Spotlight on PMSNC’s Dr. Maria Araceli De Guzman and Joe De Guzman

Spotlight on PMSNC’s Dr. Maria Araceli De Guzman and Joe De Guzman

(Part 3 of 3)

“Out of the mating of Wakea (Sky Father) and Papa Honua (Earth Mother), came and continues to come everything in our cosmos, and that’s why we’re all related and why everything is conscious and communicating. That’s the basis for wellness—this constant interaction between all life forces. When there’s proper interaction, things are pono (balanced); there’s appropriate mana, special kind of power or energy maintaining this balance. These spiritual inter-relationships are primary. Proper thoughts and actions maintain this pono, harmony. If there’s misfortune, such as ill health, that means loss of pono with loss of mana. And therefore, diagnosis is a matter of finding out how this has come to be, and treatment is a matter of restoring pono, restoring mana. That’s the underlying basis for wellness, which is more than physical health versus sickness. A health practitioner is one who facilitates this process of maintaining and restoring pono and mana. —Kekuni Blaisdell, M.D.

“STAT!” Dr. Maria Araceli De Guzman called.  All must act immediately to save a life!

Dr. De Guzman is a medical physician, an anesthesiologist, who has joined the Philippine Medical Society of Northern California (PMSNC)’s medical mission to Dumaguete, Philippines. It was her 15th medical mission while living in the U.S.

Manang Belen, a single 60-year-old woman, was PMSNC’s first thyroid surgery patient in Dumaguete last January. Her thyroid gland had grown huge over the last few years, but without the resources to afford an operation, her gland grew exponentially, according to Dr. De Guzman, who was monitoring the surgery.

During the operation, her blood pressure was dropping. Though infused with volume expanders by Dr. Sheila Vaz to maintain her blood pressure, her hemoglobin was really low, at 3. (Normal is 12 to 15 grams per deciliter).

“STAT,” Dr. De Guzman called out, for blood donors to come forward.

There were no blood reserves available for Manang Belen, given that the Philippine Red Cross only exchanges blood supplies, after relatives are prequalified, and actually donate blood. The Red Cross has a policy of constraint here, “no blood from female donors.”

So, Dr. Peter Bretan said, “Take mine now!” Without hesitation, others followed his lead, as Rey Mallari, Kevin Miller, Sean Lio, Jessy Madayag and Dan Dublin; all were tested for blood compatibility. The Red Cross did not release blood supplies until the replacement is received. Dr. De Guzman had to use her own personal cash to test for three more guys and for them to donate. “There was no bloodletting, but Dr. Peter’s blood was used, as well as two units from the other patients,” she added.

Her quick call and the team’s response surfaced blood donations to stabilize Manang Belen’s blood pressure and for an additional good measure, she became the first patient to use the newly finished hospital in Dumaguete for post-surgery recovery. It only had lights installed, and no medical equipment and hospital beds yet. PMSNC had to use their own medical equipment.

No wonder this mission was described as with lots of heroics, displayed mercy and compassion that “even a 9-year-old child managed to rescue a two-month-old infant, who found the baby while playing with his friends in the cemetery in Dumaguete, and decided to take her home to his family, ” Dr. De Guzman said.

Meeting Dr. De Guzman and husband, Joe De Guzman, Ph.D.

It was a stormy evening in Daly City, California when I first met Dr. Maria Araceli De Guzman. Storms had destroyed part of Highway 1 going to Big Sur and part of Highway 17 had collapsed. She was part of nearly three dozen medical professionals attending the PMSNC’s meeting wherein reports were shared that over 6,187 patients were served over a five-day period in January in Dumaguete, including 82 major surgeries for cleft palate, hernia, cataracts, and thyroid.

The Asian Journal’s Northern California issue on Feb. 17-23 featured the PMSNC’s tremendous efforts, amidst sustained rains, flooding and inclement weather in Dumaguete.

Wispy clouds greeted us the next day during our one-on-one interview with Dr. De Guzman and her husband, Joe De Guzman. By the corner bend, approaching their home, blooming pink and white sakuras lined the avenue, and one towered with yellow leaves. It made for an early spring feeling, perhaps, the harmony of pono to bring out the appropriate mana, the positive energy.

As I walked into their home, a piano sat at the far end of the living room, where she usually plays her pieces. With glistening eyes, you sense she is at peace, happy with who she has become: a practicing anesthesiologist in Northern California, serving two hospitals at times, and living a life of meaning joining medical missions and a founding member of the Alameda Sister City Association.

