Words and photos by Dionesio C. Grava
First posted in pinoywatchdog.com
Raven Lucero, youngest of three children, was five years old on July 25, 2010 when a freak accident involving heated oil in a kitchen setting caused severe and agonizing burn on much of his body. Shai was one year and six months when she accidentally run into burning rubbish on December 21, 2009.
Both are now in Los Angeles to undergo burn reconstruction surgeries and perhaps other recovery requirements.
Raven’s parents — Alberto, 44, a construction worker and housewife Merlyn, 35, of Paradise Valley, Pasonanca in Zamboanga City — and the Cadellero couple, Josephine and Reneboy of Campuyo, Manjuyod, Negros Oriental, may be grateful to their lucky stars but most of all to people and charitable organizations without whose loving care and help their children would have been in much worse conditions than they already are.
PinoyWatchdog.com had the opportunity to interview Merlyn and Josephine on August 2 at the Westlake residence of Jimmy and Perlita Ong, their host in Los Angeles since their arrival in March, this year. Merlyn said that they first sought help from ABS-CBN’s Bantay Bata Foundation. She said that aside from donations from people who heard about the incident in the news, she got two tubes of anti-burn cream and the purchase of some prescription drugs from the charitable organization.
The Lucero couple also heard about the Ronald McDonald Foundation but found out that it assures only a 28-day free stay in the US. They have to come up with their own groceries and other expenses which they cannot afford, Merlyn said.
Among those they want to thank for helping in the initial phases of Raven’s treatment are Councilor Myra Paz Abubacar, the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Zamboanga City, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and the government-owned Zamboanga City General Hospital and Zamboanga City Medical Center. Raven was hospitalized for five months but had to continue medical check-ups after that.
Then a nurse at the hospital submitted Raven’s name to the Tzutsi Foundation, which was offering help to kids below 10 years old with severe medical needs. They were linked to Ma. Carmen “Menchu” Aquino Sarmiento, executive director of the Philippine Airlines Foundation, who in turn facilitated their free accommodation with the Grossman Burn Center (through the Children’s Burn Foundation) and the Ong couple.
On her part Josephine Cadellero, mother of five, said that they were invited to the Philippine government’s ‘Pantawid’ event on the occasion of the annual Bais City fiesta, which was also attended by President Noynoy Aquino and Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda. They were asked how the government could help and the parents of the two other child patients in attendance opted for cash assistance. The Cadelleros requested for an all-free treatment and that’s how she and Shia were connected to the PAL Foundation and the Grossman facility, she said.
Executive Director Sarmiento informed PinoyWatchdog.com that the US Care Program of PAL Medical Travel Grants help the poorest Filipinos to access medical care as charity patients. They partner with Mending Kids International and, for Raven and Shia, the Children’s Burn Foundation.
Mending Kids has a website where you can find stories about the Filipino children they are helping but now, Ms. Sarmiento said, “these children remain in the Philippines as we can get the care done more cheaply here (mostly cardiac surgery). However, for the burn cases, which need a series of surgeries, it is better when we send them to the States because of the problem with infection in the Philippine government hospitals that do have burn units.”
She added that both Raven and Shia benefited from the Pantawid Gutom Program of the Philippine Dept. of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Children’s Burn Foundation (CBF) has helped with newly burned patients who cannot travel yet, paying for their care in Philippine hospitals. However for burned children like Raven and Shai who would benefit from further reconstruction, the procedures are done in the Grossman Burn Center in West Hills.
Jimmy and Perlita Ong are frequent hosts of children patients sent over to the US by PAL Foundation. Jimmy said that they started hosting children with congenital heart problems even when he was still working. He recalled a ten-year old and a 16-year old from Cebu and a 15-month old baby girl from Manila.
He is retired now and has more free time in his hands. Perlita, a nurse doing night shift at the county jail, said that she’s also okay hosting the kids. Their two children have own families now and have kids of their own who are in daycare centers.
Jimmy and Perlita said that they’re doing it out of love. Their initial interest for the poor children patients aroused when they came across a news item in a community newspaper about Mending Kids needing foster homes. The Danao-USA association helped them connect with Ms. Sarmiento. Some of the kids they helped in the past had communicated with them through emails, they said.
The couple is hopeful that there may be more families out there willing to be foster parents because “it is in the nature of Filipinos to be compassionate but may not know about this program. Most of the kids needing help are the poorest of the poor and it is important to let them feel somebody care for them,” said the Ongs.
Ms. Sarmiento informed that Mending Kids used to have other foster parents in the area: Ceny and Louie Bernardo of Northridge. However, advanced age and ailments have prevented the couple from physically hosting kids today. However, the Bernardos have gone on to help their foster son to get through a four-year college course.
That’s why she really needs the help of PinoyWatchdog.com to find future host families “especially among the retired but still able and willing Fil-Am’s, as we will be sending other kids there for burn reconstruction surgery,” Ms. Sarmiento said in an email.
She added: “Ang maganda sa Pinoy host family: walang language or dietary barriers. May Filipino Channel pa. Matutulungan sila mag-text home or even to use the internet.”
Additionally she informed that Jimmy and Perlita Ong “also have scholars in Pangasinan who are not their relatives so they are unusually generous because as you know, most Pinoys restrict their charity to their poorer relations.”
Children’s Burn Foundation is a charitable organization based in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, helping children who otherwise may be unable to benefit from state of the art medical treatment and post-acute services. According to its website, gifts to the Foundation for programmatic initiatives and endowment have totaled more than $4.75 million. Executive director is Carol Horvitz.
According to Jimmy Ong, the Foundation so far has spent $120,000 worth of medical procedures done on Raven and Shia. Shia already had three surgeries and one more is scheduled. Raven’s condition is more severe. He had a pre-operation check-up on August 2 and the first of two surgeries are scheduled August 6 and 9. Meantime, the visas of the two kids and their mothers are about to expire and have to be extended.