FILIPINOS conquer the world through various jobs and professions. Through the years, they have been able to prove themselves in their respective fields because of their expertise, professionalism and most especially, dedication to their jobs like Dr. Philipp R. Aldana who made a mark by performing a special type of brain surgery for the first time in northeast Florida, USA.
Named “Health Care Hero” by the Jacksonville Business Journal, Dr. Aldana treated Alliyah Walker for epilepsy when she was just eight years old in June 2011 by performing a procedure called hemispherotomy.
Aldana, now the division Chief of the Pediatric Neurosurgery of the University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville, explains through a Skype interview that hemispherotomy, is a procedure that disconnects one half of the brain from the other.
In a 10-hour surgery Aldana disconnected all the nerve fibers that control Alliyah’s brain’s left side.
Before the surgery, Walker was having violent seizures up to two times a day despite being on multiple medications, the report said.
“Her condition is called Rasmusen’s encephalitis, a rare inflammatory neurological disease that causes frequent and severe seizures,” Aldana explains.
According to research, this illness affects a single cerebral hemisphere and generally occurs in children under 15.
The historic surgery marked the first time the procedure had ever been performed in the northeast Florida. Aldana added that this surgery is one the “most complicated kind of brain surgery for seizures.”
Now, Walker is free from seizures and is improving in school, according to Aldana. He explains that Walker will only have 20 percent chance of seizure recurence.
Aldana shares that it takes many years to become a physician. “It took me close to 20 years to become a full-fledged neurosurgeon,” Aldana said.
Aldana was born in Cebu and started his studies at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. He moved to the US and obtained his medical degree from Saint Louis University School of Medicine in 1994 in St Louis, Missouri. He went on to complete a residency in neurosurgery at the University of Miami at Jackson Memorial Hospital, then a fellowship in pediatric neurosurgery at the Primary Children’s Hospital/University of Utah, Salt Lake City.
Inspiration and guidance
The son of the late Dr. Benigno S. Aldana Jr. of Cebu, Aldana proudly remembers his father who is one of the founders of neurosurgery in the Philippines.
“Growing up, I saw how hard my father worked to care for the people in Visayas and Mindanao, being the only neurosurgeon for that region. I would watch videos of his surgeries that he would show at home and observe him as he would study brain specimens that he would bring home. My parents always emphasized the value of education and hard work as I was growing up,” recalls Aldana.
For Aldana, those moments inspired him to be a physician like his father who recently passed away.
Other neurosurgoens in the USA who inspired him were Marion Walker, MD, Roberto Heros, MD; Barth Green, MD and John Ragheb, MD.
“These are all distinguished professors in neurosurgery in the USA who trained me,” said Aldana.
Aldana credits a lot of his success to the support from his wife, Carmina C. Montesa, a University of Toronto graduate. Montesa is the daughter of Ambassador Clemencio F. Montesa, former Philippine Consul General in Toronto, Canada.
Passion to serve underserved patients
Aldana, just like his father, believes that serving marginalized people is a mission.
He founded the Neurosurgery Outreach Foundation, Aldana said, “The mission of our foundation is to advance neurosurgical care in underserved communities. We perform educational surgical missions where we teach endoscopic techniques to treat hydrocephalus to local neurosurgeons and perform these surgeries on needy patients. We also give out educational awards to neurosurgery residents in training in order to support their education,” Aldana says.
Besides Neurosurgery Outreach Foundation, Aldana is also involved in other advocacies, such as the Section of Neurological Surgery of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, all organizations that promote issues and research related to children with neurological diseases.
Dr. Aldana sees to it that he’s updated with the developments in neurological and pediatric neurosurgery field so he can also improve his services to his patients.
According to him, “There are a number of breakthroughs. A significant one is the development of minimally invasive neurosurgical techniques to treat diseases of the brain and spinal cord. We now use endoscopes and image guided systems that allow us to be more precise in our surgeries and to be effective but using much smaller incisions. There is also new technology that allows neurosurgeons to treat diseases of the blood vessels of the neck and brain completely through their own blood vessels, without having to make any incisions in the body.”
Secrets to success
For Dr. Aldana, there are no great secrets to success in any profession.
He says, “No matter what race you are or what country you were born, you can succeed with hard work, determination, intelligence and courage. You need to have a clear, compelling vision of what you want to achieve and you need to be determined to achieve it.”