Gulf News

Philippine­s’ first woman kidney transplant doctor



hilippines’s first woman kidney transplant doctor, Dr Rosemarie Rosete Liquete has been working overtime at operating tables in three hospitals, attending conference­s, and managing with gusto — as executive director — the National Kidney Transplant Institute (NKTI), a three-storey three-building complex in Metro Manila’s suburban Quezon City.

Liquete, 67, is a good match to her 34-year-old government-run hospital, a lead agency in renal diseases and organ transplant­ation. It has conducted 5,866 kidney transplant operations since 1983. Its high-end haemodialy­sis machines can accommodat­e 2,400 patients a month.

“I do minor and medium surgery before eight in the morning and major cases after office hours at 5pm. I do kidney transplant­s at NKTI on Saturdays; at St Luke’s Medical Centre (in Quezon City and Taguig); and at Angeles University Foundation Medical Centre (in Angeles, Pampanga) on Sundays,” Liquete told Gulf News.

Hectic schedule

“Last May, I had three kidney transplant­s on a Saturday, and another one on a Sunday. I still do transplant on charity patients,” the calm doctor with a back-breaking schedule recalled.

“I find it relaxing to operate than attending to administra­tive meetings and signing voluminous documents,” she confessed, but added, “When no surgery is scheduled, I am at the office between six and seven in the morning and leave as late as 10 to 11pm.”

Although renowned and hailed for her touch of life, she said, “I am no extraordin­ary surgeon. It’s God’s design.” Offering a clue to her muchtalked about expertise, she said, “Coffee makes my hand tremble. I never drink coffee. Before every surgery, I hold the Lord’s hand, I pray and plead: ‘As I touch You now, touch my patients with these hands.’ I ask Him to guide my hands and help me in my judgement. I have to be confident. I do my best.”

Waiting for their turn

After a long wait, one patient was overjoyed when Liquete did not turn her down. The doctor explained: “Many patients still insist that I operate on them. I cannot refuse them.”

As administra­tor, Liquete has proposed a P1.3 billion (Dh108.3 million) infrastruc­ture complex at NKTI — which include an operation building, a dialysis centre, and a doctors’ clinic. She also wants to buy P308 million (Dh25.66 million) worth of high-end and state-of-the-art medical equipment, including kidney perfusion machines,

A total of 47 Filipino kidney transplant surgeons who graduated from NKTI’s fellowship programme now operate in 24 accredited hospitals nationwide. This team and NKTI’s big steps in addressing kidney problems seem small in the face of ever increasing cases in the Philippine­s.

Some 10,000 Filipinos developed kidney problems annually in 2013; 14,000 in 2016. Some 4,000 started on dialysis in 2004; 23,000 in 2013. Over 28,000 Filipinos are now undergoing dialysis. Only 300 to 500 kidney transplant­ations are performed annually.

Some 7,000 End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) patients are still waiting for suitable organs. Kidney problem is number eight in top 10 causes of mortality in the Philippine­s.

Cost of management and cure are deadly. Dialysis cost P25,000 to P35,000 (Dh2.033.33 to Dh2.833.33) a week. A kidney transplant which takes four to six hours, costs between P1.5 to P2 million (Dh125,000 to Dh166,666).

Low on funds

The state-run Philippine Insurance Health Corp (Philhealth) allots its biggest share of assistance to kidney patients, but they still need more money to cover the costly disease. In 2012, PhilHealth subsidised P600,000 (Dh50,000) of the cost of kidney transplant­ation of ESRD patients. It has also been subsidisin­g 45 sessions of annual dialysis treatment of ESRD patients.

In 2008, Liquete launched a book, titled, I have three kidneys: The Journey of Transplant Patients, a compilatio­n of stories of 15 transplant patients, including Filipino opinion writer Max Soliven and Najeeb Al Zamil of Saudi Arabia.

She discussed one more problem in her field: lack of donor and criticism of the entire procedure.

“The ethics of organ donation has been fiercely debated in the global transplant community,” she said, and mentioned “forms of coercion, exploitati­on, human rights violation, and human organ traffickin­g”. She added,

“However it may be, there must still be dignity in donation.”

She describes kidney transplant patients as an inspiratio­n for others, and kidney donors as “heroes”.


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