Friday, March 2, 2012

My Very Own Superfriend

Anne's favorite Superhero is Wonder Woman... mine is Superman

If a Hero is someone distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility and strength; someone who goes beyond their limitations for the sake of another, then Anne Prado is a true Hero by any definition.  She has battled extreme adversity that most people would give up on.  But her deeds are not widely known, except to a few loved ones.  I have witnessed these acts of bravery and self-sacrifice, and I sincerely believe they should be made public.

Anne was a pretty and exceptionally talented child

Anne was born Anna Marie Prado on March 2 (Her birthday is today).  She was a precocious child who loved to sing, dance and entertain people.  Entertaining patients in her mom's dental clinic as soon as she was able to walk, she was offered several times to be a professional actress but her parents refused.  Poor Anne had to contend herself with using hairbrushes and flashlights during her impromtu concerts.

Anne finally blossomed when she attended school (Assumption & Maria Montessori).  She discovered Elocution and quickly became the favorite, winning gold medals year after year.  She also had a knack for writing, which she used to pen stories and essays.  Her first real trial came at the age of seven.

Growing up in a dysfunctional extended family, Anne suffered from blatant favoritism and discrimination early on.  She was systematically excluded and picked upon by her maternal aunt and uncle from participating in their outings or from using any of her cousins' toys for as long as she can remember.  So one day, while everyone was out having a good time, Anne snuck out a cousin's bike to take a quick ride around the block.  Not knowing the bike's brake was broken, She lost control of the bike going down a hill... Anne got thrown off and the bike landed on top of her.  What followed was a hell that lasted for more than four years.

Her spine was broken.  Anne had to have a major operation to fuse her back.  She went from one Specialist to another hearing the same negative prognosis -- she will never walk again and most probably will never have children.  A brilliant Doctor (Dr. Victor Reyes) finally took on her case as a personal challenge and the operation (after suffering substantial physical pain and anguish) was a success.  But that was just the start of her battle.

Anne had to undergo extensive physical therapy just to gain some sensitivity to the lower half of her body.  Upon gaining sensation, she had to relearn how to move and use her legs, suffering endless hours of gruelling excercises administered by tough therapists.  After months in bed (crawling from one room to the next), then in traction, she finally could go back to school in a wheelchair-- where (sadly) she had to endure ridicule and incessant teasing by her schoolmates for being a cripple.  When she finally conquered the wheelchair and had to wear a full back-brace, she was rechristened "Robo Cop" by some of her classmates.  For someone proud and strong-willed, these taunts were excruciatingly painful.  But Anne endured.  Except for a big scar on her back, she was able to regain all her faculties back through sheer determination and years of hard work.

Anne around the time I met her for the first time

When I finally met her in her mom's dental clinic for the first time, she was a beautiful, smart and outspoken normal High School student from St. Scholastica.  I would not even know that she had serious spinal surgery, until we started dating a few years down the line.  We instantly liked each other and we had a lot of common interests such as Art, Philosophy, Religion, the Occult and Debate.  Opinionated and naturally arguementative, we were both members of our High School interscholastic Debating Teams (Anne ended up competing internationally and was an accredited World-Championship Adjudicator), drama clubs and (by coincidence) both award-winning Elocutionists.  But I was living in Los Angeles during that time, so we only saw each other sporadically.  But we continued our friendship whenever I visited Manila.

After a string of unsuccessful relationships, many years down the line, I called her to have lunch.  I just broke up with my last girlfriend and I needed a friend.  We have not seen each other for three years at that point, so I was stunned when I saw her again.  She had blossomed into a beautiful and vivacious young woman.  I just couldn't stop looking at her.  So ended up asking her out for a couple of more dates before going back to LA.  To cut my story short, I went back to Manila the next year and after a few more months of dating, I asked for her hand in Marriage.  I had no plans of getting hitched, but the question just popped out one evening while we were arguing on the phone.  It just felt natural and inevitable-- I wanted to be with her forever.  She told me that she felt the same way too.  Little did we expect, that our love for each other would result in a lot of anguish and turmoil for everyone involved.  
I have been the friend and dental patient of Anne's mom for years.  My parents were also considered old friends by her parents, and our families see each other socially, as well as professionally.  But when we informed her parents about our engagement, everything went sour.  Her mom simply put her foot down and would not permit us to marry under any circumstances.  She treatened to break us up with any means necessary-- she encouraged alternative suitors; harassed Anne day and night (not letting her sleep) about the inappropriateness of the match and her obstinacy as a daughter; used influencial friends to convince family members to help put an end to our madness; enticed Anne with all expense paid sojourns and schooling abroad; in other words, anything and everything just to keep us apart.  This behavior took me by surprise, since I thought Anne's mom considered me a close friend-- therefore suitable.  But she just refused to see it any other way.

