I could hear people saying, “Keep her awake,” and “Talk to me.” I also remember calling my husband by my son’s name. Then blackout. The first time I opened my eyes I thought I was already dead.
My name is Yohannah, and I love food.
One of my all-time comfort food is Ginataang Halo Halo. For those learning about this for the first time, it is a cold dessert which is a concoction of crushed ice, evaporated or coconut milk, and various ingredients including purple yam (ube), sweetened beans, sweetened coconut strips (macapuno), sago, gulaman (seaweed gelatin), pinipig crunchy rice, boiled root crops like sweet potatoes cut in cubes, fruit slices, leche flan, and topped with a scoop of ice cream.
At age 5, I was tasked to go to the market with my mom and grate the niyog (coconut) for the gata (milk). I remember how fun it was to make dozens of bilo-bilo (sticky rice balls) and drop them in a pot of boiling coconut milk, while our cook prepares the tapioca pearls (sago), ube, sweet plantain banana (saba) and langka.
I think it was around that age when I also learned how to cook Pork Sinigang, a sour soup with pork and various veggies, and discovered the joy of eating okra and padas with bare hands.
In an ordinary afternoon in 2005, I was cooking my son’s favorite spaghetti when I suddenly felt a throbbing headache
In 2003, I gave up my career in advertising to pursue my dream to become a chef. I enrolled in the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management International (ISCAHM). Two weeks before the completion of my internship, I discovered I was 3-weeks pregnant with our second child.
In an ordinary afternoon in 2005, I was cooking my son’s favorite spaghetti when I suddenly felt a throbbing headache, although I couldn’t pinpoint where the pain was coming from.
All of a sudden, I couldn’t finish my sentence.
It must be the heat from the cooking, I thought. I turned on the overhead exhaust fan and took a tablet of paracetamol. After 5 minutes, I felt the pain getting worse when I heard the front doorbell ring. It was my sister, Cynthia, who rarely visits. I told her that I had a bad headache and would talk to her right after I called my husband’s mobile phone.
I got a glass of iced water, put it against my head to relieve some of the pain, and called up my husband, BG. “Hi. Where are you? Are you on your way …” All of a sudden, I couldn’t finish my sentence. I heard him say, “Makati Avenue on my way home,” but I couldn’t say a word anymore.
I hung up, walked out of my bedroom and gestured to my sister to go to our neighbor’s house and ask for help. I mustered all my strength to say one stuttering and broken sentence: “Bring me to ER now.”
All I could remember were flashbacks of my life in different ages
My sister was both shocked and scared but managed to hurriedly go to our neighbors, Tess and Maldo Calalang, to ask for help, and they rushed me to the hospital. What was normally a 10-15 minute leisure ride to the hospital took about an hour. On the way there, Cynthia and Tess tried to keep me awake by talking to me, but I was slowly losing my ability to hear. All I could say during the entire trip was, ‘Blood of Jesus…Mercy…Mercy.’
When we got to the ER, I passed out. All I could remember were flashbacks of my life in different ages, and snippets of people around me who tried their best to keep me awake. I could hear people saying, “Keep her awake,” and “Talk to me.” I also remember calling my husband by my son’s name.
The first time I opened my eyes I thought I was already dead. It was 5 in the morning, and I eventually figured out that I was still alive but was in the ICU because I saw BG’s smiling but worried and tired face. He told me that as he and my son were praying last night, the Lord assured him that everything would be alright and that He will restore everything.
AVM is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels (arteries and veins). It is very rare and occurs in less than 1% of the general population.
We met a team of doctors at noon that day. Our neurosurgeon, Dr. Eduardo Mercado, matter-of-factly informed us that I was bleeding in three areas of my brain and needed to be operated on as soon as possible, but he needed more tests to rule out an aneurysm. His hunch was that my case was an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM). AVM is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels (arteries and veins). It is very rare and occurs in less than 1% of the general population.
For me, it was a win-win option: if I survived the operation, praise God, but if I died, praise God, too.
Dr. Mercado presented two options. The first option was the laser, which would zap the AVM but since it was not physically removed, recurrence of the mass could not be guaranteed. Post-recovery was estimated at 5-7 days. The second option was the open brain surgery where he would physically remove the AVM. The success rate of totally eradicating the tumor was much higher than the laser procedure. Postoperative recovery, however, was more challenging, estimated at 3 to 8 months, depending on the success of the operation. It was going to be more expensive, too--the cost was about two to four times the laser procedure. Complications that may arise during the operation was also a possibility.
