Doctors to the poor

At 17 and the youngest in the family, Dr. Willie Ong felt he was entitled to a lot of things. So when he didn’t get them, he fell into depression. He isolated himself from his family and sank deeper and deeper into the hole he dug for himself.

The family problem dragged on for 10 years until Dr. Ong hit rock bottom. Christmas and New Year’s Day came and went. No one visited him in the dorm he stayed in during his freshman year as a student of medicine.

"I almost went crazy. I would have welcomed anything – even a ghost – just to have a visitor," he recalls those dark days when he was under medication.

Until a little miracle happened. He was an intern by then. He chanced upon a lonely grandmother sitting all by her lonesome in a corner of the hospital. She had no relative to look after her, no one to turn to for her aches and pains.

Then it dawned on him. Someone was in the same boat – and in a worse situation – than he was. The old lady – without her knowing it – gave him hope. Dr. Ong realized he had to break the wall he built around himself. He saw a kindred spirit in the old lady and reached out to her.

Other miracles came soon after. He met his future wife, Liza, then also a medical student. And though her faith made her go to Mass daily while he preferred to go elsewhere, they clicked.

But the biggest life-changing miracle was yet to happen. One day, he woke up very early in hospital where he was based, and, for some reason, panicked. He wanted to see his wife at once. In his haste, the doctor drove his car into a road island. He thought he couldn’t ever go home. So he did what he didn’t do in 16 years: pray and pray hard for guidance.

"All of a sudden, I felt a warm feeling envelope me. I knew there would be an answer. I saw an empty, dilapidated, green bus cut in front of me. It had the phrase `God loves you!’ on the bumper. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this was God’s answer. I tailed the slow-moving bus and sure enough, it led me home," Dr. Ong recalls.

Since then, the doctor seemed to possess a Midas touch. The Medicine Blue Book, which he wrote, is now on its sixth edition. He received awards one after another. Among them: the Dr. Jose Rizal Award for Excellence in Medicine, the Plaque of Recognition for Significant Contribution to Medical Education, Distinguished Fellow Award.

Last March, Reader’s Digest featured the 42-year-old doctor in its Modern Heroes section for encouraging Filipino physicians to work in the country instead of abroad.

Wanting to spread his expertise to the poor, Dr. Ong and his wife hosted and produced a health show on RJTV for around a year. But they ended up frustrated because advertisers were hard to come by and preferred to go instead to the bigger networks.

They sought the help of Boy Abunda, under whom they took a workshop on TV hosting. They told the veteran host all they wanted was to help more people in their health problems.

The wheels of Providence started turning again.

In a few days, Boy came up with three concepts for the weekly show, Makabayang Duktor, which will premiere on Jan. 6, 10:30 to 11 a.m. on NBN Channel 4. The concept the Ongs adopted was simple. A roving medical vehicle, which they called Boy’s Van, will roam around depressed areas and look after the health needs of the poor. The colorful van, painted with drawings of a doctor looking after two children, contains medicine, simple equipment and others needed for a medical mission.

For the pilot episode, the show will present the case of a boy with a congenital heart problem. Roswell is already three years old, but he has the weight of a four-month-old baby. The minute he saw the Ongs enter the room, his handsome face lit up and he exclaimed, "Anghel kayo! (You’re an angel!)"_

Another case involved a perforated anus which needed P200,000 for it to be corrected. Miraculously, the Ongs produced the whopping amount through sales from the Medicine Blue Book.

"My goal as a doctor is not to earn money but to help my patient gets well," says Dr. Ong. Companies have dangled fat budgets before him in exchange for a product endorsement. But the doctor politely turned them down. He’d rather be of service to others, thank you.

Luckily, his parents are behind their former black sheep son all the way. They finance the operations on poor patients and other expenses he needs as part of his self-imposed mission to be a doctor for others.

The guy has no hidden agenda. "I’m not even running for public office," he proclaims.

We don’t see angels of mercy like Dr. Ong and his family everyday. And when we do, we can only wish some magic wand will cast its spell on big companies and make them invest their huge budgets on Makabayang Duktor.

The rewards may not be as big as one would expect from variety shows or telenovelas. But it’s worth much more than that. It’s the kind one will treasure a lifetime: the gift of good health.

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