Rays of light, pockets of hope amid the storm

LEAH SALTERIO, second from left, today during our group's recent wig party to celebrate August celebrants. I was unable to attend, as my Mom had undergone chemotherapy earlier in the day. (Ivy Mendoza)

LEAH SALTERIO, second from left, today during our group’s recent wig party to celebrate August celebrants. I was unable to attend, as my Mom had undergone chemotherapy earlier that day. (Ivy Mendoza)

(WHILE countless families in Metro Manila and nearby provinces were bracing themselves for the worse during the height of “Maring’s” fury early last week, my Dad and I had a different battle to deal with as we monitored my Mom’s health after she underwent her first cycle of chemotherapy. She had a mastectomy a couple of months ago after a lump in her right breast was found malignant. After additional tests, she was later diagnosed with HER2-type breast cancer.

WITH my parents during a trip to Tagaytay in 2007

WITH my parents during a trip to Tagaytay in 2007

(On top of that, I had to make a number of follow-ups later in the week by driving all the way from our place in Cavite to PCSO’s office in Diliman, Quezon City for some financial assistance. It was a good thing our home wasn’t flooded. Otherwise, I would have probably landed in the loony bin by now. 🙂

(I’m happy to share with you that my Mom seems to be doing well after Round 1. Thanks to my Dad’s unique mix of tough love and TLC, and with a little help from a long list of vitamins and medicines, both my Mom’s spirits and appetite are up. But we still have a long way to go. If you can’t write us a check for now, you can simply send your prayers, best wishes and positive vibes our way. We certainly need them, too. 😀

THE family during my brother Ronnie's wedding last year

THE family during my brother Ronnie’s wedding last year

(In the meantime, I’d like to share with you an old story I wrote about Leah Salterio, a former journalist and one of my good friends from way back. It came out in the July 17, 2011 issue of PDI. I was inspired to dust off the piece after I came across Leah’s recent status on Facebook:

(“To all those who took time out to post their birthday greetings, thank you so much — my family, my close friends, my childhood friends, my classmates from grade school to college, my media friends, my schoolmates, my dear cousins, my nieces and nephews, my former neighbors and playmates, my former officemates, my org-mates, my professors and teachers, my PR friends, my godchildren, my showbiz friends, my church friends, my relatives. Please be patient if I don’t do FB often yet. Soon, I hope to be reading all your posts, messages and seeing all your pictures regularly. Take care. God is good.”

ENTRANCE to Glendale Adventist Medical Center where Leah is rushed soon after a massive stroke

ENTRANCE to Glendale Adventist Medical Center where Leah is rushed soon after a massive stroke

(For someone who had a massive stroke in June 2011, Leah’s recovery is amazing. We were together in Los Angeles when it happened. I was there to cover the opening of Dr. Vicki Belo’s clinic, while Leah, as Vicki’s head of PR and promotions, was there to help oversee the event. Leah never got to finish the job, as she was rushed a day before the launch to one of the hospitals in Glendale. She regained consciousness a week or so later.

(Although she’s still on the road to recovery, she has progressed tremendously within the last two years. She has regained her memory and most of her motor functions. If anything, Leah is proof-positive that miracles do happen. Happy Birthday, Leah!)

LEAH during our December 2010 Christmas party, or less than a year before that fateful day in the West Coast.

LEAH during our December 2010 Christmas party, or less than a year before that fateful day in the West Coast.


THE ROAD to recovery of a stroke survivor is never a straight line.

Businessman Chet Espino, “chief caregiver” and witness to what many people consider as the miraculous recovery of wife Margie Quimpo-Espino, Inquirer Business Features editor, from stroke two years ago, made this honest assessment of Leah Salterio’s condition less than a week after she herself suffered from stroke last June 6.

Leah, a former reporter of Inquirer’s Entertainment section, now works as chief PR and media relations officer of Belo Medical Group (BMG).

Emergency paramedics, better known as those guys from 911, had to rush her to Glendale Adventist Medical Center a few hours after she arrived in LA from a long-haul flight from Manila. Glendale, a small city outside LA, is a 30-minute drive from Beverly Hills.

Her condition has since taken a turn for the better.

LEAH (before her stroke), Susan and Anjie: Hayop sa ganda.