A few hours after BG left, I had a 30-minute seizure.
That night, I told BG that even if it was physically riskier, I wanted to bet on God and have the open-brain surgery instead. I told him I was ready and at peace with the possibility of dying, too. For me, it was a win-win option: if I survived the operation, praise God, but if I died, praise God, too. But he kept saying, “You’re going to be alright, because God said so.”
I will never forget the date: Feb. 25, 2005, EDSA Day. I remember being prepared for the operation as early as 5 AM. As I was being transferred to the operating room, I could hear a male voice with an American accent reading the entire Psalm 91. It was our senior pastor, Steve Murrell. Whatever worries or fears I had were gone by the time I reached the operating room.
The actual operation took about 20 minutes. When they opened me up, the doctors found the AVM right away. All in all, the operation was a breeze, done in an hour and successful.
I wanted to bet on God and have the open-brain surgery instead.
Post-op recovery was indeed more challenging than when I was rushed to the hospital. First, the long tube that was inserted inside my throat so I could breathe was the most painful thing in the whole world. It was more painful than giving birth to our two children combined, and more painful than the actual brain surgery. When Dr. Mercado saw me crying, he made me choose: “Safety or comfort? If you keep still for another 12-24 hours and all your stats are normal, I will transfer you to a standard room without the tube”.
Reluctantly, I nodded my head and just closed my eyes and tried to force myself to sleep. The 24 hours felt like forever.
I was in the hospital for almost a month: 2 weeks in the ICU, and another 10 days in my private room. I can’t remember what happened the first 2 weeks after the operation. It was like my brain’s ability to remember things was completely hampered. I also had to re-learn how to read and talk all over again. All I remember was that my hair was shaved and that beneath a head-size gauze were about 40+ wires stapled on my skull.
The long tube that was inserted inside my throat so I could breathe was the most painful thing in the whole world...more painful than giving birth to our two children combined
I was so happy when I was transferred to a standard room. Family and close friends started visiting me. Doctors were assuring me that I was recovering well. I couldn’t talk yet, but was entertained by people visiting and talking to me. People seriously thought I was going to die, so much so that one of my college best friends even made a deal with God that she will reconsider dating again if He let me live.
It felt good. Everything was going great that on my 5th day in the room, BG decided to go home and rest for the first time and spend time with kids. My sister volunteered to take care of me that night. A few hours after BG left, I had a 30-minute seizure. The doctors said this was not good and I had to stay a bit longer in the hospital so they could monitor me.
Eventually, I made it past the critical period, and was cleared and discharged by my doctors. On my 29th and last day in the hospital, BG left early in the morning to settle the bill. Around 10:30 a.m., I was alone in the room, all dressed up and ready to go home, but BG wasn’t back yet. I was wondering what was taking him so long downstairs when a male nurse handed me a thick compilation of letter-size bond paper. It was our copy of my total hospital bill, excluding doctors’ fees.
I also had to re-learn how to read and talk all over again.
BG was back in a few minutes and was so upset when he found out that the nurse handed me the bill he was printing hours ago. My bill was so thick that it took him hours to print his copy!
After doing some computation, we realized that we were short by about Php40,000 (USD800) in order to get discharged. The doctors agreed for us to pay in terms but the hospital wouldn’t, of course. We already maxed out all our credit cards, counted money from family and friends—but we were still short. We were thinking, Lord, just Php40,000! But when you don’t have a single cent anymore, even Php40 is a whole lot!
All I remember was that my hair was shaved and that beneath a head-size gauze were about 40+ wires stapled on my skull.
BG asked me to just relax, and not to worry about the bill. He went out, made some calls and was gone for another 30-45 minutes. When he got back, he was so happy! He told me that at 11:55, five minutes before the cut-off, a dear friend of the family approached him, showed his credit card and asked him, “Will this do?”
My head was wrapped in gauze for another 2 weeks. When Dr. Mercado finally removed it, I cried. For the very first time, I saw myself in the mirror with the shaved head and all the staple wires. I looked ugly and weird. Felt ugly and weird. I asked God, “Lord, why did you let this happen? What are you trying to tell me?” and “ What’s next, Lord? I can't even talk! And what about our PDCs for the doctors’ fees?"
