Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Carla and Abby during their swimming sessions. Carla was also hospitalized.

Sometimes, nothing could be more infuriating than having a hyperactive child during this long hot summer break. When that child would start climbing walls out of boredom, it is not uncommon for harassed parents to wish for school to start sooner. But when that child becomes ill and stays in bed with all that boisterous energy gone, every parent’s dearest wish and longing would be for the return of that hyperactive brat.

That was what happened. For a while, I lost my super active Abby when 40-degree fevers hit accompanied by vomiting and headache. I felt helpless as I watched her curled up hour after hour with high-grade fever that refused to go down despite the paracetamol that I had been giving to her. In these instances, tears crept out of her closed eyes, not because she had been crying, but because her temperature had become so high tears simply started to trickle out.

Pediatrician Dra. Idelle Yurong advised hospitalization last May 1 (Tuesday) because Abby was already dehydrated. It was on that same day that I learned of two other children at SUMC: Teo Antonio, son of Arnold and Jacqueline Antonio, a fellow MetroPost columnist; and Cheska Salcedo, daughter of my friends Gams and Pammy Salcedo. All three children shared something in common: they all attended the Learn to Swim Program in the Silliman pool.

They also exhibited similar presentations: high fever, vomiting and headache. Abby and Teo had abdominal pain and soft stools.

By Sunday, six more children were hospitalized in SUMC. Two other girls were taken to Holy Child. They were also in the Learn to Swim Program. Again, most of them had high fever, vomiting and soft stools.

From Sunday until today, Wednesday, May 9, 2007, I know of four other children who were admitted at SUMC.

Abby’s CBC showed bacterial infection. She tested negative for typhoid fever and amoebiasis and her blood culture was likewise negative. Her fever persisted despite three days of ampicillin. She had to be given Rocephin, a third generation antibiotic, to which she finally responded.

Her hospitalization lasted for seven days. Up to her last day at SUMC, we never knew what made Abby and all those other children ill.

Now let’s get down to the questions and answers:

(1) Am I zeroing in on the Silliman pool as the source of the infection?

No. I am not pointing any fingers at anything or anybody. Rather, I just want to point out one very obvious fact: that the Silliman pool and its surroundings is the only common denominator among all these sick children.

(2) What do I want to achieve from writing about this?

Although the pool water tested negative for e-coli bacteria and even 0% of all other bacteria, and was declared safe for drinking, still this question must be asked: What made all these children sick? Their number is quite considerable. This occurrence therefore should not be dismissed or brushed aside as a mere coincidence.

We asked Silliman University to get to the bottom of this matter and try to determine, if it could still be determined, the whats, hows, wheres and whens of this very unfortunate occurrence. I want this looked into and I want one particular question to be answered: Why did my baby become sick?

As of this writing, I am happy that Pres. Ben Malayang had already undertaken the necessary steps to address this “incident”. For instance, he had ordered the pool closed pending determination as to whether the water is safe for swimmers or not. He had also convened investigating panels, and from what I heard, had hired the services of an independent group of investigators.

(3) Did I want to create trouble for Silliman or cause panic among the public?

Another NO! I do not want any trouble contrary to what one doctor I had an altercation with kept insisting! I just want Silliman and everyone concerned to do something and to do it fast!

Jackie Antonio and I decided to take matters into our own hands because we were frustrated by the apathy that we saw around us! Our babies (yes!!! babies!!! – and they will always be our babies no matter what their age) became sick and we wanted Silliman to do something and we want to know how and why they became sick!

Did we overact? Was it a matter of too much, too soon? Well, sue us! We are worried mothers and fathers who acted on our instincts to secure the welfare of our young no matter what! If that is a crime, then there isn’t going to be enough jail space for us all!

How about causing panic? What panic??? Only about 160 children were part of the Learn to Swim Program of the PE Dept. That number could hardly cause widespread pandemonium in Dumaguete, could it?

(4) Why did I give my consent to that interview with ABS-CBN? Because there might still be other sick children out there! I want their parents to know that several others have already become ill, and that they should immediately have their children seen by doctors.

Yes indeed, Jackie and I have taken matters in our own hands. We had to. Just because Teo and Abby have fully recovered doesn’t mean that we can forget what had happened to them!

This afternoon, several parents were interviewed by members of the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit of the Department of Health. They will be taking water samples and will be sending those to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Manila.

I’ll be one happy Mama if a culprit, other than the swimming pool, could be found. My husband and I still harbor hopes that Abby could return next summer for more swimming lessons.

Final question: Why are we doing these? After all, our children have already been discharged from the hospital. They are already well, so why keep stirring up all these?

Simple. We want answers. WHAT MADE OUR BABIES SICK? Until now, there is no conclusive determination as to the kind of bacteria or microorganism that have infected our children.

I am troubled by the thought that unless our doctors knew exactly what microorganisms have infected our children, we could never be assured that the treatment applied to our children had been sufficient. So many what ifs … what if it had not been totally eliminated and is simply lying dormant within the children’s bodies? What if they would become ill years from now because of that dormant bacteria? What if they have become carriers themselves and will infect other children they come in contact with? (The Norovirus is known for this).

Unless the microorganism is identified, we can never be fully certain that its threat was properly and thoroughly addressed through the antibiotics that were applied to our children. Nor would we know if they needed after-hospitalization care or not.

I was almost disappointed when Abby did not have amoebiasis. How I wished that it was only amoeba … then I would know what made her ill. And that would have been the end of the story.

But right now, I need answers to my questions. Only then will my mind be at peace knowing that all the children are really and truly well.

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