THE  PRESIDENT'S  LONGEST  NIGHT

MANILA,
APRIL 11, 2007 (STAR) By Katherine Adraneda - It was, possibly, the longest night of her life.

President Arroyo stayed up throughout the 10-hour "very high-risk" open heart surgery of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo at the St. Luke’s Medical Center Monday night.

"She did not cry. She was fine and calm," Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes, one of several Cabinet secretaries who kept vigil with the President, told reporters.

Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera said the President, though worried, "was composed and very presidential."

Mrs. Arroyo did not appear tired or overly anxious when she emerged from an elevator on the ground floor of the hospital at around 2:45 a.m. yesterday.

She came from the presidential suite of the SLMC on the fifth floor, where family members, friends and several government officials prayed and heard Mass for the speedy recovery of her husband around midnight yesterday.

The Mass was celebrated by Fr. Fernando Suarez, who was described as a "healing priest."

Negros Occidental Rep. Jose Ignacio "Iggy" Arrroyo said they entrusted the fate of his brother Mike to God and his doctors as the latter underwent surgery Monday night.

"The entire family led by the President was there. We just prayed during the 10-hour operation," he said.

He said that aside from himself and the President, those who kept vigil at the hospital included the Arroyos’ children Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel or Mikey, Luli and Camarines Sur congressional bet Diosdado or Dato, and Mr. Arroyo’s sister Marilou.

"What could you do? A simple operation could turn bad, while a complex operation could turn very simple. So we just prayed and left it all to God," said Iggy Arroyo.

"We are all happy that he made it. We thank God and everyone who prayed and continue to pray for him and the family," he said.

The Chief Executive went to the cafeteria with Iggy and headed back to the presidential suite 10 minutes later, this time with sons Mikey and Dato.

Before finally walking towards the elevator, Mrs. Arroyo, in black pants and red blouse, managed to give out a smile and wave to members of the media, who were on a stakeout at the lobby since her husband was admitted at the SLMC Monday noon.

Some two hours later, Mr. Arroyo’s operation for dissecting aortic aneurysm was declared successful.

Iggy said that the First Gentleman was "stable but asleep."

When The STAR talked to the First Gentleman’s brother at about mid-morning yesterday, the congressman was at home.

He said he had gone home to take a short rest, but that he was rushing back to the hospital because his brother was already awake and that he would talk to him.

Devanadera, who was among the government officials who visited the hospital to show support for the First Family, told reporters that Mr. Arroyo was "very, very okay."

Devanadera arrived at the SLMC about 5:30 a.m. yesterday. Some 15 minutes later, she came down from the presidential suite.

"I was told that the operation has been finished even before I arrived here. And I was also told that the operation of the First Gentleman was successful," she said. "And because of that the President said she could already take some rest."

Cabinet officials who earlier visited the President and her family at the SLMC said that Mrs. Arroyo was "calm and fine" as she monitored the developments on the surgery of her husband.

A Cabinet member, who requested not to be named, described to The STAR that despite the "high-risk" open heart surgery of Mr. Arroyo the ambiance at the suite was "relaxed" as visitors of the First Family took snacks while engaging in casual conversation.

The government official also said that everything "seemed normal" in the room since the First Gentleman continued to be "in stable condition."

As of Tuesday midnight, government officials who arrived at the SLMC were Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde (PMS), Trade Secretary Peter Favila, senatorial bet Prospero Pichay and Environment Undersecretary Roy Kyamko.

"The President is calm, monitoring the operation, and even the one explaining about the procedure," Pichay later said. "At one time, she even offered her blood for the transfusion needed in the conduct of the surgery."

According to Fr. Suarez, of the Canada-based Companions of the Cross, he was asked to come over to the SLMC by his and Mr. Arroyo’s common friends. He said he was with the First Family in Baguio.

"The family did not ask for sacraments, just prayers," Fr. Suarez later told reporters.

While at the suite, he suggested that instead of merely waiting, a Mass be held "to have a common prayer for the First Gentleman."

Remonde described Fr. Suarez as a "healing priest" while the cleric described himself as a "missionary priest."

As Mr. Arroyo was taken out of the operating room to the recovery room, presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye extended gratitude "to all those who have offered their prayers, sympathy and support at this difficult time" on behalf of the First Family.

Wishes for a speedy recovery poured in as allies of the administration prayed for Mr. Arroyo’s speedy recovery.

"We are glad to know that faith and medicine are working together in making sure this is one battle that won’t knock him down," Sen. Ralph Recto said.

Isabela Rep. Rodito Albano said the President was scheduled this week to visit his province but that the trip might have to be reset due to the First Gentleman’s hospitalization.

He called on the critics of the administration to join in the prayers. "Let’s set aside politics or personal grudges here and instead pray for his safety," he said.

Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella also urged the critics to spare the First Family from "additional anguish and anxiety."

"It would be the height of insensitivity and cruelty to continue to use FG for personal political aggrandizement," he added.

The First Gentleman was rushed to the SLMC after being discharged from the St. Louis University Hospital in Baguio City where he was brought last Sunday after experiencing "severe abdominal pain, which initially presented as chest pain."

Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone, media director of Team Unity and who was in Baguio with some administration senatorial candidates and officials, said he noticed that the President’s husband had no appetite for two days.

"He refused to eat on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I thought he was fasting," he said.

Doctors at the Baguio hospital evaluated Mr. Arroyo’s heart and found it stable. Initial tests done in Baguio revealed that the First Gentleman was suffering from gastritis.

However, with the persistence of the "abdominal pain radiating in the upper back," he was consequently transferred to the SLMC for "extensive workups."

Eventually, doctors diagnosed the First Gentleman’s condition to be that of dissecting aortic aneurysm.

It can be recalled that in December last year Mr. Arroyo, 60, underwent angioplasty due to previous coronary artery disease. -with Jess Diaz


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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