PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband was recovering from emergency surgery to prevent the main artery of his heart from rupturing, officials and doctors said yesterday.
Jose Miguel Arroyo, 60, was moved to a recovery room after about 10 hours in surgery to repair an aneurysm at the aortic arch, a portion of the artery closest to the heart, doctors at St. Luke’s Medical Center said.
“The surgery was successful,” said Juliet Gopez Cervantes, the main attending physician. “The mere fact that he is already awake is already a remarkable achievement.”
In a separate interview with ABS-CBN television, Cervantes said there was a “high probability” that the aorta would have ruptured without quick action.
“Probably 30 minutes or more of delay [would have] really put us in a very catastrophic condition,” she said. “There was high probability that we could have lost the first gentleman.”
The lead surgeon, Rommel Cariño, said he also performed a triple bypass because of the clogging of Mr. Arroyo’s heart arteries.
Cariño said the next two to three days would be “very critical” to see if the patient’s body would accept the plastic grafts inserted into his aorta and three minor blood vessels.
The doctor added that Mr. Arroyo could have died of hypothermia when they stopped blood circulation in his entire body while the two operations were being carried out.
Sources told Standard Today that blood started leaking into Mr. Arroyo’s chest two hours into the operation, or about 9 p.m. Monday, prompting doctors to use synthetic grafts to replace the damaged walls of the aorta.
Cervantes said they decided to do a triple bypass when doctors saw three damaged minor vessels.
“We were able to pass through the very, very critical period of surgery, and we pray we will be able to overcome the post-operative period without any of the dreaded complications,” Cervantes said.
The President stayed at the hospital for the duration of the operation as Cabinet officials arrived one by one to offer moral support.
Vice President Noli de Castro said Mrs. Arroyo had ordered him to attend to the needs of 6,000 homeless victims of a fire in Mandaluyong City.
“Presidente pa rin siya, siyempre. [She is still the President.] She gave instructions to immediately follow up the housing project for the families in Mandaluyong because she has already released P25 million for their resettlement,” he said.
De Castro said he and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo were able to peep into the cardiovascular room where Mr. Arroyo was confined.
“I saw that his toes were moving and that is a good sign,” he said.
Romulo, who went through a double bypass when he was still executive secretary, said he was confident that Mr. Arroyo would be fine.
“I’m sure he will be able to recover just like I did,” he said.
Mr. Arroyo regained consciousness at 3 p.m. and wrote a letter to his daughter Evangeline. “I love all of you, especially Biggy,” it read, referring to his grandson.
Mr. Arroyo, a lawyer from a prominent family, has no official powers but is regarded as an influential back-room operator and a vocal backer of his wife against political rivals.
A group of journalists filed a class-action lawsuit against him in December, claiming that a string of libel suits he had filed over the last three years was aimed at muzzling the media and his critics.
During one particularly volatile period in 2005, media reported that he was influence-peddling and receiving illegal gambling kickbacks at the same time that allegations broke that his wife had fixed the 2004 presidential election.
He denied the allegations, but left the country for three months to ease the political pressure on the President.
He complained of chest pains while accompanying his family to Baguio City for Easter Sunday. Doctors there said he had gastritis. The pain persisted and on Monday, doctors at St. Luke’s found he had a dissecting aortic aneurysm, a tear in the body’s largest artery.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the “situation was truly of an emergency” because there were signs that blood was leaking “from a kind of cut in the blood vessel.”
“You never know. It could have ruptured. It’s like a time bomb that’s waiting to explode any second,” he said.
Mr. Arroyo’s condition is uncommon, lethal, and affects mostly males between ages 45 and 70.
Cariño says the ailment accounted for only 1 percent of all open heart surgeries in the country.
“It’s not common, but if it’s undetected it can result in sudden death,” he said.
“The precipitating factor is hypertension, and the elastic tissues in his blood vessels, in particular the aorta, were weak,” Cariño said.
Jose Rhoel de Leon, a fellow of the Philippine Society of General Surgeons, says a common symptom is severe chest or abdominal pain.
De Leon says patients suffering from the condition could die within 15 minutes. After 24 hours without an operation, there is a 40 percent chance of death. This rises to 50 percent if the operation is put off another day.
“Immediate recognition of the symptoms is very important because most patients will need an immediate operation,” he said.