“I kept telling myself that I could not leave him alone, that I had to find a way for him to get his medication.”
Donna Ramos can never forget the state of worry, fear and desperation that enveloped her when the nationwide lockdowns were imposed on March 16. Her younger brother, 35 year old Darios Ramos, was just diagnosed with tuberculosis exactly a month before quarantine protocols were set.
She recalls the February night when she first got the distressing phone call from her brother. It began with him saying that he hadn’t been feeling well, describing symptoms of difficulty in breathing, coughing, a lack of appetite, and exhaustion from getting to his workplace that was only of walking distance from his house—a short trek that he has been accustomed to for years. For Donna, however, the signs were telling that it was a more serious plight than being a mere fever or fatigue from work.
“I was very worried,” said Donna. “I asked him to list all the symptoms he was experiencing and when they started to occur. But when he told me that he was coughing and would easily get tired from walking to work, that was when I urged him to go have himself checked.”
Being the third oldest of six siblings and the oldest daughter of the family, Donna has taken on the breadwinner role in the family. At 40, she continues to support her three younger siblings—Darios and their two youngest sisters—who are all residing together in Manila. Upon hearing of his situation, she immediately visited her brother and even made the call to have him checked by a private doctor. After a series of tests, which included an x-ray scan, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
A familiar case
This was not the first time that Donna’s family was stricken with the disease. More than ten years ago, Darios had already been diagnosed with TB, but was able to undergo medication and eventually overcome the illness.
But that wasn’t the only case. In 2010, the Ramos family regrettably lost their father to pulmonary tuberculosis. It was Donna who also took care of their father when he was undergoing treatment. She shared that while he was able to recover after six months of medication, he was diagnosed again with the disease a year later. The unfortunate circumstance that time around was that he stopped taking his medication after two months, which ultimately worsened his condition and led to him succumbing to the illness.
For Donna, it left a glaring reminder to always take care of their health and to be more wary of symptoms that may later arise—which was the case her brother was now facing. Understanding how detrimental it could be for Darios to miss even just a day of medication, Donna made sure that he is able to continuously undergo treatment and finish taking his medicine.
Seeking treatment under lockdown
According to Donna, their routine for getting his TB medication would involve a trip to his doctor, receiving a medical prescription, wherein she would later buy his medication at the pharmacy. However, that all became inaccessible when nationwide lockdowns were imposed.
“There was no transportation and my siblings in Tondo were too far away from the clinic of our doctor. I just knew that it had to continue because if we missed out on a day, we had to start again from zero,” said Ramos. “So I did everything that I could. I searched for the nearest hospital, reached out to different agencies that could help. I was even making calls to borrow extra money in case I was able to find any medical office that could provide the medication.”
Eventually, she was able to find a health center in Palomar, however they were not being accommodated due to not having a patient record at their facility. She also shared that the nearest TB DOTS Center in Tondo did not even have an enough supply of medicine. Desperate but still very determined, Donna continued to make calls and inquiries at different health facilities but with no such luck. Fortunately, she came across the TBFreePH page on Facebook, a social media platform set up by the Department of Health (DOH) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide critical messages on TB care.
“I immediately messaged the page and I asked for help regarding the medication for TB patients,” explained Ramos. “I told them my side—that I was in lockdown in Cavite, while my brother in Tondo was at home sick with TB.”
It wasn’t long until a response came. With the help of #TBFreePH, Donna was able to enrol her brother for treatment at the Palomar Health Center and a monthly supply of medicine that her younger sister picks up and brings home.
“I can’t imagine what would have happened if not for #TBFreePH and the Palomar Health Center,” said Ramos. “I am more than thankful that they were there to support me and my family in helping my brother get treated. They patiently helped me throughout the process until the very last month of treatment.”
By August 28, Darios was able to complete his six months of medication and is now scheduled for a follow-up check-up and an x-ray to fully clear him of his TB diagnosis. As for the other siblings that are living with him, they have also been checked for TB and are negative.
With a lighter heart, Donna expressed that it is because of the genuine and accommodating service of #TBFreePH and Palomar Health Center that her family was able to overcome this difficult time. “Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, I am thankful that the committed people behind #TBFreePH are there to give TB patients their needed medical care and attention.”
“To #TBFreePH, thank you for prioritizing TB patients and for your efforts to ensure they get to continue their treatment.”