In 2013, during a routine procedure, my doctors discovered 2 kidney stones, a cyst in my ovary, and a cyst on my left and right kidneys.
Just before I had time to worry about it, the Lord blessed BG with a book project.
And me of little faith? I was blessed and was busy with a project in June, barely 4 months after my operation.
By August, my doctors were happy with my recovery. God’s promise to BG of my complete healing and recovery from my brain surgery was reconfirmed by the results of my MRI. Case Closed.
In 2009, I founded and published Pinoy Organics, an online publication about Philippine organics. My involvement in the movement has brought me to farms in many cities and provinces during weekends. I learned first-hand how the vegetables I cook and eat are grown. I also had the privilege to meet and work with the pioneers in organic agriculture in the Philippines.
But when you don’t have a single cent anymore, even Php40 is a whole lot!
In 2013, during a routine procedure, my doctors discovered 2 kidney stones, a cyst in my ovary, and a cyst on my left and right kidneys. In the course of monitoring it, they also told me that I have a rare disease called Medullary Sponge Kidney (MSK). The immediate option proposed by three medical doctors was to remove the cysts and stones via surgery. I declined.
Instead, I decided to modify my life’s priorities and designed my own healing journey. Along the way, I met wonderful and caring people who eventually became my friends -- Dra. Marissa Torre, Dr. Raymond Joseph Yee Escalona and Wong Kee Yew.
Since 2017, I have also been educating myself about holistic approaches to healing and optimum health such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), nutrition and dietetic science, detox and functional medicine The Veg School (TVS) and the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM).
My most recent monitoring lab results in February 2020 showed that the cyst in my ovary is gone, there’s only one stone left in my kidney, and the size of the cysts on both kidneys remain unchanged. My seasonal eczema, rashes, and itches on various parts of my body were healed too.
In this journey of faith, I learned that -
HEALING MUST BE HOLISTIC. Healing cannot be confined or focused on the physical or the body alone. Equally important are our heart, mind, and spirit. Even if we eat organic vegetables, drink a gallon of water, sleep 8-10 hours a day and exercise daily, if we are lonely, chronically stressed out, and have conflicts at work or at home, it would be difficult to experience physical healing or optimum health.
Why? Because the primary food that truly heals and nourishes us is love.
FAMILY MATTERS. We all need a home, a refuge. We all need to belong. I am so thankful to God for blessing me with a loving and supportive husband, family, relatives & friends. The whole experience made me realize that I am not alone, I am blessed, and that I am loved.
GOD IS NEVER LATE. When he blesses, He adds no trouble to it and His provision is always on time. His perfect time.
LIVE YOUR LIFE TO THE FULLEST. My near-death experience taught me that money cannot buy me time. Spend more time with people and things that truly matter to you so that when death comes, you won’t have any regrets. Our stress, disappointments, anger, worry, anxiety – are all not worth it. Choose your battles wisely.
GOD IS AFTER MY HEART. Sometimes, God allows us to be in a situation that will call our attention and the option left for us is to SURRENDER our lives to Him, ALL OF IT. At the end of day, He is after our hearts. How do we respond or react to the difficult situations in our lives?
I AM HIS BELOVED. In everything I’ve been through, I have seen His hand upon my life. I am here because of His love, grace and mercy. I am here because He is my Father, and I am His Beloved.
I decided to modify my life’s priorities and designed my own healing journey.
Fast forward to 2020, at a time when everything that can be shaken is being shaken, I’m allowing myself to dream again.
This year, I will make myself available to teaching people how to design their own personal journey maps that will help them find their true, authentic selves, and give them a fresh start in life. I will impart what I’ve learned in culinary school, TVS, and the IFM through Nourish Life coaching programs, workshops, and retreats.
I look forward to collaborating with functional medicine doctors, practitioners and nutritionists in helping people achieve optimum health. I'll definitely partner with Pinoy Organics and its network of organic producers and farmers in providing the freshest organic food choices.
Together, we will create joy by helping people live their lives to the fullest.
Dream with me?
18 JUNE 2020
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “YES” in Christ. And so through him the “AMEN” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
2 Corinthians 1:20-22
The primary food that truly heals and nourishes us is love.