Of course, like any physician in the United States, she is well-to-do, but it is not her material wealth which is celebrated — it is her spiritual abundance, derived from giving herself regularly to medical missions.

She is married to Joe De Guzman, who obtained his bachelor of science in chemistry at UCLA, masters in arts and dance at SF State, masters in Kinesiology, and a Ph.D. in applied physiology at Columbia University and a post-doctorate in the biochemistry of muscle metabolism in UC Berkeley. He works as an exercise physiologist, trainer, and consultant in the fitness industry. He taught wellness classes as part of the medical mission.

He described how the Filipino diet has excess salt (i.e. bagoong, patis), which can cause hypertension; the kakanin (rice cakes, pastillas, biko, suman) that has excessive sugar and our dishes that have excessive fat (like lechon). Yet, he laments that the Philippines has the most nutritious fruits and vegetables with plenty of antioxidants (cabbage, ampalaya, sweet potato, malunggay and more) and those do not need additional butter and fat. He stressed the need to drink coconut water, instead of Coke with nine teaspoons of added sugar. For five years now, he has joined the mission in General Santos, Cotabato; Oriental Mindoro; Tagbilaran, Bohol; San Carlos Pangasinan; and now, Dumaguete.

“I feel sorry for the people’s nutrition and lack of good physical activity. We are designed to move. We must move. We are all [descended] from Africa and we are designed to do hard, physical work. There are enough good things in the Philippines to have a good life,“ he said.

Laoag coordinator

Do you get a sense that rains precede God’s grace, from the intersection of humanity with their divine nobility?

“When God makes something clear, it comes with something big,” Fr. Marty Silva said in a homily on March 12. The humanitarian giving in Dumaguete and Laoag matched the nobility of the heroics displayed, that even the inclement weather or man-made issues in transport could have stopped the mission, but did not.

Dr. De Guzman narrated the challenges of moving a container van of medical supplies from Tagbilaran, Bohol, which sat for a year at a camp, then, transported to a local city recipient of medical services, which did not attend to the task until the first week of December and the city’s budget was not approved until the second week of Dec. Then, of course, the task of finding the shipping company who wanted advance payment only, and that by mid-December, no one wants to work.

But, given an “overachieving liaison,” a descriptor she adopted for herself, she was prevailed upon by Naida Raugh, whom she said has a heart of gold, to go to Laoag. In Laoag, the container van had not arrived. How could they proceed then?

Through quick mobilization, the surrounding hospitals’ equipment was borrowed.

“By the time the van arrived, half of the work had been done on cataracts, thyroids (as big as golf balls, 6 inches by 6 inches in a country with over 7,107 islands, surrounded by oceans, with plenty of oysters that can be sources of iodine).

When thyroids are these big, it occupies the entire neck, the trachea is displaced, and the patient cannot swallow, ” Dr. De Guzman shared.

While performing these medical missions, they are not just giving medical services, but are also mentoring local surgeons, “if we are not going to do it, who will?“ is their simple logic.

Simple yet, for the long–term, these medical professionals are setting examples of a sustained life principle of giving and living, a life with balance and a heart at peace.

“I love what I do, “ Dr. De Guzman said, “but also, because it is the Christian principle of sharing my blessings. I feel like I am a real doctor [when on a mission]. I did not have any forms to fill out. I did not need a billing company to get income and get 6% of what I earned and without any red tape. And you are a human being at your finest, just thinking of just your patient who can’t give back anything at all to you.”

Pono and mana were reconciled again in both the patients and the caregiving medical professionals.

Footnote: This writer is grateful to Cynthia Bonta, a noble selfless community leader in Alameda, who is our human GPS, for locating these noble Filipino-Americans of PMSNC and their American friends. PMSNC is celebrating their 45 year anniversary of excellence in medicine, service to humanity and 30 years of medical missions to the Philippines. Their gala is scheduled for April 22 at the San Francisco Marriott to support the purchase of medical and surgical supplies.

Part I was on Acupuncture Insights of R. Antonio Whiteley, published April 1. Part II is on The Reform of Health Care Through Healthy Eating, published April 8. Part III A was on the Philippine Medical Society of Northern California’s Medical Mission in Dumaguete, published on April 15.

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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.

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