Maureene stole my heart. When I met her in 2004, she was still living with her Mom and Dad. She played with her cousin, Jeppo, and was adorable and mischevious. I tried to win her over. She was intensely curious about me, but needed time to trust me.
Maureene is the daughter of my wife's brother Winnie. Winnie and his wife, Janet, have six children, Maureene is the youngest. My wife, Arlene, and I have a daughter, Athena, who is Maureene's cousin. I saw Maureene again in 2007 and look forward to Athena meeting her.
Separation from her Mother
In 2005, Maureene's Mom (Janet) left the Philippines for Hawaii, having been petitioned by her father to immigrate to the United States. The first thing Janet did in Hawaii was begin to plan for Maureene (and the rest of the family) to join her there. She brought her oldest son, but they expected a long separation before the family could be reunited.
Janet works hard in Hawaii. It's a struggle to support herself, her son, and try to send money back to the Philippines for her family. The wait time for their immigrant visas is expected to be five years. Her husband continued to work his farm, raising the other children alone.
Preparing to reunite in Hawaii
In 2010, the wait for their visas was up, and they began the paperwork to obtain the visas for the remaining family in the Philippines. Maureene, now ten years old, had spent half her life separated from her Mom. It was a sacrifice for a better future, which was drawing near.
A sore leg
In October, Maureene's leg became sore around the knee and thigh. She started having her Dad rub it each night. By the end of November, she had developed a limp. On Wednesday, December 8th, her knee and thigh were swollen. On December 10th her Dad took her the doctor at a clinic in Ilocos Sur.
Based on her symptoms and an x-ray, the physician concluded she has osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. He made a referral to a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in Manila for a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. He advised the family to prepare themselves emotionally and financially for Maureene to be a cancer patient.
On Dec. 30th, a biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of osteosarcoma.
Caring and support
There is not health insurance in the Philippines like there is in the United States, or the same type of government assistance. The family's efforts to emigrate has tapped them out (they had to fire their immigration attorney due to lack of funds). They are now facing a huge emotional and financial toll, but must do everything they can to be there for Maureene.
On December 30th, 2010, a biopsy confirmed Maureene has
stage II osteosaarcoma. I set up a page with medical information
about her ongoing treatment here:
In early January, Maureene started her first round of Chemo at Philippines General Hospital (PGH). After her second dose of cisplatin, she was vomiting non-stop. Her blood sodium level was dropping sharply, and she became unresponsive. After 24 hours, as the medical staff was discussing her transfer to the ICU, she had a seizure due to low sodium and went into a coma.
After several hours she was transfered to the ICU and treated for hyponatremia, a life-threatening medical emergency. Maureene might never return from her coma, or if she does, be brain damaged for life.
In the ICU, the physicians demonstrated lack of basic compotence. They fed Maureene through an NG tube with Maureene laying down flat on her back, inviting Maureene to vomit and aspirate into her lungs. Maureene's cousin and aunt are both nurses and could attest to the inadequate care. Maureen'e aunt Arlene (my wife) is also a nurse, as is my Mom. The entire family agreed there was a pervasive pattern of inadequate care which allowed Maureene's sodium to drop too far before emergency measures were taken. The family all agreed she needed to be transfered to a better hospital immediately, or she might never recover from her coma.
The past 18 hours have been unbearable for Arlene and I. We have not slept or eaten since yesterday. Because of the huge jump in the cost of Maureene's care, we have come to realize Maureene may be unable to finish her chemotherapy. Either her US Immigrant Visa has to be issued in time (the next 1-3 months), or we have to raise several thousand dollars. If not, her treatment could end due to lack of financial resources, and Maureene will become a hospice patient (for purely financial, not medical, reasons).
To the Americans reading this, there is no medical benefit to help Maureene and as unbelievable as it sounds, you cannot enter a hospital in the Philippines without paying a deposit. You also cannot leave without paying your entire bill in cash.
I experienced this myself last night. The family decided to transfer Maureen out of PGH and into St. Lukes -- a much, much better facility -- as PGH proved that Maureene's care was beyond their ability (families squat on cardboard in the hallways; the hospital admitted they can't do a central line because they have too high a rate of infection).
PGH demanded $2,700 USD in cash to allow Maureene to physically leave the building. During the night, we frantically collected this, but it didn't matter -- PGH's billing office was closed, and Maureene was not allowed to leave PGH for St. Lukes.
