Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tara Santelices, One Year After The Accident

Hope and love were so thick the afternoon I entered Tara Santelices bright green bedroom.

“It is the one thing we hold on to, and so we cannot let it go,” Larry Santelices, Tara’s father, tells me that rainy day I came to visit. Outside, the small, simply furnished townhouse where Tara lay, attended to by her midwife, Babes, rain was pouring hard. It’s almost been a year now, August 9, 2008 -- the evening Tara was shot in the head by an unknown assailant inside a jeepney somewhere in Cainta. It was also the eve of her 23rd birthday.

The young woman had just graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University the year before with a degree in Political Science and was active in the band circuit while at the same time working for Upland Marketing , an NGO. “She had many dreams. She wanted to go to law school someday…” Santelices says, his voice trailing off as he gazes far into the distance. He bears no bitterness for what has happened and instead says that the whole family has come to an acceptance of the way things are. “We choose to be thankful for the 23 years that we were given, when she was healthy and so full of life.”

Nowadays, Tara lies fast asleep on most hours of the day, her brain has incurred permanent damage, the many shrapnels remain floating in her head. When I went to see her, it did look like she was just sleeping yet opening her dark brown eyes once in a while. Very fair, her hair tied into a neat ponytail, she looked much healthier than the last time I saw her at the hospital. Larry and Anne say that once in a while, she gifts them with a miracle. “I’d like to believe that she can see,” Anne says. “She looks at us intently using her good eye (her left eye is blind and totally damaged), and every now and then, when she is awake, she grips my hand firmly or blinks her eyes. I know she is there, somewhere…” Anne Santelices relates.

The couple and their two daughters, Iya and Gita shuttle between their home in Cainta and the small townhouse in Quezon City owned by Anne’s brother who works overseas. Tara lives with her grandmother and the two midwives who rotate on 12-hour shifts and look after her needs. The Santelices family is happier and more settled now that she has been brought home after an eight-month confinement at The Medical City where their bill reached a whopping 4M pesos. Santelices says that the hospital was kind enough to give them time to pay for the bill, a huge part of which was subsidized by the PCSO. However, the balance of around 1.3M pesos is something that they continue to struggle with on a day-to-day basis. This is in addition to spending roughly 90,000 pesos a month for Tara’s care and the family’s other needs. Tara’s milk alone, Peptamen, costs them at least a thousand pesos per can each day.

The couple say that once in a while they do break down and wonder how much longer they will be able to sustain Tara. “Her heart is strong now, but what do we do when the organs start to fail?“ Yet, they continue to be buoyed by their faith and their hope for a miracle. “Nothing in this life is really under our control. Not once did we question God,” Anne says. I am momentarily floored by her statement, but amazed by her unswerving faith. “There must be a reason for all of this. Always, there is a reason for the pain.”

Unfortunately, the wheels of justice have turned so slowly. The Cainta police declared the case closed and are staunch in saying that they had already caught the culprit and shot him down. However, Larry refutes this and says that two witnesses from the scene said that the man the police caught was not the same one who shot Tara that fateful night.

“That is the difficult part of this journey. Knowing that the man who shot our daughter continues to roam the streets…” Larry Santelices says. But rather than focus on being angry, the couple choose to focus their energies on work, on caring for Tara, and on “Tara’s Theme” a benefit concert they hope to put up in October to help raise funds to pay off the debts incurred in Tara’s hospitalization. “It’s amazing how people have come together, to perform the songs and the music that Tara loved while she was growing up. Jose Mari Chan , Karylle and Bloomfields are some of the performers who have so far given their nod to perform at the benefit show.

Leaving the townhouse under an overcast sky and the fading afternoon light, I was reminded of what Dr. Jerome Groopman, professor of Immunology at Harvard Medical School and chief of Experimental Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center wrote in his best-selling book, “The Anatomy of Hope” -- “To hope under the most extreme circumstances is an act of defiance that, permits a person to live his life on his own terms. It is part of the human spirit to endure and give a miracle a chance to happen.”