This is good news. Let's all continue to pray for Tara Santelices and her family.
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Tara Santelices stirs to life
By Jaymee T. Gamil
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:24:00 10/12/2008
MANILA, Philippines—On the bulletin board beside her hospital bed are photographs showing her in varying moods—her head thrown back in laughter, or clad in black, a red streak visible in her hair, or in formal graduation wear.
The spirited young woman in the photographs is a far cry from the pale, feeble form connected to a ventilator, with a long stitch on the scalp to show where a bullet had entered.
Antonia Marina “Tara” Santelices, a political science graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University, is still confined at The Medical City after being shot in the head in a jeepney holdup on Aug. 6, the eve of her 23rd birthday.
A promising life appeared to have been stolen that night, but with the help of her family and friends, and even strangers, Tara is fighting to recover.
Tara woke last month from a three-week coma and has been moved from the hospital’s intensive care unit to a private room.
She yawns and coughs, makes chewing motions, and moves her limbs with some effort.
When awakened, she turns her head and opens her right eye. Her left eye remains closed.
Nevertheless, she responds to sounds, tilting her head toward or looking at the source. To encourage her, doctors and nurses ask her for permission before examining her, and visitors chat and joke as though nothing is remiss.
But bullet fragments are still embedded in the left side of Tara’s brain, her parents having decided against the life-threatening surgery required to remove them.
Thus, she is beset by seizures akin to asthma attacks because of the lack of oxygen in her brain.
“This is typical in those with brain damage,” Anne Santelices, Tara’s weary but willful mother, quoted doctors as saying.
Anne fears that the seizures will continue, but through all the complications, family members have faithfully taken turns attending to Tara.
“Last August, her head was still fully bandaged and it was bloodied because of the open wound. It’s already a miracle that she’s alive, but her recovery has been surprising,” Anne said.
And Tara has started to regain comprehension, her visitors believe.
Indeed, Anne said she had observed Tara gazing at family members and occasionally looking at the TV set.
Tara’s best friend, Joyce Elaine “Joee” Mejias, has brought an iPod with speakers to her hospital room, and her other high school classmates in Assumption Antipolo have recorded get-well messages.
Recounted Joee’s sister, Laura Elaine Mejias, on the phone: “Joee told her, ’Tara, if you can hear me, move your fingers.’ And she did. It happened three times.”
How it happened
On that fateful night, Tara and Joee were heading home in a Rizal-bound jeepney after an early birthday celebration. The girls were seated next to the entrance.
On Imelda Avenue in Cainta, a man seated beside the girls pulled out a gun, told the driver to stop, and declared a holdup.
A brief struggle over Tara’s bag occurred as the man was about to disembark. He fired the gun, hitting Tara on the left side of her forehead, and fled.
Tara still managed to tell Joee, “I’m okay, I’m okay.”
But despite Joee’s pleas, the driver proceeded on his normal route and most of the passengers got off at their respective stops.
He dropped off Tara and Joee at a clinic, but it was unequipped to respond to the emergency. Joee had to take Tara in a taxi to nearby Amang Rodriguez hospital.
The cold-blooded crime, and the apathy displayed by the witnesses, outraged many as the story spread. But just as many marveled at Tara’s will to survive.
Making a difference
Tara plays guitar with the Saffron Speedway band and dabbles in writing, filmmaking and painting.
She wrote and directed Joee’s production design thesis at the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde. The short sci-fi film, titled “Undertow,” received the best thesis award while Tara lay in a coma.
Tara is also a research officer of the nongovernment organization Upland Marketing Foundation Inc., which assists remote communities.
“She’s someone who wants to make a difference,” said Angela Serrano, a college friend.
Just as Tara has sought to touch the lives of strangers, now strangers are helping her recover her own.
“During the first few days of her confinement, there was a long line of visitors snaking through the ICU,” Angela said.
The weekend after Tara was shot, Saffron Speedway began to arrange fund-raisers for her medical bills, urging artists of all media to pitch in.
