Bernardo M. Villegas
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A Warning Stroke in Barcelona

          As my relatives and friends know, I must have logged hundreds of thousands of miles over the last forty years traveling all over the world doing road shows and lecturing in seminars and workshops on economics and management.  I have tried to follow the advice of my doctors about regular check-ups and watching my diet, getting sufficient exercise and enough sleep.  In fact, over the last two to three years, I lost some 15 kilos under medical supervision and have addressed my osteoanthritis (inherited from my parents) through regular use of static bicycle and daily dosage of glucosamine to replace cartilage in the knees.  In my 77 years of life, I have never been hospitalized, a gift from God for which I have been very thankful.

          This happy healthy existence was abruptly disrupted last March 13, a day after my 77th birthday.  I was traveling on an investment road show to Barcelona and Madrid, accompanied by participants in an Advanced Management Program that is being offered by the University of Asia and the Pacific, in cooperation with some professors from IESE Business School, one of the best in the world.  While exchanging some dollars for euros in the foreign exchange counter in the Barcelona international airport, some of my companions noticed that I kept on dropping the dollars.  The fingers of my left hand were paralyzed momentarily and thanks to their quick thinking (especially my friends Rafael Torres and Patrick Lim), they called the doctor in the airport and before I knew it, I was put in an ambulance and whisked to one of the best hospitals in the whole of Spain, the Bellvitge Hospital of the University of Barcelona.  This unique experience bolstered my confidence in one of the best health systems in Europe or anywhere in the world.  In fact, those who are designing the health system of the Philippines can learn many lessons from Spain.  Even before I learned from first-hand experience the quality of health care in this Iberian Peninsula, I already have known a good number of Filipinos who have had medical treatment in another world class hospital in Spain:  the University Clinic of the University of Navarre in Pamplona.  There are actually some leading Filipino specialists in oncology, cardiology and other specializations who did their post-doctoral studies in Navarre.

          I would like to give public tribute to the staff of Bellvitge Hospital,  close to the Barcelona airport, especially the medical team led by Dr. Blanca Lara, for the most professional and humane manner in which they treated a complete stranger like me.  Despite my sometimes uncooperative attitude (I was in a hurry to resume my professional responsibilities), they did not spare any effort to discover the cause of my temporary paralysis.  Through all possible tests lasting 48 hours, they made sure that there was no permanent damage to the brain.  Although it could have been at least a mild stroke, with God’s grace, it turned out to be what doctors call a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA).  As I found out later through researching Wikipedia, while TIA is often labeled “mini-stroke,” it is more accurately characterized as a “warning stroke,” a warning that should be taken very seriously.  I am sharing this personal experience with my readers in case something similar should happen to them.  TIA is caused by a clot; the only difference between a stroke and TIA is that with TIA the blockage is transient.  TIA symptoms occur rapidly and last relatively a short time.  Most TIAs last less than 5 minutes, the average being about a minute.  When a TIA is over, it usually causes no permanent injury to the brain. 

          According to medical experts, the body has naturally occurring clot-busting agents.  Eventually the clots will dissolve but whether there is damage depends on how long the clot is in place.  Because there is no way to predict when a clot will dissolve on its own, time is of the essence.  Whenever one suffers stroke symptoms, dial the equivalent of 911 immediately and get the patient to the emergency room so that a diagnosis can be made.  It is imprudent to wait and see if the symptoms will go away.  That is why I am very grateful to my traveling companions for having the presence of mind to immediately call the doctor.  The Wikipedia article dramatizes this urgency by saying that “Time lost is brain lost.”  As a practical guide, readers should remember the initials F.A.S.T. which translates into Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 911.  My friends who witnessed the symptoms informed me later that I had the first two symptoms.  Again, a million thanks to them.

          Because it was a warning stroke, I now have to be more faithful in taking the maintenance medicine for thinning the blood and keeping close track of my blood pressure.  My mistake was to assume that because I had brought down my weight in a significant way through dieting and exercise, I no longer had to worry about my blood pressure.  I should have learned from stories of triathletes and other very active sports people who have succumbed to strokes and heart attacks.  Thanks to the doctors and nurses of one of the best hospitals in Spain, the Bellvitge Hospital, I was still able to deliver some lectures and participate in an investment road show that was sponsored by the Casa Asia and the prestigious Foment del Treball Nacional, the oldest confederation of employers in the whole of Europe, its origins dating back to 1771, as the Reail Companyia de Filats de Coto del Principat de Catalunya.  Together with Mr. Rolando Elepano of DMCI, Dr. Ricardo Barcelona and Ramon Soley of Barcino Advisers, I was able to address some thirty potential Spanish investors about the opportunities for investing in one of the fastest growing economies in Asia today, the Philippines, in such sectors as infrastructures, energy, agribusiness, tourism, real estate, consumer goods and IT-related services.  With the proper medication and constant vigilance, I hope to continue being involved in road shows that highlight the attractions of the Philippine economy to foreign investors whom we badly need to generate more employment and eradicate poverty in the Philippines.  For comments, my email address is