Back pain from motorcycle mishap adds to Duterte's litany of health issues

Ratziel San Juan - Philstar.com
Back pain from motorcycle mishap adds to Duterte's litany of health issues
President Rodrigo Duterte is seen using a cane during his visit to Japan. His trip was cut short on Oct. 22, 2019 after he experienced “unbearable pain” in his back in relation to a motorcycle incident.
Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is flying back from Japan earlier than expected due to "unbearable pain" in his lower back, the Palace announced Tuesday afternoon, adding the president would be back in the Philippines by Wednesday to see his neurologist.

Despite the president's back pain, which presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo attributed to a falling off a parked motorcycle last week and which forced Duterte to use a cane, the Palace said "the public can rest assured that there is nothing to worry about as regards the physical health and condition of the president."

Panelo similarly played down the injury on the 16th, when it reached the news. "His recovery entails no major medical procedure," he said then, quipping that Duterte was even well enough to have breakfast that morning.

'Strong as a horse or carabao'

Although the Palace routinely assures the nation that the president is "as strong as a horse or as a carabao" despite keeping a schedule that it has also often described as "punishing."

A Social Weather Stations survey conducted in December 2018 suggested that 66% of Filipinos are worried about President Rodrigo Duterte’s health while the 1987 Constitution requires that "in case of serious illness of the president, the public shall be informed of the state of his health."

Although the Palace has repeatedly said the president does not have a "serious illness" and that he would it disclose it if he did, Duterte has been candid about some of his health problems, including Buerger's disease, which causes the narrowing or blockage of veins and arteries in the extremities.

He has blamed his smoking in his early years for the disease and has implemented a nationwide policy restricting smoking in public to designated areas.

Myasthenia gravis

Earlier this month, the president disclosed that he has myasthenia gravis, a nerve malfunction that he said he inherited from his grandfather. He said that the condition is to blame for his drooping eye.

Panelo said then that there is nothing to worry about since the condition "is an ordinary disease of the elderly." 

According to the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, "myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles, which are responsible for breathing and moving parts of the body, including the arms and legs."

"There is no known cure but with current therapies, most cases of myasthenia gravis are not as 'grave' as the name implies. Available treatments can control symptoms and often allow people to have a relatively high quality of life. Most individuals with the condition have a normal life expectancy," it also says.

Panelo, speaking of the president's condition, said: "You will have that once you grow old."

Barrett's esophagus

The president said in February 2016 that he has Barett's esophagus, which, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, is "a condition marked by an abnormality in the lining of the lower esophagus. It is believed to be due to severe, longstanding, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)."

"The importance of Barrett’s esophagus is its significantly increased risk of esophageal cancer, though the incidence of this cancer remains low," it also says.

In October 2018, Duterte said doctors conducted tests and that he was found to be cancer-free.

"If you mean I was found positive of cancer? No, it’s not the colon; it’s my Barrett… It’s badly eroded because I was told to stop drinking years ago," he told reporters then, adding that he sometimes drinks brandy.

Old injuries

Lawyer Harry Roque, the then-presidential mouthpiece, had denied at the time that the president had gone to a hospital only for Duterte to later confirm that he had tests done. He later said that he was not aware of the hospital visit and hinted at resigning as spokesperson.

Duterte, whose absences from public events have fuelled speculations about his health, has also suffered from recurring severe migraines attributed to a motorcycle accident when he was younger. 

He has also said he cannot bend due to spinal problems caused by a motorcycle crash.



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