DAVAO CITY—“I am Apl de Ap and I am blind,” said the Filipino rapper of the Grammy Award-winning Black-Eyed Peas, as he turned over on Tuesday a retinal camera to the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) here, a medical equipment seen to boost the hospital’s capacity to diagnose Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), an eye condition which, if untreated within 48 hours, can cause blindness among newborn infants.
“I am legally blind that’s why this campaign is very close to my heart,” said Apl de Ap, spelled out Allan Pineda Lindo from Angeles, Pampanga, who in recent years had set up the “Apl de Ap Foundation” to embark upon giving education aid and addressing health care needs of Filipino children who can’t afford the services.
Stricken by an eye condition called nystagmus, Pineda who grew up impoverished under the care of his single mother, recalled the hard life of being visually-impaired.
“I had difficulties going to school,” said Pineda.
“I couldn’t excel as much as I wanted to because I couldn’t read the blackboard, I had to copy the notes from my classmates, and I always had to play catch up, ‘Anong nakasulat sa blackboard (what is being written on the board)?’” he recalled.
He said he once dreamt of being a nurse, but wondered, “How am I gonna administer the shots?” He also said he dreamt of being an architect but had to set that dream aside because he “can’t see very well.”
Nystagmus is an eye condition which causes involuntary movement of the eye that at times result to reduced or limited vision.
The Pampanga-born rapper recalled his life in the Philippines when he had to accompany his grandfather to harvest sugarcane or to plant camote in the farm, before he was sponsored to go to the US at age 14, and later gained fame as part of the Black-Eyed Peas.
“It was already hard enough growing up in the Philippines but imagine being blind, that’s 10 times harder,” he said. “That’s why, this is important for me because I want all the children in the Philippines to have equal opportunity in life, to pursue their dreams.”
The retinal camera, which is the first of its kind in Mindanao, is the first of the five cameras that the Apl de Ap Foundation plans to turn over to five regional hospital partners for the early detection of ROP, noted as one of the leading causes of blindness among premature children.
Launched two years ago, Apl de Ap’s Campaign for Filipino Children seeks to generate support not only for medical care but also addressed the education needs of children, building at least 30 schools in the different parts of the country, including ones in Zamboanga city, and the Typhoon “Yolanda”-ravaged Tacloban. It has also built music labs in the north.
“I was one of those children, I came from a humble beginning, and was given enough opportunity,” Pineda said.
“I was sponsored to go to the US and became a Black Eyed Peas, and now I’m paying it forward and helping other children like me,” he said.
At risk for ROP are newborn infants with birth weights of less than 1,500 grams, and a gestation age of 32 weeks, said Dr. Nicolo Paderna, a pediatric ophthalmologist at SPMC.
The Philippine Academy of Ophthalmologists (PAO) has chosen to turn over the equipment to the SPMC because of its capability to reach out to indigent patients in Mindanao.
“We looked at the data from all the prospective hospital partners, and realized the SPMC has a good residency training program for ophthalmology,” said Dr. Pearl Villalon, chair of the PAO.
“The assessment of your program is tops and good,” she said, “We also have several faculty on the ground to help the residents through the process of screening, so, that is the reason why we chose.”
The PAO is also eyeing regional hospitals in Western Visayas, Pampanga, and one in the Ilocos region for expansion outside of the National Capital Region.
Dr. Josephine Cadayona, head of the SPMC Ophthalmology Department, said SPMC and its extension hospital in Tagum, currently has 13 resident doctors who will all be training for ROP screening.
“It will surely go a long way for our indigent pediatric patients,” Cadayona said.
Physicians said it is emotionally taxing enough to care for a blind child, but the financial cost is also too high, it”s very hard for indigent families to cope, that it pays to prevent it at its early stage. They also said Pineda has helped raised the awareness of people about ROP.
“It is very important for me to give forward in helping out every Filipino,” said Pineda.