Gill Merced
At 10 (left), Gil Merced could not stand or walk without collapsing. He would just squat, keep his legs folded and be carried around because of a congenital heart condition. However, he underwent an open heart surgery and today, seven years later, he is leading a normal life. Among the things he loves to do is take to the catwalk where he shares his inspiring story. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Seven years ago, we carried a story about a 10-year-old boy who could not walk without passing out. Gil Merced, a Filipino, stayed huddled in a Satwa room with three bunk beds in Dubai. His condition had deteriorated so acutely that he could not even go out to play, let alone attend school.

The minute he tried to stand or start walking, he would collapse. He suffered from a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot which leads to low oxygenation of blood. He was weak, his skin wrinkled and posture drooping. “He invariably keeps his legs folded and we have to carry him around. Otherwise, there is no flow of oxygen,” his mother Mercedita had said, desperately appealing for help to get him treated.

The 2014 story which highlighted Gil Merced's plight Image Credit: Gulf News
Mercedita and her husband's desperate appeal for help in 2014 Image Credit: Gulf News

Working as a teaching assistant at the time, Mercedita had said her husband was unemployed and they did not have the money for the surgery which was critical for Gil.

Overwhelming response

Within two weeks of publishing the story, brought to light by volunteers at the St Mary’s Church who were extending support to the family, readers helped raise Dh55,000 for Gil’s treatment.

Dr Moopen’s Foundation, a charitable organisation spearheaded by Dr Azad Moopen, chairman of Dubai-based Aster DM Healthcare, took up his cause under their 'Healing Touch: Save The Little Hearts' programme by getting him operated upon at Aster Medcity in Kochi, India.

Gil Merced supplied-1632112959278
From left: Mercedita, Dr Azad Moopen, founding chairman and managing director of Aster, Gil, Alisha Moopen, deputy managing director, Aster, and Merced after Gil was operated upon at Aster Medcity in Kochi, India, in August 2014. Image Credit: Supplied

Today, seven years on, Gil is a strapping 17 year old, who not only walks but also runs. He loves to go on the catwalk and as his mother adds, is flying high too – whether in academics, the arts or sports. 

Gill's inspiring message

She said Gil, who is proud of his transformation, makes it a point to talk about it at the shows and competitions he attends. “He is bold and confident despite the delay in his formal education because of his earlier illness. But every time he goes up on stage, he inspires people with the story of his journey, of how he overcame the extreme odds and reached where he is now.”

His message: “No matter what, never lose hope, just pray and be grateful. Have the courage to face a problem, there’s always a reason for it and there will always be a solution.”

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Flying high: Gil Merced's performance in academics, the arts and sports, besides modelling is exemplary, says his mother Image Credit: Supplied

Mercedita, who now works as an assistant cook in Dubai, said Gil is all set to start senior high school in Cebu back home. “He had lost two years of schooling after Grade 4, but he was able to catch up with his studies after the surgery in Kochi. He aims to complete a course in nursing in the Philippines and be back in Dubai to work as a nurse," she added.

She said Gil had come a long way since the days he was confined to the house as they could not risk sending him out for fear that he would collapse. “He wants to go to the park and the mall. But the last time I took him to the park was last year when he fainted and I had to rush him back,” she had added in 2014.

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Gil Merced: A picture of confidence today Image Credit: Supplied

Aster Founder Chairman and Managing Director Dr Azad Moopen, who swung into action after learning about Gil’s plight, immediately arranged for the boy and his family to be flown to Aster Medcity where the diagnosis of the congenital condition was reconfirmed and the treatment plan chalked out.

Mercedita's handwritten thank you note to Gulf News in 2014 Image Credit: Gulf News

“On August 5, 2014, Gil underwent an open-heart surgery through which his condition was corrected. By the time he was discharged on August 14, he was ready not just to walk, but fly,” said Mercedita, who in a handwritten to Gulf News before flying to Kochi wrote, “On behalf of my family, I would like to convey our heartfelt thanks for all your support and strength.”

'Meaningful difference'

Dr Moopen said, “The meaningful difference that we have been able to make in this child’s life, not just by treating his life-threatening ailment but by giving him an opportunity to live a healthy and fulfilling life where he can work towards achieving his dreams, is what keeps us going everyday as an organisation.”

Dr Azad Moopen

He said, "Stories like these of our patients and the special bond that they continue to share with us over the years, drives us to go above and beyond in our mission to make quality healthcare affordable and accessible to people across the world. Our team of doctors and staff from Aster Medcity in India and our entire organisation are extremely delighted to hear of Gill’s success from his parents. We wish him all the very best.”

What is Tetralogy of Fallot?
This is a rare condition triggered by four congenital heart defects which affect the heart structure and lead to low oxygen. Babies with this condition suddenly develop deep blue skin, nails and lips, often called as tet spellswhich occur when the amount of oxygen in the blood reduces. As the child grows, they just sit when they’re short of breath. Squatting helps increase blood flow to the lungs. Children with the condition are weak, have difficulty in breathing and can pass out or collapse.