from the surgery. But his mother brings him outside from time to time for some fresh air. The dread of darkening lips and fingertips are all but gone. Support for the family continues in the form of rice and groceries.
Out of sheer gratitude, his mother gives the eight donors—Tzu Chi volunteers and everyday people—a letter, each written by hand. Perhaps deep in her heart, no words can describe the great strides the donors made to save a life.
Tzu Chi volunteers grace the Malate residence in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City on June 7. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
A tired Martin sits on the cradling arms of one of his older siblings. Martin is the youngest of six siblings. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
This ceiling fan is missing its guard. Not only is it a safety hazard to a house full of children but also a sign of the family’s poverty. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Tzu Chi volunteer Rita Tan (right) turns over the Letter of Acceptance to the Malate family, guaranteeing Tzu Chi’s help in funding Martin’s surgery. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Because of his condition, Martin spends most of his days indoors at the company of his older siblings and his toys. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Martin waits for his admission on his father Mario’s lap at the Philippine Heart Center. He was admitted on August 5. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
A clerk takes Martin and his mother Ma. Christina to the children’s ward on the third floor. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
A nurse checks Martin’s heartbeat for any irregularities. Such checks are frequent given his heart condition. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Aboard a wheelchair, Martin is brought to the operating room for his long-awaited surgery. Originally scheduled for late August, the operation was moved to September due to Martin’s fever. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Tzu Chi volunteers return to Bagong Silang, Caloocan City to visit Martin almost a month following his successful surgery. They bear gifts and blessings for the Malate home. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Tzu Chi volunteer Beng Lim (left) entices Martin to play with his new toys instead of his mother’s smartphone. She manages to get his attention. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Some of the groceries Tzu Chi brought for the family include biscuits, oats, and powdered drinks. Not pictured are also Martin’s new toys and clothes. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
The eight donors who pitched in for Martin’s surgery each get a letter of gratitude from his mother. Some of the donors aren’t Tzu Chi volunteers. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】