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Tara Santelices October fund-raising concert

September 11, 2009

HOPE and love were palpable the afternoon I entered Tara Santelices’ bedroom.

“It is the one thing we hold on to so we cannot let it go,” Larry Santelices, Tara’s father, says.

Tara is in a bright green room, attended to by a midwife named Babes.

It was on August 9 last year that Tara was shot in the head by an unknown assailant inside a passenger jeepney. It was also the eve of Tara’s birthday.

The young woman had just graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University the year before with a degree in political science. She was active in the band circuit while working for the NGO Upland Marketing. “She had many dreams. She wanted to go to law school someday,” Santelices says. He bears no bitterness for what has happened. “We choose to be thankful for the 23 years that we were given, when she was healthy and so full of life.”

Tara’s brain was damaged. Shrapnel remain 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. 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 gives them 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 relates.

The couple and their two other 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.

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 P4 million. Santelices says the hospital was kind enough to give them time to pay for the bill, a huge part of which was subsidized by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

However, the balance of around P1.3 million is something they continue to struggle with on a day-to-day basis. This is in addition to P90,000 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 says once in a while they 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 hope for a miracle. “Nothing in this life is really under our control. Not once did we question God,” Anne says. “There must be a reason for all of this. Always, there is a reason for the pain.”

Difficult journey

Unfortunately, the Cainta police declared the case closed, saying they had already caught the culprit and shot him down. However, Larry says two witnesses from the scene said the man the police caught was not the same one who shot Tara.

“That is the difficult part of this journey, knowing the man who shot our daughter continues to roam the streets,” Larry says. But rather than focus on being angry, the couple chose to focus their energy on work, caring for Tara, and “Tara’s Theme,” a fund-raising concert they plan to put up in October to pay off the debts incurred with Tara’s hospitalization. It’s amazing how people have come together, to perform the songs and the music Tara loved while she was growing up. José Mari Chan, Karylle and Bloomfields will perform at the show.

As I was leaving the Santelices’ townhouse, I recalled 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 miracle a chance to happen.”

(lifted from the column “Roots and Wings” of the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated July 25, 2009 by Cathy S. Babao-Guballa)

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