LEAH (pre-stroke), Susan and Anjie: Hayop sa ganda!

Lois Salterio, Leah’s younger sister and “primary caregiver,” has e-mailed several common friends, including journalist Ivy Lisa Mendoza and publicist Shirley Pizarro, informing them that Leah, after more than a month in the hospital, is almost ready to fly back home to the Philippines.

“I just talked to Dr. Zamorano (one of Leah’s attending doctors) when he came to see Leah this morning,” Lois wrote in her e-mail. “He said that he’s just stabilizing Leah’s sodium (level). He also wants the gastric tube (or GT, which is attached directly to her stomach) to be removed. He already advised Dr. Sarkisian to remove the GT after a day or two. He also said that Leah is ready to go back to the Philippines, but he still wants to talk to his doctor (in Manila).”

WHAT'S so funny? Leah (second from left), post-stroke, joins the fun.

WHAT’S so funny? Leah (second from left), pre-stroke, joins the fun.

Should Leah’s doctors in LA finally allow her to embark on that long journey home, she would need a doctor or nurse to accompany her from Glendale Adventist to Manila.

Her family would also need to hire the services of a caregiver/nurse and physical therapist to help her as she undergoes further rehab. Meanwhile, Leah’s siblings in Manila are preparing to convert the ground floor den of her two-story Parañaque home into her bedroom.

Those who wish to help her would probably want to know that Leah would be needing the following medical fixtures upon her return: wheelchair; fiber glass foot brace; shower seat; hemi walker; quad cane and hospital bed.

LEAH and I during our early days (circa 1986) in the Inquirer.

LEAH (center) and I (right, second row) during our early days (circa 1986) in the Inquirer.

Leah’s stroke was a “classic” case that caused a blood vessel on the right side of her brain to rupture that in turn led to a massive bleeding. At one point, her blood pressure shot up to a dizzying 240/120. The stroke initially left Leah unconscious for a few days and, probably just as her doctors suspected, dazed, partly paralyzed and unable to eat solid foods soon after she regained consciousness.

Indeed, Leah is far from being her old jolly self, but those who first learned of her condition through SMS, e-mail and Facebook would be heartened to know that, apart from the possibility of her going home, she has also been making slow but considerable progress in recent weeks.

LEAH, left, and I when we were naturally and effortlessly slim and free from bad cholesterol.

LEAH, left, and I (extreme right) when we were naturally and effortlessly slim and free from the effects of bad cholesterol.

With aid from her therapist, she can now walk, albeit slowly, for up to 30 meters. Her ability to communicate either verbally or through body language has been improving almost everyday.

Missing her kids

Based on sporadic e-mails and text messages from Lois, Leah has also expressed her fervent, if impatient wish to be back home in Manila with children Lymo and Ashley.

Since Lymo is a special child, his guardians decided that it would be better for him to stay in Manila. But Ashley, a college student taking up communication arts, took several weeks off from school to be with her mother. She’s now back in Manila. According to Ashley, Leah had been reduced to smiling occasionally and stroking Ashley’s long hair.

AUGUST-BORN celebrants, including Leah, in 2012

AUGUST-BORN celebrants, including Leah, in 2012

Leah, a single mother, has begun to miss her kids badly, especially now that she’s slowly regaining full use of most of her faculties. She would occasionally go into crying fits and appeal to Lois to cut short their stay in the hospital.

Lois would simply take everything in stride. Despite the pressure, sleep-deprived nights and loneliness of being away from home herself, she’s managing to soldier on for her dear sister’s sake.

There are times, however, when Lois leaves the room, if only for a few minutes, whenever Leah starts to cry from physical and emotional pain.

“I feel her pain,” wrote Lois in one of her earlier e-mails. “If only I could ease Leah’s pain by sharing in some of the pain she’s experiencing, I would.”

WHEN Hungry Birds and Sunflower Zombies meet

WHEN Hungry Birds and Sunflower Zombies meet

Leah’s usually strong voice, although still soft, has become quite audible of late. This development is a far cry from weeks before, when Leah would just nod and press a visitor’s hand or stare blankly into space.

Her doctors’ decision to send Leah home hinges on several factors: her progress while undergoing rehab; eventual removal of the GT attached to her stomach; and the complete healing of her jaw, which a separate team had to operate on after it was misaligned when emergency room doctors had to attach all sorts of tubes through her mouth to stabilize her.

