May 28, 2023
LIVER CENTER TO RISE AT BGHMC — Patients suffering from liver ailments and needing transplant find hope of accessing the service soon, as Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center led by medical chief Ricardo Runez, Jr. and Apollo Hospital represented by liver transplant surgeon, Dr. Neerav Goyal and team held a ceremonial joint declaration of partnership snd collaboration to establish a cutting edge liver center at BGHMC. — Hanna Lacsamana

As part of its ongoing expansion of facilities and services, the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center will soon have a liver transplantation center, giving hope to many patients who cannot afford the costly life-saving procedure.
The establishment of the Liver Center will be done in collaboration with Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, India, which has been handling Filipino liver transplant patients referred by BGH since 2016.
Dr. Ricardo Ruñez, Jr., BGHMC chief, said the collaboration with Apollo Hospital will involve training of manpower composed of liver transplant experts and assistance in setting up facilities and equipment needed for the liver center.
He said they plan to put up state-of-the-art facilities in the center aimed to be one of the best in the Philippines, and is also in line with the Universal Healthcare Act which is geared towards equitable, accessible, affordable healthcare.
The setting up of the Liver Center is good news to patients suffering from liver ailments needing transplant, whose number has been growing but only few can afford due to the expensive cost of the procedure.
Ruñez said prior to the pandemic, the hospital saw the need to set up a Liver Center and create a specialty transplant team at BGH due to the number of its patients needing transplant and which they have been sending to India for treatment and/or transplantation.
They were told it would not be easy to set up a liver center, and they knew it would be a challenge but they were insistent and went to New Delhi to meet with the experts.
“The services, if we can do it in the country, will not entail more expenses. So we thank our friends from India who have been helping us and our patients. Without this liver transplant, these patients would not have lived and we are very grateful. So now we are establishing this at least in BGH through our partners, in collaboration with Apollo Hospital, one of the experts in organ transplant,” Ruñez said.
“It will be a big help to all our patients not only here in Cordillera but as more people will know we (will) have the services here, we will be having more patients,” he added, hoping after about three years they will be formally inaugurating the facility with all the functionalities and all services that it can provide.
Dr. Judy Lyn Vitug, a pediatric gastroenterologist at BGH and head of the Pediatric Liver Program, said BGH for about 10 years now sees to about two to three patients a month diagnosed with liver disease, some with acute liver failure in debilitating conditions, and not all of them have the benefit of undergoing the liver transplant.
For children, the most common indication of liver disease is biliary atresia where a lot of preparation has been to be done in the pre and post-transplant care.
Some patients cannot afford these preparations because a lot of funding is needed.
Even for post-transplant care, they have undergo a lot of hardship in doing the weekly and monthly monitoring, maintenance, chemotherapy, and not all laboratory works are available at the government hospital.
“In our country, private liver transplant institutions offer more than the average Filipino can afford. So when we see a patient who comes to us with this disease, there is great expectation from us that they will survive this fight. As the medical team, our goal is to alleviate their suffering, and thus the partnership, that no one fights alone,” Vitug said.
BGH has referred 15 patients for transplantation abroad since 2016, the first being then two-year old Aleiah Xuzeinne Abratique from Baguio City who is the first Filipino to successfully undergo liver transplant at Apollo.
In 2019, Vitug said they had their first hospital-based lay fora at BGH, giving hope for the patients, and made it their mission to continue what they have started.
“We thank the BGH administration for its support, including that from the local, regional, and national executives. We encourage community and family support, and a lot of teamwork not only from the medical staff but also from the families of patients who are fighting this disease.
“Now that we are aware that liver transplant becomes more affordable with increasing cases than abroad, we are now having this plan to establish a liver center locally in collaboration and partnership with an established liver transplant center,” Vitug said.
Vitug stressed the need for early recognition of liver disease and immediate referral.
The cost of liver transplant ranges from P3 million to P5M and may be availed of in some private transplant institutions in the Philippines and abroad. In India, cost ranges from P1.4M to P1.6M. The amount excludes pre and post-transplant care expenses.
“Indeed, liver disease is a burden but there is hope in fighting this disease and we have experienced the long journey for this disease from the medical and patients’ points of view,” she said. – Hanna C. Lacsamana