Poor Anne had to take the brunt of her mother's wrath.  She had to endure all this at night when she came home, while finishing her degree in UAP and working part-time in an Ad agency daily.  Their arguements and fights would last almost the whole night.  Anne was battered and exhausted most of the time.  But she stuck it out for one year.  No matter how angry and embattled her mom would be, Anne tried her best to remain composed and unflappable, because she wanted both sides of the family to be whole for her wedding day.  Despite her mom's last ditch effort to derail our marriage one week before our wedding date, we marched in the aisle of our favorite church on schedule (with both my parents escorting me and with both Anne's parents escorting her), and entertained more than 500 friends/guests in the ballroom of the Shangri-La Manila.  Although I fought beside her, without Anne's courage and strength, we would not have ended happily married today with two beautiful children.
Our family after our son was born

Anne's mom hates losing, so I believe she never really forgave us for going against her 'better judgement.'  I thought that if our apparent happiness at being married cannot convince her of our suitability as a couple, then having grandchildren might.  Anne and I secretly hoped that the birth of our first child would somehow make her mother forget her blatant animosity towards our partnership.  So Anne insisted that we give birth to our first child in Manila, despite my own family's protestations, because she was hoping to share the magical event with her mom.  But we were again disappointed-- her mother was hardly present for the ordeal.  Anne finally conceeded to give birth to our second baby in LA.  As expected, her mom could not be bothered to travel all the way to California to see her grandson's birth.  Anne had to simply endure the cesarean without her family, because (according to her mom) she chose to give birth elsewhere.  My family (on the other hand) was completely represented, but I sympathize with Anne's deep regret for not having anyone from her family present at the birth of our only son.

Anne never left my daughter's side during her battle to live

2008 was a bad year for us.  After being rushed by ambulance to the Huntington Memorial Hospital (actually several times during the same week), our daughter was immediately placed in the ICU for Accute Respiratory Syndrome.  During our first night at the Huntington, I recieved an urgent call from Anne at 3am telling me that our daughter's condition has worsened every hour and that the Hospital immediately decided to transfer her to the best pediatric facility on the Westcoast, CHLA-- since they had specialized machines and Specialists that might increase her chances of survival.  I immediately woke my son up and we drove like a bat out of hell to the Children's Hospital in Hollywood-- unknown to me that my daughter was in severe critical condition fighting for her life for nearly three hours.  They were going to airlift her, but her lung condition could worsen with the altitude so they had to wait a long time for a specialized ambulance to arrive.  Our daughter's vital signs were rapidly dropping and the ambulance nurse asked Anne if she still wanted to continue the transfer, because it seemed almost hopeless... Anne was shocked at the question, so she angrily replied, "of course, do what ever it takes... as long as there is a chance, no matter how small, take it."  When they both finally arrived at the CHLA, we were immediately informed that they had to put our daughter on several life support machines, including an ECMO unit that is still in its experimental use for non-infants.  Anne was shaken, but she never lost her wits or composure for even a second despite all the critical decision she had to make.  Anne did not leave our daughter's side for the first 24 hours-- from the first ambulance to the first night in the first hospital, through the transfer and her first night in the ICU of the second hospital.

My daughter's six months ordeal in CHLA was documented in the Hospital's in-house magazine and in the Hospital's in-house video.  She was in the Pediatric ICU for almost two months (one month unconscious).  Most of her doctors gave her less than a 50% chance of survival; one of them even told us that our daughter is the sickest patient in the whole hospital-- in a big hospital like CHLA, that is not a good thing.  Anne never wavered from her vigil beside our daughter.  She was there 14 hours of the day (relieved only by my mom and me), 7 days a week for six months, rain or shine.  During that time, she got to know a lot of the Doctors and Nurses who took care of our daughter, and most of them have stories of how Anne came back day after day, even when she was already being told not to;  how she would stay on top of the treatments being given, by constantly interviewing doctors and nurses; how she would sometimes oppose or counter particular medications that she researched about in the internet; how she would constantly talk and play music to entertain our unconscious daughter; how she would sometimes offer food and coffee to keep the nurses alert; or how she would massage our daughter's limbs to keep them from becoming stiff.  The miracle of our daughter's recovery definitely has Anne's name written on it.  Anne's love and devotion kept our daughter alive.

