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No need for Arroyo to travel abroad for treatment, surgeon says

Publication Date : 19-08-2012


Former Philippines president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo does not need to travel abroad to get expert medical attention, an official of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) said yesterday.

Dr. Leo Olarte, vice president of PMA, said realigning the titanium plate implanted in Arroyo’s neck to make her breathe and eat easily is a simple, three-hour procedure for any orthopaedic surgeon in the Philippines.

Olarte, an orthopaedic surgeon who has been following Arroyo's condition, said the former President had every right to choose her doctor and hospital.

But her doctor's statement that there are no specialists in the country who can treat her is "unfounded," Olarte said.

Malacanang is considering consulting an independent medical expert to verify Arroyo's condition, Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang said yesterday.

"In the past, we sought credible medical opinion from a third party to verify claims from the Arroyo camp," Carandang said in a text message. “I haven’t spoken to the President about it, but I would imagine we’d do the same this time around," he said.

Arroyo is facing electoral sabotage, breach of ethics and plunder charges and the government wants to make sure she remains in the country to face trial.

She is suffering from cervical spondylosis, a degenerative condition of the cartilage of the bones of the neck caused by the chronic erosion of the cervical spine. She has had three operations since July last year, and received titanium plate implants in the bone of her neck.

Second opinion

Dr. Antonio Sison, president of the Philippine Orthopaedic Spine Society, said the former president should be allowed to seek a second opinion on her condition. "That is her every right," he said in an interview yesterday.

Sison said he would rather not comment on the specifics of the former president's medical condition as he had not seen her medical records or X-rays.

Sison said he only knew of Arroyo’s condition from media reports. If the screw on the former president’s neck is loose and causing her pain as claimed by her doctors, perhaps it is best to remove it than do a full reconstruction, he said.

He noted that Arroyo has gone under the knife three times. He added that removing screws on the spine can be done here in the Philippines by Filipino doctors.

He dismissed the statement of Dr. Roberto Anastacio, Arroyo's cardiologist, that the country does not have medical experts to treat Arroyo. "First of all, he’s a cardiologist. He’s not a spine surgeon, he’s not knowledgeable about spine surgery," Sison said.

Olarte said he saw the CT scans of Arroyo’s throat on television. Based on this, it did not seem that the titanium would choke her. "It's not a critical or emergency condition. If it was critical, then she should not have been discharged in the first place," he said.

Shifting implants

On Friday, Dr. Anastacio, Arroyo's cardiologist at Makati Medical Centre (MMC), told reporters that the implants in her neck had shifted, causing protrusions that block her air and food pathways.

The condition could lead to "disturbance in blood circulation," which could cause cardiac arrest and "sudden death."

Anastacio said Arroyo’s condition was life-threatening. But he ordered her discharged though with the recommendation that she travels to the United States and Austria where she could find specialists used to handling "repetitive reconstruction.”

He said such specialists and the “support structure” needed to carry out the operation were not available in the Philippines.

Olarte disagreed. "From what I’ve seen on TV of his X-rays and scans, her situation is not life-threatening," he said.

Olarte acknowledged that the titanium plates in Arroyo’s neck had moved but he said “there is still an adequate diameter in her oesophagus and trachea.”

That, he said, belies Anastacio’s finding that the plates were increasingly constricting Arroyo’s air and food pathways, threatening her life.

Olarte said the complications from the shifted plates could not be that substantial or Arroyo would not have been discharged.

Anastacio’s claim that Arroyo could get quality treatment only abroad is “totally unfounded,” Olarte said. “There are many orthopaedic surgeons and specialists here, and adequate facilities to treat her,” he said.

Olarte questioned Anastacio’s giving medical advice on surgery of the cervical spine. He noted that Anastacio is a cardiologist. The correct decision making should be done by an orthopaedic surgeon, Olarte said.

For that, Olarte criticised MMC for "implicitly" allowing Anastacio's press conference on Friday. "Otherwise, they should have issued a waiver," he said.

Responding to that comment, Marc Funelas, MMC chief of corporate communications, said Anastacio's remarks during the press conference "were not MMC's statement."

Funelas pointed out that Anastacio’s press conference was held at Dome Cafe at the back of MMC and not at the hospital.

Anastacio and registered radiologic technologists Ruben L. Mendoza and Vincent F. Hilario signed the medical bulletin issued to journalists on Friday. In that bulletin, Anastacio thanked MMC and gave special mention to MMC medical director Benjamin Alimurong.

With a report from TJ Burgonio


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