Thursday, May 17, 2007


Brave Mangyan Girl Desperately Needs Help and Heart Surgery

Like most children her age, Meraly Garcia Mariano is a fun-loving bundle of energy. The 6-year-old girl is a lovable spotlight hog who enjoys singing her heart out at school programs.

A stranger might say that her contagious joy must have come from having an easy life and a solid family background.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for Meraly.

At an early age, Meraly has already survived an unspeakable heartbreak: A few years ago, she witnessed her mother commit suicide.

On top of that devastating trauma, every single day, this brave little girl also deals with the pain of having, literally, a broken heart.

Meraly, who belongs to Occidental Mindoro's Mangyan-Iraya tribe, is suffering from a rare heart condition called pentalogy of Fallot.

"Her heart has two holes, one hole is bigger, and there are three other parts (in her heart) that needs correction," said Criselda Malicdem, a Filipino social worker from Teknotropheo Missions, a Philippine mission group that helps tribal children.

Meraly needs an expensive open-heart surgery which her caregivers couldn't afford.

Without it, doctors say that Meraly would be lucky if she can survive till her 16th birthday.

Currently, she already looks much smaller and thinner than her classmates. Malicdem says that doctors attribute Meraly's growth problem to her heart ailment.

"She also easily gets sick because of her very low immune system," Malicdem adds.

Teknotropheo and the Nangka Mangyan Tribal Community in Mindoro have been taking care of Meraly ever since she was brought to their community center by her family in 2005.

Meraly's family was worried about her frequent fainting spells.

She was brought many times to a government hospital but Meraly never received a complete diagnosis from them.

She became weaker. On several occasions, she lost consciousness.

Malicdem then brought her to a private doctor who immediately diagnosed her congenital heart disease. She was prescribed medications to help with her symptoms.

"Since then we have been taking care of Meraly and everything she needs including her food and medicines. But we could not afford her surgery," Malicdem said. "That is why we have been asking help from others."

Malicdem's organization, which helps many other Mangyan children, has very limited funds. They couldn't even afford a regular doctor for Meraly.

"Her doctor changes every check up because they are resident doctors in the outpatient department of the Philippine Heart Center," Malicdem said.

In her quest for a miracle for Meraly, Malicdem has found an ally in Jude Tiner, a New Jersey native and a Vietnam veteran who traveled to the Philippines last year on a personal goodwill mission.

The good Samaritan is a member of City Chapel where he first learned about the plight of Filipino children in need in some areas in the Philippines through its Filipino parishioners.

Tiner, who works as a longshoreman in New Jersey, is currently coordinating efforts to find donors in the U.S. for Meraly's surgery.

He also sits as a board member of Bishop Amigo Foundation, a non-profit organization. Its vision, according to its website, is "to provide a holistic development program to children and youth living under specially difficult, harmful and risky conditions in the Philippines."

Although Tiner and Malicdem have been tirelessly working to find sponsors for Meraly, they have yet to find enough people and organizations to help her.

With so many other organizations all over the world asking for help for so many people in need, getting donations, even for someone with a serious condition like Meraly, is not an easy task.

In the meantime, they are growing increasingly worried because Meraly's condition, if left untreated, could easily take a turn for the worse. Her very low immune system is a constant concern.

As it is, Meraly's growth is already somewhat stunted. She is shorter and weighs less than other kids her age.

But this does not dampen their belief that with the surgery, Meraly can make a full recovery.

"She is able to walk, she's not bedridden anymore. She's allowed to play also, although it's limited because if she gets too tired she might collapse," Malicdem said.

Her physical limitations notwithstanding, Meraly inspires everyone who meets her with her indomitable spirit.

The eldest of two girls, Meraly was born into a household where family members considered themselves lucky if they ate their meal of mostly just cassava and root crops twice in a day.

When Meraly was younger, his father was unable to adequately provide for the family, sources say. He was a farmer who grew crops on a very small piece of land in the mountains.

Meraly's mother took the brunt of the family responsibilities. When it all became unbearable for her, the Mariano family's life took a turn for the worse when she hung herself.

Meraly's mother apparently suffered from an undiagnosed post-partum depression, a social worker who interviewed family members later said.

A few months after the tragedy, Meraly's health problems grew more serious.

And yet despite the hard hits that life has dealt her, this spunky girl, all of 35 pounds, is undeterred in her active fight to live, and to be as happy as she can be.

"She's so different from other Mangyan kids who, by nature, are timid and quiet. Meraly is not shy and could connect easily, even to strangers," Malicdem said. "She's also a leader. She leads other kids when they play."

Meraly is aware of her serious health problems. Finding joy even in unlikely places, she looks forward to her trips to Manila, her greatest luxury, for her check-ups. She follows her doctors' instructions to the letter.

Meraly is audacious in her hope that one day soon, her dream of being treated by the best doctors in the U.S. can come true.

Punta ako America, dun ako magpapa-opera para gumaling ako,” she said.

Meraly's supporters are hoping that kindhearted Filipinos can help make her dream come true.

Anyone who wants to help Meraly can send donations to pay for her immediate surgery, either in the Philippines or in the U.S.

The Philippine Heart Center has asked for at least $8,500 to schedule her surgery.

Donations can be sent through bank transfer. Make sure to indicate that it is for "Meraly's Surgery":

Branch Account Name : TEKNOTROPHEO
Account No.: 260-8303270

Donors should inform Criselda Malicdem of the donated amount and the date it was sent to the bank. They could e-mail her at or text/call text her at 639175211150 or 639106338405 or call landline no. 6329242023.

U.S.-based donors can also contact Jude Tiner at 201-7799426; address: 546 Kennedy Blvd., Bayonne, NJ 07002; e-mail:

[Update: Several individuals and organizations have come together to find a miracle for Meraly. The Bayonne Rotary Club has taken up the cause to ensure that her surgery will take place in the U.S. Her airfare will be shouldered by Knightsbridge International . Jude Tiner will be hosting Meraly and her gurdian when they arrive for the operation. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 226 will be hosting a fundraising dinner for Meraly to cover other expenses. Additional funding is still very much needed.]

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