Hi, I’m Randell Benitez. This is our sunny old man, Sonny Benitez (on the right is our loving mom). To his wife and us, his four children, he’s the most awesome ‘dad’. To relatives and friends, he is known as ‘Mang Sonny’ (mang: adjective; ‘mister’ in Filipino). He turned 71 this September 1st, and honestly, everyone hopes to still have his sunny disposition around in the years to come.
Why the fundraiser, you ask? Here’s a quick, thorough background.
On New Year’s Eve of 2015, Sonny started feeling queasy. His skin turned pale, almost yellow. His breathing became heavy, it was almost difficult. He was rushed to the hospital and was under observation for a couple of days. Apparently, he had anemia. It could have been caused by an infection, internal bleeding, or cancer (doctors suggested colon or prostate cancer). Tests and medicines came and went – no infection, hemorrhage, nor cancer cells were found. Ultimately, they suggested taking a look at his heart and his kidneys (he knew he had a weak heart and even weaker kidneys since his younger years). The whole family eventually found out how severe his case was. After his angiogram, the family learned that his heart was too weak to the point of almost being non-functional. Four major arteries were clogged. This could have been lethal to anyone younger than him. So, he had to undergo a four-way bypass surgery because angioplasty couldn’t have helped. It was a such major operation that he was required to stay in the ICU for two weeks. Lucky Sonny made it out of the hospital after a little over a month, but his health condition just went from bad to worse from that point onward. Even the family’s finances started depleting at this point.
In mid 2017, his nephrologist pointed out how his creatinine shot way above the roof. Normal creatinine levels for healthy folks are within 59-104 umol/L. His was at 369 umol/L. Another unsettling news shocked him (and the family) then – he needed to undergo constant dialysis or a kidney transplant. Sonny was literally shaking in fear after hearing this. ‘Another health scare? What about our finances?’ he probably thought. Instead, he didn’t do anything about it. He hoped medicine would be enough. But he was wrong. His limbs started showing signs of edema. His arms, hands, legs, and feet started to swell. On occasions that his limbs were bad, he’d go on full vegetable diet. But he could only stay within a vegetarian diet for a short while. Eventually, he went back to his old eating habits.
On June 21, 2020, his children and grandchildren got to visit him and celebrated Father’s Day as a family. After three months into the pandemic and the lockdown, this was the first time he was seeing his kids and theirs. But the whole family was worried – his limbs were very sore; everyone knew it was really bad and it was only a matter of time before the family is once again shaken by Sonny’s worsening health condition.
On June 22, Monday, he started coughing up blood. He was too afraid to tell his kids, even his wife.
On June 24, Tuesday, he started having difficulties breathing again. Spitting blood out became frequent. Everyone was worried it was COVID that finally struck him, so his family brought him to the ER to get him tested. Hospitals were full with COVID cases, and his family didn’t want to risk him contracting it if he hadn’t had it yet. So, they opted to bring him home.
And on June 26, his oxygen level suddenly dropped. From 85…79…75…to 69 all in a matter of hours. Even while he was hooked to an external oxygen tank at high levels. Breathing was painful at this point (obviously this could have caused his brain to shut down and render him comatose), so he was rushed to the Philippine Heart Center’s ER. But he would have been first tested and isolated for COVID, and there weren’t enough rooms to accommodate him. Time was ticking, running out. Next stop was Manila Medical’s ER (where he was tested on Wednesday). Then things just escalated from there.
His heart was already so enlarged it filled almost half of his chest. His kidneys were no longer functional enough that they had to insert a urinary catheter to force urine out of his body. Water filled both his right and left lungs (an effect of his body’s water retention and incapacity to expel fluids), and the upper portion of his lungs showed signs of infection (presumably pneumonia; possibly COVID). He got intubated. Was sent to the ICU. And his family was told he could have a cardiac arrest at any time (which he did that night). At any time, he could have been taken away from the people he loved. In a blink of an eye. In a heartbeat.
Sonny was in the ICU for two weeks. He was dialyzed. Was constantly sedated since he tried to remove all the apparatus attached to him, especially the intubation tube and his urinary catheter. The dosage of his antibiotic intake was pushed to higher and even higher levels. And since he was a COVID suspect, his family had to pay extra for the PPEs and mechanisms the hospital set in place to prevent him from possibly infecting health workers and vice versa. The bills ballooned to almost a million in a matter of days. But all his wife and children could do at this point was hope that he would get out of this alive and make it to his birthday. His family was at a point of breaking down. So, they started taking money out from what was left of their savings; they started calling friends and relatives to crowdsource for funds; and they even started applying for loans. They did all that they can to keep Sonny in the hospital until his condition improved. They did all that they could just so they can keep fighting with their dad who held onto dear life and fought harder to better his condition at that time.
After two weeks in the ICU, he stayed in the hospital for two weeks more. Even more tests came. More medicines added to the already unimaginable hospital expenses. And they knew that they only delayed the inevitable – his kidneys were already at the final stages of renal disease – and dialysis was already a constant friend to him. But no matter what happened, the goal was for Sonny to get better. And get better he did.
In July 25, 2020, a month after the fiasco first started, Sonny was finally discharged. Though that was only the beginning of the looming financial setbacks. His cardiologist still wants him to undergo an angiogram to monitor his heart condition, and eventually an angioplasty if deemed necessary or even effective to treat possible blockages. His pulmonologist suggested a bronchoscopy and colonoscopy to find out why he still coughs up blood at times. But his family was no longer able to afford any of the above because it would have costed them another 1.5 million in Philippine peso (roughly 30k USD). And for the rest of his life, Sonny will have to undergo chronic dialysis which costs at around 7.5-10k PHP (roughly 150-200 USD) a week, plus medicines that cost roughly around 6-7.5k PHP (roughly 125-150 USD) a week.
In case you were wondering, this is Sonny now. This photo was taken during his birthday. And this fundraiser was put up not only to afford his other tests or defray the looming costs of his dialysis and medicines, but really to help keep that sunny smile on his face for a longer time.
So, please…please help our family bring the ‘sunny’ kind of Sonny back. Help us keep this awesome father with us for a much longer time.