From the brink, Gaia rallies for 1st b-day

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez () - July 4, 2006 - 12:00am
All first birthdays are special. That birthday cake with ONE candle marks an event that parents seldom forget. For the celebrant, it’s no big deal. He or she has no concept of the importance of the event and does not understand what the hullabaloo is all about.

For Gaia Pasamba it was no different. She had no idea why everyone was making such a fuss.

That the occasion was unforgettable for her parents, Giorde and Ybeth, is an understatement. This first Barney birthday party for Gaia was the "happy ending" they had so fervently prayed for only a couple of months ago.

A heart-rending appeal from Giorde Pasamba on the Internet, e-mailed to alumni, faculty, parents and students of International School Manila (ISM), where he is a Middle School Science teacher, led to what many today call Gaia’s miracle.

Gaia Pasamba was born on June 7, 2005. Before she was two months old, her parents received the saddest news from her doctors. They were told that Gaia had biliary atresia, a genetic defect of the liver ducts that would lead to serious complications and eventually her early death. There was no remedy available for Gaia’s condition. Only a liver transplant could save her.

Because there are no liver transplants for children done in the Philippines, Pasamba made inquiries in the United States and in Hong Kong. The figures were staggering. But if Gaia was to have a chance at life, there was no time to lose. He needed to raise money as soon as possible. He had to reach thousands of people, touch thousands of hearts.

Reactions to Pasamba’s appeal began to be felt when collection cans started surfacing on the International School campus. Spearheaded by the students themselves (like Ashley Gutierrez, ISM’s "Most Outstanding Student," now a Yale scholar), the Gaia campaign created a ground-swell that was irresistible to parents and teachers alike.

Touched by Pasamba’s plight, ISM parent Tere Tabuena del Rosario contacted Dr. K. C. Tan of the Glen Eagles Hospital in Singapore. They had met a few months earlier when Mrs. del Rosario’s father, the late Louie Tabuena, had been taken to Dr. Tan. It was too late for Mr. Tabuena. But not for Gaia.

The Pasambas needed over $100,000! Donations had poured in from friends as well as strangers. ISM parents, alumnae and friends rallied to join this cause. An anonymous donor wired in a hefty amount from Chicago. Our very own PCSO came in as well with their contribution. In late February, the Pasambas were still short with $30,000 and the operation had to happen soon.

Tere del Rosario approached her brother, Martin Nievera. He immediately put a show together to try to make up for the shortfall. The Peninsula Manila made available the Rigodon Ballroom as the venue for the concert, with no charges. Louie Ocampo played for free. Backup singers, lights and sounds came through for free.

On the night of the show, the well-heeled and best-dressed of Manila society formed a queue clear across the elegant Peninsula lobby. The show was packed. The audience cheered. Gaia, in Martin’s arms, took a bow. The fund campaign was a huge success. A week later, with her parents and her aunt and liver donor, Tess Magtibay, Gaia was off to Singapore.

The liver transplant was performed on April 8, 2006 at the Glen Eagles Hospital. After nine hours of surgery, Gaia’s parents were called to the Operating Theater and were told that bile had already started to flow in Gaia’s new liver and that both baby and donor were doing very well! Gaia’s progress was closely monitored. Bulletins from Glen Eagles Hospital traced her improvement. First her color changed from a sickly yellow to a rosy blush. Her liver enzyme count began to normalize. Soon Gaia was gaining weight. Then she was eating solids. Suddenly she’s sitting and standing!

On June 7, 2006, Gaia blew the one candle on her birthday cake. Her parents will never forget that day. Surrounded by her doctors and Filipina nurses from the ICU and Pediatric Ward, Gaia grabbed at her Barney cake. Every one cheered. Perhaps Gaia, like any ordinary one-year-old, did not know why there was such a celebration.

But then again, who knows. Perhaps in her heart of hearts, she knows about the miracle that was brought about by the love and prayers of people she may never ever meet.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com)

ASHLEY GUTIERREZ DR. TAN GAIA GAIA PASAMBA GIORDE PASAMBA GLEN EAGLES HOSPITAL HONG KONG INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL MANILA PARENTS PASAMBA
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