Another sign that she’s on the road to recovery happened fairly recently. Teryl MacDougall, guest relations manager, Healthcare Foundation of Glendale Adventist, shared in her open letter Leah’s craving for an In-N-Out burger. Leah would probably have to wait a while to get her wish, as she’s still presumably on a low-fat, low-sodium diet. MacDougall also wrote that Leah’s mummy-like facial bandages from her jaw operation are now off.

Morale boosters

A good number of show-biz denizens, both in front and behind the cameras, know Leah and still hold her in esteem. In fact, among her first visitors as she lay unconscious at the Glendale Adventist’s ICU were Gary Valenciano and his manager-wife Angeli Valenciano.

Inquirer’s LA-based Entertainment columnist Ruben Nepales and wife Janet visited her as well as California-based former journalists Nimfa Rueda and Ruby Adonay-Clemons. Like Leah, Nimfa used to be connected with the Inquirer.

LEAH and Ivy

LEAH and Ivy

As Belo Medical Group’s in-house publicist, Leah flew to LA to help promote the opening of Belo Skin Care Center’s first branch in the US. She never made it on opening night, as friends and colleagues had to call 911 and rush her earlier in the wee hours after she collapsed in the bathroom of Dr. Vicki Belo’s home in Glendale. It doubles as Vicki’s staff house for her employees and assistants.

I was looking forward to hooking up with her since I was also in LA covering the Belo event for Inquirer Lifestyle. Since I was in San Francisco earlier in the week to cover another event, I flew directly to LA and missed the chance of spending some time with Leah on that fateful Philippine Airlines flight she took with Philippine Star’s Entertainment editor Ricky Lo.

But what is Leah’s life without a touch of comedy? During the frantic rush to save her life, for instance, a paramedic asked one of her BMG colleagues for Leah’s official ID. The colleague gave him Leah’s passport, from which the guy culled and wrote down key information about the patient.

For some reason, the paramedic wrote Leah’s name as Eta Schengen. Eta, of course, is short for estimated time of arrival, while Schengen is a European Union-wide visa recognized among member countries. Thus, during the first few days of Leah’s confinement, callers who wanted to pay her a visit had a hard time tracing her whereabouts, as she was listed under a false and rather strange name.

“The paramedic, who obviously was no seasoned traveler, most likely made a mistake when he opened Leah’s passport,” Shirley later surmised. “But if a situation can be likened to a person, this one is so Leah. Full of life, spontaneous and funny without trying to be.”

LEAH, with members of the gang, during a Christmas party in 2012.

LEAH (fourth from left), with members of the gang, during our Christmas party in 2011.








4 thoughts on “Rays of light, pockets of hope amid the storm

  1. I will include your mother in my prayers for her healing and recovery. I sort of heard about what happened to her because by some strange stroke of fate, a friend was also working for Dr. Belo for the opening of her Glendale clinic, and my sister-in-law’s sister also happened to be working at Glendale Adventist at that time.

    PCSO’s help is invaluable especially for the poorest who can’t afford even a day’s medicines. We also availed of their assistance when my mother was diagnosed of late stage leukemia almost 8 years ago.

    I will pray for all of you in your family. Kailangan ang lakas ng loob sa mga ganyang pagsubok.

    • Thank you very much, Mayo. You’re very kind. Like I said in my post, we need every prayer and word of encouragement sent our way during these trying times. I’m sorry to hear about your mother. Did she make it?

      But, yes, the assistance form PCSO is invaluable, especially for families with very little money to spare.

      What a small world! Yes, Leah’s case became “news” in a way because, apart from being a former journalist who’s on first-name basis with not a few stars, she’s really a very nice person. I’m praying for her complete recovery.

      Take care, Mayo. I hope to hear from you soon.

  2. My mother didn’t make it. She stayed 10 days in the hospital – 8 in ICU – but she was hemorrhaging too much to even undergo an operation.

    I remember Ms. Salterio’s by-lines in the Inquirer (as well as yours, of course). So I was also shocked when I read about what happened to her. I’m happy that her recovering is going really well. God is good. 🙂

    Take care too, Alex. Faith is the best weapon we all have.

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