Laura Mejias, also the vocalist of Saffron Speedway, called for volunteers on her website (http://leatherlace.multiply.com).
“I didn’t expect so many people to respond. Well-known bands and those from the provinces volunteered to organize gigs pro bono. I was stormed with calls and had a thousand messages on my cell phone,” Laura told the Inquirer.
Even from far way
Laura said she had heard from strangers as far as New York. And a Filipino-American musician also promised to organize gigs for Tara in his area.
“We wanted to boost the morale of Tara and her family and send them good vibes because during the first few days, they seemed like they’d given up,” Laura said.
Assumption also held fund-raising raffles and events, while Ateneo’s Department of Political Science collected donations.
Benefit gigs, poetry readings, dance concerts, film showings and art exhibits continue to be held. A tribute was scheduled last night at Mag:Net Katipunan in Quezon City, showcasing Tara and Joee’s films.
A temporary Banco de Oro savings account (2140-06220) in the name of Anna Marie F. Santelices has been opened to receive donations.
Prompted by a letter, President Macapagal-Arroyo paid a quiet visit to Tara early in September.
Ms Arroyo made a donation, endorsed Tara’s mother Anne to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, and promised the swift resolution of the crime.
Said Anne: “It’s overwhelming. Strangers come up to me and say, ’Mrs. Santelices, I’m praying for your family.’ I never imagined Tara had so many friends because she’s so quiet.
“During the first few weeks, I couldn’t look at Tara without crying. But because of all the support, I’m comforted and humbled. I leave this to God now.
“This has become bigger than Tara and my family. It shed light on issues the youth and the government need to be aware of.”
Rock Ed Philippines has taken up with Saffron Speedway and organized gigs for Tara in line with an “Ingat Avenue” campaign for road safety.
Said Laura: “A lot of people go out and commute late, especially since call centers cropped up. Other people can relate to what happened to Tara. We need to start calling for the government to provide safety, and we need to strike at apathy.”
For starters, Anne said, Cainta Mayor Mon Ilagan had committed to address the lighting of Imelda Avenue.
He also promised to enjoin the members of the Angono and Cainta drivers’ associations to help search for the jeepney driver concerned, she said.
Call for witnesses
On Sept. 15, Orlando del Rosario, Tara’s suspected assailant, was killed in a purported shootout with cops.
But Joee and another passenger, identified only as “Gerry,” said Del Rosario was not the gunman.
The two witnesses had described the gunman as in his 40s, with a large build and a crew cut, and dressed in a white shirt, dark slacks and leather shoes.
Anne, quoting Gerry, also said the gunman had a kind, pale face and a tattoo on his hand.
The National Bureau of Investigation is still looking into the case, and Anne has aired a call for other witnesses to help identify Tara’s assailant.
Online, the Justice for Tara Santelices petition (http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/justice-for-tara-santelices.html) has elicited public consensus to legislate street crime prevention.
It resulted from the outrage of the Ateneo de Naga High School Batch 1969 upon learning of what befell the daughter of Larry Santelices, one of its own.
“I wanted that specific legislation be enacted [to penalize] apathy,” Chito Irigo, the petition writer and Larry’s childhood friend, said via e-mail.
By the end of September, 7,185 signatures had been gathered, Chito said, adding:
“It was really far beyond my expectations. It made me change my cynical view and see that there are still some people out there who care.”
Tara’s loved ones have high hopes for her recovery.
“Her brain was really damaged, and that affects the most basic abilities, but I believe in miracles. There are a lot of stories of people who recover against all odds,” Anne said.
Even the doctors could not fully predict how Tara’s condition would progress, especially because she has repeatedly surpassed expectations.
“From the vast improvements we’ve seen, Tara’s definitely a fighter. We’re giving her good vibes so she’ll continue to fight,” Laura said.
Meanwhile, Tara’s website (http://tarxz.multiply.com) is swamped with messages from strangers sending their best wishes.