Heroes at the Frontline

Written by Marianne Abalayan //  Published

While most Filipinos are within the comforts of their homes since a Luzon-wide lockdown is in effect and other parts of the country are put under community quarantine, frontliners endure extended long hours, weary bodies and sleepless nights as they brave giving services to the public amid the scare of contracting the dreaded deadly coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

As of 4 p.m., March 27, the Philippines has a total of 803 confirmed Covid-19 positive persons with 54 deaths and 31 recovered patients.

To date, nine doctors of various specializations from different hospitals died in the battle against the pandemic.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in his recent televised message to Filipinos, said, “Let me reiterate my sincerest gratitude to all our courageous frontliners in this war, especially our healthcare workers - our doctors, nurses, medical technologists, and other allies health professionals. Maraming, maraming salamat (Thank you very much).”

The International Churches of Christ (ICOC) Philippines, too, is proud to have disciples at the frontline the likes of nurses Jon Jon Velasco, Katrina Gracia and Joanne Marie Cerezo, news video editor Jose Alphonso “Pancho” N. Leoncio and soldier Bernie Senobin - who not only give the best care for their patients or excellent service to their fellow Filipinos but also exude the love and light of Jesus Christ in this dark times.

Secure in heart

Forty-two-year-old Jon, a core group member of ICOC Manila, works as an assistant unit manager and senior respiratory therapist/nurse of the Pulmonary Laboratory Department at the Makati Medical Center for 11 years now.

Since Covid-19 is a virus that affects the respiratory function, Velasco and his colleagues provide care to aid patients with respiratory needs, monitor patient's respiratory effort and do blood extraction to monitor patient's oxygenation. They tend to patients needing ventilatory support (artificial respirators) side by side with a pulmonologist.

He, however, shared extended number of duty hours, increase in workloads since the ratio for staff against patients tremendously increased and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) as among the challenges he is facing.

The uncertainty of not knowing who is positive or not, unless tested for Covid-19, and patients not disclosing important personal information has also put his life at risk. He also worried about being infected, which could in turn also make his family susceptible to the virus.

Yet, his faith and security in God always calm his heart.

“Since we have no timeline when this situation will end, and how long can we keep up with the situation. That's the time my faith in God comes in. Romans 8:28 keeps me going and assures myself that God is always in control. God will always take care of us,” he said.

Fear to faith

Katrina, 26, used to walk for two hours to reach the Philippine General Hospital where she works as a nurse. She also walks the same amount of time to go home since there is no available public transportation due to the lockdown. At last she bought herself a bicycle online so she won’t be late for her duty.

“Even if I don’t know how to bike along highways, I still push myself because I have no other means of transportation. I can’t always walk from home to the hospital and vice versa,” the 18-month-old disciple said.

She is stationed at the psychiatric ward, which is surrounded by other wards that cater to patients under investigation (PUIs) and Covid-19 patients. Other PGH doctors who have been exposed to Covid-19 positive patients have become PUIs themselves.

She admitted to having fears at the thought of being in a hospital catering to Covid-19 positive patients, making her also prone to virus infection. She even cried a lot.

But the more she prays and listens to God’s Word, her fears eventually fade away.

“God calms and comforts me,” she said, adding, “Sometimes, I feel like giving up but I realized that God has put me in this situation for a reason, and that is to take care of His people and save them no matter what.”

She is thankful to disciples for constantly encouraging her and her family for their support.

Soon, their ward will accept Covid-19 patients but she is ready to face her fears with confidence in the God who protects her.

Oath to keep

First Lieutenant Bernie Senobin of the Philippine Army is currently assigned in Magpet, deploying troops to man the community quarantine checkpoints in entire Cotabato Province.

He checks on them from time to time, giving them instructions, although line companies are the ones really focused on the ground.

A veteran of armed encounters himself, Bernie, a 10-year-old disciple of ICOC Davao, said he has faced several dangers in special missions in far-flung areas of Mindanao. Clashes are exhausting even if it only lasts in few minutes and could also be fatal.

But in this war against Covid-19, he said, “We are dealing with an unseen enemy and everybody else could become victims.”

He is aware that being a frontliner in this pandemic entails a lot of sacrifice and courage.

“Faith. I am ready anytime if things come to worst. We cannot say no to our duty. We took an oath to the flag, country and God. We can’t afford to disobey,” said Bernie who has been in the service for over six years now.

Fulfilled to serve

Joanne, 29, is a nurse at Philippine Orthopedic Center. Being a government facility, the center has reserved beds for PUIs and Covid-19 positive patients.

She is currently assigned at the male traction ward but she has served at the triage section where she checked body temperature, and other Covid-like symptoms such as cough, and shortness or difficulty in breathing then also asked patients of their travel history.

“When I was assigned at triage, I had fears because I was highly susceptible should I encounter a patient with Covid-19 or if our PUI would be tested positive, I might not be able to go home and see my family to protect them,” the five-year-old disciple of ICOC Quezon City said.

She also experienced walking for 90 minutes to her workplace but is glad government agencies and private companies have started giving free rides to health care workers like her.

She added, “As a disciple, I trust God’s protection and provision. It is a privilege to be given an opportunity to provide care and meet patients’ needs. Despite the physical demands of the job, at the end of the day, it is very fulfilling to give my best to help the patients.”

She has cast all her fears and worries to God that she may be at peace, knowing that this health crisis will also come to pass.

Risk in service

Working in a prestigious media company like CNN Philippines also made the Covid-19 pandemic a challenge for 24-year-old Pancho of ICOC Makati.

He may not be directly involved in news gathering as their reporters on the field are but he also gives his share of the burden in providing the news, including Covid-related, to keep the public informed and aware on the happenings during this health crisis.

“As a video editor in live production of news, there’s no possible way that we can work from home. More than 3/4 of the company are now working from home but we still report everyday to work. Of course one of the main challenge is to avoid everyone in public places and in the office as you really don’t know who’s had contact to those infected. Another great challenge is to deliver the news well to the people,” he said.

He also said they air accurate, fair and balanced news that would not cause panic to the public, only giving factual data and the real situation on what’s happening.

Considering that there is already a confirmed Covid-19 positive case in their office building, “Everyday is a risk but I also need to remind myself that God is bigger than this. I just believe that He will protect me.”

“In this time of crisis, as a disciple, we must have the heart of being a servant. It is not only serving a small group of people but also serving an entire nation. It is the very essence of one of the greatest commandment which is to love your neighbors,” Pancho, a disciple for five years, added.

Such are the stories of our frontliners, our heroes - our blood brothers and sisters.

Their tireless efforts and dedicated service to the country are inspiration and legacy to live by, reminding us that together with God we shall overcome.