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A composite photo of Faith Ruth Villanueva in 2015 (left) and now.

PHOTO BY FAITH RUTH VILLANUEVA


Filipina expat with rare disease conquers Nepal peak

 

DUBAI – A Filipina teacher based in Laos who has been diagnosed with a rare blood disease has beaten all odds to conquer one of Nepal’s mountains.

“I was fortunate enough to still continue life as normally as possible unlike others who have suffered the same fate and were now bedridden or immobile,” Faith Ruth Villanueva said after reaching the summit of Poon Hill,  one of the peaks in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas in Nepal.

Villanueva told expatmedia.net that her next goal is to conquer the Everest Base Camp.

Three years ago, Villanueva was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that caused her blood to hypercoagulate, resulting in slower blood flow through her veins. This disorder tends to be rare, with only an estimated 3 to 7 percent of the world population affected by it. The disease often leaves its sufferers bedridden or immobile.

“I could barely use my legs, particularly my left foot… especially in the lower extremities of my body starting from the upper portion of my thighs,” Villanueva wrote in a Facebook post.

Nearly wheelchair-bound, she was told to “avoid certain physical activities such as contact or heavy-impact sports, avoid open wounds and no more blood donations”.

“My hands and feet would easily numb, which lessened or limited my ability in playing musical instruments or even hold a pen. I would need to have a daily blood-thinning medicine intake for a lifetime but I would also have to avoid eating greens for the medicine to take effect. Heeled shoes would now be a no-no for me,” she said.

“I was in a state of depression, especially because I was always a sports-minded and active person. I couldn’t imagine why God allowed me to have this rare condition. But after hearing stories of others who suffered the same malady, I changed my perspective,” she said.

Villanueva pursued adventure, and recently hiked up one of Nepal’s popular trekking summits with the help of a local guide and a friend.

“For others, such a hike was considered a beginner-level but for me it was an entirely different scale. I was a snail-paced trekker. How slow? I would take a usual 45-minute upscale hike in one hour and 45 minutes instead,” she shared.

“For four days, not only was my body constantly challenged, my mind was also in a state of bedlam. I was told I was constantly clenching my teeth whenever I would be scaling up and that my face always had a fierce and angry expression. I was experiencing acid reflux and would almost vomit my food. We were trekking 7 to 10 hours everyday what was normally 4 to 5 hours of trekking,” she said.

On the second day of the trek, she said she almost cried due to sheer exhaustion and fatigue.

“Nighttime was already falling but we were still in the forest. Rain constantly poured for three days while we trekked. Leeches sucked my blood eight times,” she said.

On the third day, the hike group almost called the whole thing off because they were constantly being attacked by leeches.

“But rational minds prevailed” and by midday, Villanueva and her group reached the summit of the 3,200-metre Poon Hill (Mt. Apo, the highest peak  in the Philippines, is at 2980 metres).

“At the summit, I simply broke down and cried. With gratitude I thanked God that I was able to reach the top inspite and despite the challenges I and my companions faced. I remembered the time I was strapped to a wheelchair, wondering when I would be able to use again my legs normally and now here I was conquering what was considered an impossible,” she said.

Villanueva credited her trekking buddy, Jane, and guide, Kishor, for gently pushing her to continue the hike with his banter.

“He would always say, ‘Slowly but success, slowly but success.’ Sometimes I already knew he was lying if I would ask him for certain time figures and he would give me a small timeframe so I would be energized to still give it a go. At times, he would make a joke to lighten the mood (‘Don’t worry, no leeches here’ , ‘Leeches here not poisonous’, ‘We’re almost there’ (and it took us another 30 minutes to reach a place). ICA/Expat Media

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