Pia: PGH pediatric rescue unit is back in service

A specialty unit at the state-run Philippine General Hospital (PGH) that performs neurosurgical and reconstructive surgery on children with congenital abnormalities, and which was almost permanently shut down at the start of the year due to lack of funds, is now back in full harness.

Thanks to private donors who responded upon learning about the facility’s plight through media news reports, the PGH Nuerosurgical-Craniofacial Operating Unit (NCOU) has resumed operations after being closed for one week last January.

The only one of its kind in the country, the NCOU serves children suffering from debilitating and potentially life-threatening congenital defects such as hydrocephalus, meningoceles, encephaloceles and lipomyelomenigoceles. The unit specifically caters to indigent families whose families could not afford the otherwise costly surgical procedures.

The good news was welcomed by Sen. Pia S. Cayetano, one of the facility’s original supporters. The lady senator, along with PGH medical personal and students, was provided a briefing of the NCOU’s status by its main proponent, Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi, in a simple “commitment ceremony” held at the state-run hospital over the weekend.

The NCOU was set up in April last year and occupies a 22-square-kilometer area at the operating room complex of the PGH. It is a joint effort of the hospital’s nuerosurgery and plastic surgery sections, as well as the anesthesiology department and nursing division.

According to Dr. Legaspi, news on the impending closure of the NCOU that was carried in several newspapers and online media outfits prompted private individuals, groups and corporations to inquire with hospital officials on how they could possibly help.

This was confirmed by PGH Director Dr. Carmelo Alfiler, who also reported that certain sectors have already expressed interest to extend assistance, including a top executive of a major telecommunications firm.

As reported by Dr. Legaspi, the NCOU has operated on 188 cases to date since April 2008, averaging 8-10 operations per week. The unit is operational on weekdays: Mondays to Wednesdays are devoted to neurosurgical operations; Thursdays are for joint neurosurgical and plastic operation surgeries, while Fridays are reserved for plastic surgery.

The neurosurgeons and plastic surgeons who work at the NCOU render their services for free, and would often bring their own equipment at no cost to the patients, added Legaspi.

Reacting to the report, Cayetano said: “Our work is far from done yet. More funds are needed to ensure that the unit could fully function for the long-term. Donations are most welcome but funding for initiatives like these should primarily come from the national government. Health is our right, and so we should all work to make our government responsible and accountable for much-needed public health services.”

Last year, she donated P342,000 to the NCOU, which went to the salaries of the two nurses and a utility worker manning the facility.

The funds were sourced from the Gabriel Symphony Foundation, named after the senator’s son Gabriel Cayetano-Sebastian, who died from complications of a rare congenital disease in 2001. Cayetano explained that the donation was literally the result of her own “sweat and tears.”

“Tears, because of the suffering I went through after the death of my child, and sweat because I literally have to push my body to run or bike in order to raise funds for the foundation,” she explained, referring to her annual sports fundraisers, “Pinay In Action” (an annual women’s run held every women’s month of March), the “12-hour multi–sport event in memory of Gabriel,” and the 100-kilometer “Bike for Hope” which she stages in different parts of the country.

Also at the program, Cayetano and Dr. Alfiler led the turnover of modern medical equipment for the PGH’s obstetrics-gynecology, surgery and neurosciences departments, worth over P4 million and sourced from the senator’s Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF).

The equipment included two units of fetal tocomonitors, a gynecological colposcope, and a liver ultrasound machine.

The colposcope is used to examine a patient’s cervix to detect abnormalities. The unit is complete with cryotherapy, leep and a video capture system which makes it a complete diagnostic and therapeutic facility for pre-malignant diseases of the cervix. The tocodynamometers are used to comprehensively monitor the vital signs of the baby as the mother contracts during labor.

On the other hand, the liver ultrasound machine is a new tool used to produce pictures of liver tumor and helps differentiate between the many types and causes of liver malfunction in patients.

Hospital officials described the new acquisitions as “highly specialized and world-class facilities” which will now be accessible to women giving birth and liver patients at the PGH.