Fortunately, the ICU doctor from St. Lukes (intensivist Herberty Uy, MD) came and saw Maureen at PGH. He changed her orders and increased her sodium infusion. He also signed the family's letter to expedite Maureene's visa to the USA (something Dr. Pamela Fajardo refused to do for the last week, demanding the family pursue different visa options).
Around this time, Maureen woke from her coma with a disturbed mental status -- she would not talk, and laughed inappropriately. When we called St. Lukes hospital to ask they admit Maureene, they said a deposit of $7,000 was required and estimated her care would be $22,500 USD. They later accepted a much smaller deposit, fortunately, and her care was $8,200 instead of this estimate.
Maureene made a full recovery from her acute hyponatremia over the past week. She was discharged from St. Luke's today.
This was Maureene's first round of chemo. She has about five more to go, after which she will have surgery to remove the tumor in her left leg. There is no way the family could cover the cost of all this care, which would mean Maureen will be out of options for any medical care.We are taking all extraordinary measures to (1) expedite Maureene's visa to join her Mom in Hawaii and get treated there, and (2) preparing to raise money to cover her care in the Philippines until she can get to Hawaii.
Maureene was admitted to Manila Doctors Hospital for her second chemotherapy treatment. She got carboplatin instead of the cisplatin she got the first time. She avoided the severe side-effects experienced during her first treatment (with cisplatin). Maureene is under the care of Dr. Amy Dy. She was in the hospital approximately six days.
My wife, Arlene, bought Maureene's Mom (Janet) a plane ticket to travel from Hawaii and visit her daughter in the Philippines. Janet spent two weeks with Maureene.
Around this time, we learned that the US Embassy had agreed to expedite Maureene's visa to Hawaii, which meant she might be able to travel to Hawaii within 1-2 weeks. The rest of her family (Dad and siblings) had their medical exams that are required before being issued a visa. Unfortunately, Maureene's Dad, Winnie, was flagged for having possible (asymptomatic) TB. A sputum culture is required to rule out TB, a test which required a two-month incubation. The embassy cannot process Maureene's visa until her Dad is given a clean bill of health, which will require at least two more months.
As a result, in February, Maureene had her third chemotherapy, also with carboplatin, in Manila. It went well and the size of the tumor in her leg appears to be shrinking.
Now that Maureene has completed three chemotherapy treatments, she is to have surgery (after which she will receive three more treatments with chemotherapry). Dr. Wong is the pediatric orthopedic surgeon helping Maureene. She had an MRI on March 14th to help him determine what her surgical options are.
However, even before the MRI, he told Maureene's aunt that saving Maureene's leg was not an option. The choice is only between normal above-the-knee amputation, versus rotationplasty. We are waiting for his consultation with the family now to find out his final word.
This is very disturbing. It is overshadowed by the fact Maureene is fighting for more than a leg, she is fighting the osteosarcoma for her life itself.
After a series of delays, Maureene's family received their immigrant visas from the US embassy in Manila, and they flew to Hawaii together. The children are now reunited with their Mother, who was already living in Hawaii for several years.
Maureene immediately began seeing an oncologist in Honolulu. Her new doctor believes Maureene needs additiional chemotherapy which she did not receive in the Philippines, and Maureene has been receiving that chemo for six months now.
Maureen finished treatment. Despite some metastasis to her lungs, Maureen is in remission! She has begun attending school, and is using a new prosthesis made especially for her. As of early 2013, she is still in remission and doing well!
In 2011 we asked people to contribute towards the cost of Maureene's medical care in the Philippines. Thank you to those who helped.*
*Those who have helped
We would like to thank those who have contributed to Maureene's medical expenses.
- Josie and James Rahon, Pinili, Ilocos Norte, the Philippines
- Linda Voth, Palm Desert, California
- Chris & Arlene Gregerson, New Richmond, WI
- David and Barb Gregerson, Bolivai, NC
- Alice Hamilton, Palm Desert, CA
- Susie and John Santer, Somerset, WI
- Michelle Albright, New Richmond, WI
- Pascua-Garcia Family, California
- Rosalina Menz, New Richmond, WI
- Mr. & Mrs. Ireneo T. Corpuz - Hilo, HI
- Nestor & Myrna Ibarra - Honolulu, HI
- Carlito & Prixcynet Corpuz - Hilo, HI
- Rowena Jacinto & Family - Hilo, HI
- Eddie Corpuz & Family - Hilo, HI
- Maggie Palafox & Family - Hilo, HI
- Corazon Miranda & Family - Hilo, HI
- Nida Grace Bartolome & Family - Hilo, HI
- Todd & Antonietta Albert - Somerset, WI
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This page last modified 2013-03-07