From the first moment you meet Gina Dilag, you feel her radiating warmth.
She’ll enthusiastically welcome you into her home with a large smile. She’ll offer you a warm tea and you’ll feel like you’ve been friends for years. Gina’s also a baker and her eyes light up when she tells you about her latest confectionary creation.
On the exterior, Gina seems like she doesn’t have a care in the world, but this is far from the truth.
Gina struggles each day with rheumatoid arthritis, heart-related issues and diabetes – all of which are linked to an underlying disorder Gina has called lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue.
It all started when Gina was 12-years-old and living in her native country of the Philippines.
She remembers fainting and waking up in her local hospital’s Emergency Department (ED). Bright lights illuminating her young face as she watches medical staff scramble around her. She recalls fainting again and waking up to her brother pumping her sternum with his locked fists, trying to revive her heart. She wakes up again and her mother says “drink this.” She does and then she drifts off to sleep again.
“It was absolutely terrifying and surreal,” says Gina. “Apparently, a priest came by and read my last rights and even the doctors were praying for me – they were sure I was going to die.”
Gina fortunately survived and was diagnosed with systemic lupus, a condition that would impact her health throughout her life.
Fast forward many years later. It’s 1987 and Gina has just delivered her son Kevin at The Scarborough Hospital (TSH), after a long and anxious pregnancy.
“He was my miracle baby,” she says. “We were very lucky he made it.”
The delivery of her son was the first of many of Gina’s visits to TSH.
She returned to TSH when she had complications with her kidney. During this visit, while she was being monitored by the hospital, her son was also admitted to TSH to be treated for Kawasaki Disease. Staff at the hospital put them on the same floor, so they could be close to one another.
“It was really difficult for us, since I was a single mother at the time and I wanted to be with my son but I also had to recover,” she says.
She recalls that the nurses wanted to cheer her up and they brought her a fruit basket, since it was also her birthday. One of the nurses was also from the Philippines and made her rice to make her feel more at home.
She also notes a time when her TSH physician went above and beyond. She mentions that on a particular occasion, she had to go to Port Perry’s ED because her kidney was no longer responding to dialysis and was failing. Medical staff at the Port Perry Hospital called Gina’s Nephrologist at TSH, Dr. Robert Ting, who asked them to bring her to TSH, to be assessed by him personally. Prior to this visit, Dr. Ting also set Gina up with a social worker to work on getting her a place in government housing. The social worker found her a place in Oshawa.
“I lived in that building for 15 years and I loved it,” says Gina. “It was really difficult for me to find affordable housing at the time because I was a single mother and living on a modest income from the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP). Dr. Ting and Candace Roker, my social worker, helped put a roof over our heads.”
Gina has since received a kidney transplant, done at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, but she continues to trust TSH to take care of her.
“I think the nurses and doctors at The Scarborough Hospital are amazing. They really want to help; not only medically, but mentally as well,” she says. “They have done so much for me and they are always there for me.”
Gina is so thankful to TSH that she donates to the hospital each month.
“As little money I receive from CPP, as little as I have, I still want to give my gratitude and thanks,” she says. “Because every morning, when I wake up, I’m thankful that I’m alive.”