Anne did not stop there.  When my daughter finally came home (after 2 months in ICU, and another 4 months in rehabilitation and physical therapy), she continued nursing her back to health and continued to accompany her for her out-patient physical therapies.  She was also recruited by the hospital to give talks on her ordeal as a mother.  Anne had been generous with her time, and had given dozens of testimonials for various Charities to raise funds for CHLA, before we went back to Manila.  As far as I know, they were able to raise millions of dollars from the events Anne was directly involved in.

A few months after our return to Manila in 2010, I had a stroke.  On the morning of our daughter's 9th birthday, I woke up feeling slightly wobbly-- I could not straighten my body to sit up; I kept falling down.  I tried to walk to the bathroom, but I immediately fell on the floor.  I knew something was terribly wrong, so I shouted to wake Anne up.  One look at me and she knew the problem.  She immediately administered medicine to lower my blood pressure.  According to my doctors, Her quick thinking that day, saved my life.

She was with me around the clock, during my confinement at the Makati Medical Center.  A week into my hospitalization, Anne began to notice that I was begining to be a little 'loopy.'  I knew my name and who I was, but I told her it was 1989 and that I was in Los Angeles.  When she asked me who I thought she was, I replied "Anna"-- I haven't called her that since she was a teenager.  Alarmed, she asked how many kids we had.  When I replied 'four,' Anne immediately called my doctors and insisted that they operate immediately.  Through her family's connections she secured an Operating Room (when she was told that there were none available).  Within a few hours, Neurosurgery was administered to drain the excess fluid accumulating in my brain.  I now have a permanent hole in my skull that Anne is responsible for.  But whenever I look in the mirror and see that hole, I am reminded of Anne's decisiveness and determination to keep me alive and I proudly wear that scar/hole as a symbol of her love.

I sometimes tease Anne for being such a busybody.  Because she has a hard time relaxing and 'chilling out.'  She always has to do something useful.  Lately, she has zeroed in on our son's schooling as her personal project.  When we came back to Manila in 2010, he was still in preschool and we were worried that he might be a little behind in his studies, because he missed almost a year of schooling during my daughter's hospitalization.  I told Anne that I wanted him to try taking the entrance exam to Xavier, my Alma Mater.  It is a hard school to get into, but I would be happy enough if he at least tried.  We wanted to enter him in Nursery.  But because of his age, the school insisted that he try out for Prep.  Knowing that my son can't even read, I thought that his chances of getting in were less than 10%.

By some miracle, he got accepted.  Apparently in Xavier, they are more concerned with the kids' natural intelligence, not their scholastic aptitude.  But as soon as we enrolled and looked at his books, Anne and I started getting worried-- it was apparent that he needed reading skills in three languages in order to successfully navigate through his Prep classes.  We immediately met with the Principal to plead for our son to be allowed to attend Nursery instead.  But the school insisted that his intelligence tests show that he is perfectly capable tackling the lessons he will encounter at the Prep level.

After two years of close personal supervision by Anne, our son has successfully navigated Prep and is a few days away from finishing Grade One.  Along the way, Anne has managed to become a permanent fixture in Xavier School-- known by most of our son's teachers and administrators, as well as the guards and the janitors.  She was the Parent Rep. for my son's Grade 1 class and was elected again for next year's Grade 2 (Grade 3 as Xavier transitions to the IB program) class.  Our son is beginning to get high marks in all his subjects, including Chinese and Filipino (languages he could not even speak less than two years ago).

Anne is such a treasure to the people she cares about.  I am proud to call her my wife.  I am deeply grateful that she is the mother of my children.  But most of all, I am honored to call her my partner and my bestfriend-- My Wonderwoman, my Superfriend.

My portrait of Anne


You truly are our hero.  The three of us would be lost without you.  You have given us everything and we love you very much.

--Wonder Woman, Superman and Superfriends are the property of D.C. Comics

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