Rommel Cruz shows his decorated prosthesis after an inspirational talk at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in a ceremony welcoming the visit of Rotary International president Kalyan Banerjee to the PGH prosthetic laboratory in December in 2010. (Photo by Linus Escandor)
At first glance, you will not notice that he bears an artificial leg.
Despite what many may call disability, Rommel Cruz, 38, walks with pride without a trace of discomfort and with an air of humility in himself. Armed with a strong faith and devotion to God, Cruz has turned his condition into an inspirational tool not only to patients who are about to be amputated but also to others who think losing a limb is the end of it all.
It all began on that fateful day of July 16, 1990 when an earthquake badly hit Baguio City that toppled several buildings in one of the country’s premiere summer destinations.
The quake almost reduced the city to rubble leaving Cruz, then 19, half-buried in broken pieces of the large chimney of the house in front of his dwelling place. Cruz was then working as a private nurse having finished one-year of care giving education. The chimney hit the young Cruz badly and he had to be airlifted in order for him to receive immediate medical treatment.
Cruz was sent to the hospital for two months but the isolation not only resulted to temporary bouts of loneliness but also boredom to the young Cruz. Little did he know that the experience would leave deeper scars that would initially bear difficulties but would make him a source of inspiration for many patients more than a decade later.
After his treatment, Cruz pursued nursing beginning in 1996 eventually finishing school and becoming a full-fledged nurse later on. He worked in several local hospitals before he finally left the country in 2001 to work in Japan until 2005. “But I had to go back in 2005 because I was diagnosed with Chronic osteomyelitis,” he said.
Chronic osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone and the bone marrow.
Again, Cruz did not let the setback deter him from driving towards his chosen craft.
Despite suffering from frequent episodes of fever, he still worked passionately as an operating room technician at the Medical Center Manila (MCM) from 2006 up to April of 2010.
“I ask prescription from doctors. I inject Paracetamol. The doctors in my work place didn’t know that I suffer from fever every so often. I didn’t tell them earlier because they don’t know my situation yet. I felt that it’s hard to explain to them,” Cruz related.
“Sometimes, I don’t go to work for two days then I go back and after three to five days, I am absent again because of fever.”
It was in November 2007 when Cruz consulted Dr. Rafael Recto of MCM who told him that he needed amputation as his leg cannot be saved anymore.
Cruz was then referred to Dr. Rafael Bundoc, a spine surgery expert at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) who also attends to amputees of PGH prosthesis laboratory.
The PGH prosthesis laboratory boasts of the state-of-the-art machines in manufacturing artificial legs that is graciously sponsored by Physicians for Peace. The laboratory includes a Walking Assistance and Learning Key Unit (WALK), a rehabilitation room housing the P600, 000 treadmill-like equipment that helps new amputees to use their prosthesis.
Cruz had his right leg amputated on May 19, 2008. He went to rehabilitation three days later and in November 2008, he received his first prosthesis or artificial leg from the prosthesis laboratory.
“Two months after surgery, I started feeling sad. I stayed at home all the time,” he said.
But a few months after that, Cruz was back on track and is better than ever. There was no issue of regret for this amputee.
Cruz relates that he did not experience any discrimination at work. In fact, when he was certified as fit to work by Dr. Recto, nobody made an issue out of his amputation. It was work as usual.
“In fact, I was much better after the amputation. I no longer suffer from fever and I no longer need intramuscular injection of Paracetamol.”
“I even do snorkeling, swimming, mounting climbing, diving in Anilao, Pangasinan, badminton and long drives using manual sticks,” Cruz proudly beamed.
Cruz will soon return for Dubai where he works as an operating room nurse in a private health facility.
He has made it his personal crusade to counsel would-be amputees to keep the faith and continue living their dreams.
“The patients compliment me on how I walk. They said it is as if I’m not wearing prosthesis,” he said.
A smile formed on Cruz’ face as he related how he spreads the ideas of hope and courage among the patients.
“I tell them that losing a limb is not the end of life. I encourage them to keep doing what they loved doing before the amputation. It is their love for life that will keep them hopeful.”