SAN PEDRO, Laguna – Nila Tribiana Aquino and her husband Bert would have wanted themselves preoccupied with supporting two beautiful daughters, who are now a medical doctor and a hotel and restaurant management graduate.
But on August 27, 1987, Nila gave birth to a third daughter whose looks came as a shock to her and the family. Anna Carmela had no hands and legs.
“She was born an angel, one with broken wings,” the woman, now 58, from San Pedro, Laguna, said of the quadriplegic Anna Carmela.
Indeed, an angel Anna Carmela is. Despite her handicap, she has become a source of inspiration and pride to her family and to her elementary and high school classmates because of her intelligence, wit and deep love of God.
Excelling in science and English, she has been a consistent honor student, graduating valedictorian in the elementary and salutatorian in high school. She wants to take up Psychology in a prestigious university.
A poem she wrote when she was in first year high school did not betray her being a quadriplegic. It expresses her thanks to God for “the beautiful and healthy body. For my eyes to see the colorful flowers, the beautiful birds, and the sky…”
Indeed, contrary to Nila’s initial thought that her child was a curse and a punishment, she is a gem and heaven-sent.
Her cousin Chit A. Tribiana, in her essay “Everyday Miracles,” describes Nila’s ordeal: “Anger and denial consumed her for days and weeks. Alone in her room, she would cry, question why He allowed this to happen when she had served Him well, then cried some more. She could not even bring herself to talk about, much less show, her baby to her friends.”
The mother’s depression went on for about two months, until she could cry no more. She turned to the Bible for answers, and realized how her life resembled that of Job, whose faith and fidelity to God was tested. All her anger and feeling of shame disappeared.
The whole family lavished Anna Carmela with all the affection and care she needed, like a normal baby. She is present in all family gatherings and celebrations. She entertains guests with her favorite Pussycat Dolls and MYMP songs.
Today, the teenager likes to send text messages in her two mobile phones to friends despite her short, incomplete and twisted fingers.
Nila recalled how God had answered her prayers when Anna Carmela was 2 years old. She appealed that the child’s travel be less difficult whenever she was brought to a hospital in Manila in a custom-made stroller for regular checkups.
On July 7, 1989, while Nila was preparing for a talk in a seminar in Cebu as her company’s budget supervisor, a silent “voice” told her in Filipino: “You pledged P1,000, but you will only pay for P200. Get five more.”
To make a long story short, Nila had bought the lucky number which won the grand prize of a raffle draw on July 9, 1989, by the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus in San Pedro—a new Zebra AUV. It was the perfect answer to Anna Carmela’s need for transportation to the hospital.
As the years went by, the mother realized that she needed help to look after Anna Carmela, so Bert resigned from his work abroad to help her.
Second trial: cancer
Now 19, Anna Carmela said she wanted people to “treat me as a normal person like them. I don’t want them to pity me because I am like this.” She is challenging the children in her neighborhood to value their studies and complete their profession.
“I am thanking God that He makes me happy despite my physical handicap.”
At first, Nila and Bert thought that the coming of Anna Carmela was their worst trial. “Not yet!” God seemed to say.
Nila was diagnosed as having an advanced stage of breast cancer in the late 1990s. She was advised to undergo chemotherapy and surgery, which, according to her doctor, would give her a 50-50 chance of survival.
Nila knew too well the bleak scenario ahead if she allowed herself to be treated at once: Her elder daughters—Maritess and Roselle—would be forced to quit college, and she herself would stop working.
She decided to keep her condition a secret and continued with her job to allow her children to finish their studies. Her only request to God was to contain the cancerous cells so that she would not suffer much.
In 2003, her left nipple started to retract. In February 2005, her breast bled and left an ugly wound. Several tests did not rule out metastasis.
In early 2006, back pains prompted her to have a bone scan. The doctor’s prognosis: Stage-4 cancer.
Time for treatment
This time, her family prevailed.
Maritess, who finished 11th in the February 2000 Pharmacists Board Examinations and is also a licensed physician, made Nila promise that no matter what happened, her mother must go through the required medical treatment.
The eldest child chose to defer her residency to attend to her mother’s needs. Her father and Roselle, who is now working in a leading hotel, are all behind Nila. Anna Carmela has expressed willingness to delay her schooling.
Nila is currently back in her job in a management services company, but her medication continues. Her last salary has been exhausted, and her family is surviving on advances and loans from her company and assistance from people who care.
Like Job, her strong faith has sustained her in her fight against the malady. She has remained smiling, assured that God, with the help of countless agents storming the heavens with prayers and adoration, will rescue her.
Despite her financial crisis, the patient keeps her practice of tithing to the Church, charitable institutions, and to the poor. She believes that by sharing graces to the needy, God will also be more gracious to her and her family.
“I keep praying that God will still cure me so that I can continue earning for my children,” Nila said. “But I don’t know what His plan is. Whatever it is, I know it will be for the best. I have complete trust in my True Healer.”