Cardona embraces 2nd life after tragic incident

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - PBA star MacMac Cardona said yesterday his new lease on life is God’s message that there is a plan for him to stay alive after a suicide attempt that left the 34-year-old NLEX veteran unconscious for 36 hours and two hours away from death.

Cardona is now confined at the Makati Medical Center where psychiatrist Dr. Edgardo Tolentino has asked for him to stay a week for complete rest and recovery. A sister Carmela flew in from her home in Vancouver the other day to attend to Cardona with another sister Rowena, brother Raymundo, aunt Lolita and uncle Ronnie who all live in Manila. It was Lolita who raised Cardona after his mother Criselda left to work as a domestic helper in Greece when he was only three years old as his father Reynaldo couldn’t provide for his five children with no steady job.

It was a hard life for Cardona, the youngest in the family, growing up. His father, a Tour of Luzon cyclist, was often drunk and drove a jeep for a living when he was sober. He died of tuberculosis when Cardona was 11 in 1994. Cardona’s mother was an overseas worker in Greece for two years and endured abuse from her employer until a captain of a ship agreed to stow her away for an escape to the US. She hid in the ship for three months during the sea journey. Without legal papers, Cardona’s mother married a Filipino to stay in the US and bore two children with Amando Gamboa. She passed away in 2011.

“MacMac grew up in the streets of Mandaluyong,” said Lolita, a schoolteacher. “When he was nine, he used to drag batya of fish in the market for vendors so he could bring home fish, which he got as payment, to eat. He sold cigarettes in the streets, too.” Cardona started playing basketball when he was four. His mother brought him to Los Angeles when he was 14 and played two years of varsity basketball at Carson City High School. Then, he went back to Manila, enrolled in Jose Rizal as a senior high schooler but never got to play in the juniors. Cardona tried out for NU but wasn’t taken so he returned to Carson City. It was while playing in a Cavite Fil-Am league in Carson City where he was discovered by La Salle recruiter Mike Gonzalez. Cardona was brought back to Manila, enrolled at La Salle and led the Archers to UAAP titles in 2001 and 2004. In 2005, he was picked on the first round by Air21 in the PBA draft. Cardona is now on his 11th season as a pro.

Cardona’s bipolar condition led to a one-week confinement at The Medical City last July. He hasn’t been in his right senses since his girlfriend Bianca Jackes left him with their two children Natalia Adela, 3, and Adrianna, 1, three months ago. Cardona has another daughter Dia, 8, with another woman.

Cardona and his girlfriend had an ugly quarrel at their South Green Villas townhouse in Parañaque on Friday last week. His girlfriend came to their townhouse to bring out clothes. A barangay official took them to the police station after Bianca complained of physical abuse. Cardona admitted hurting his girlfriend but denied striking her with force or pointing a gun at her. He said he doesn’t own a gun. Bianca, however, didn’t press charges as Parañaque Councilor Binky Favis, a former PBA coach, intervened to settle the spat.

Early Sunday last week, Favis, who is Cardona’s neighbor, phoned to check how he was. Cardona, who now lives alone, answered Favis’ phone call and sounded incoherent. Sensing something was wrong, Favis went to his townhouse and found Cardona sprawled on a bed, nearly unconscious. Favis then called his brother-in-law Dino Aldeguer, a former La Salle player like Cardona, to help bring him to the hospital. Cardona was taken to the University of Perpetual Help Medical Center in Las Piñas where doctors said he had swallowed about a hundred sleeping pills in a suicide attempt.

“MacMac was almost gone and doctors told us two more hours in that state, he would’ve died,” said Aldeguer. “To open his mouth and keep his tongue from rolling, doctors used a mini-crowbar so they could insert a tube down his throat to flush out the pills. It’s a charcoal detox procedure. They kept poking his eyes with cotton balls to keep his senses active. He was out for 36 hours. Finally, he woke up.” Former La Salle teammate and PBA player Joseph Yeo and La Salle team manager Terry Capistrano were among the first visitors to rush to his side.

Cardona was later transferred to the Makati Medical Center. The other day, his visitors included Aldeguer and La Salle buddies Mon Jose and T. Y. Tang with their wives. Cardona still appeared a little groggy but was wide awake in wolfing down a Big Mac hamburger sandwich. A visitor that day was Christ’s Commission Fellowship pastor Paul Tanchi, a former Ateneo player. A Mormon, Cardona said he was touched by Tanchi’s visit and inspiring words of God’s wisdom.

“This is my second life,” said Cardona. “When Bianca and my kids left, I felt my life was over. I was ready to go so I took those pills. I blacked out, I thought it was the end. God kept me alive. I survived this because of God. Now, I want to be close to God. I want to straighten out my life. No more going out at night. I want to focus on my basketball career, get myself strong. I want to prove myself to Bianca, my kids, my family, my friends, my team, my fans that I’m a new man. There’s a reason why this happened, why God didn’t let me die. I’m grateful to all those who pray for me, who care for me, who love me. I owe them my new life.

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