Weeks have passed since Ormoc, a city in Central Philippines, was left in ruins after Typhoon Haiyan passed through.
Grace Acojedo was in Ormoc at the time of the typhoon and Houssam Hammoudi, her fiancé was hundreds of kilometers away in Montreal wondering if she had survived the wreckage. Reports of the destruction left behind in the path of the typhoon was running rampant on the internet. He knew that it was big and deadly and that Grace’s city was directly in the path of the typhoon. Shortly after the typhoon had passed through, electricity shuts down and all communication between Houssam and Grace stops!
In the meantime,photos of the storm’s devastation in the country surfaces on the internet and social media,and Houssam worried about the state of his fiancée sets off to the Philippines to rescue his Grace.
Onwards to Philippines
The green house is where Grace used to live
Houssam landed in Cebu on the 14th of November, some days after the storm had hit the country. Lack of news prompted him to leave for Ormoc immediately, reaching the City at 2PM that day. Traveling towards Ormoc revealed the true extent of damage to the city.Houssam recounts,”The city is completely destroyed. A heavy smell which is a melange of Rotten rats, cats, birds and even dogs and sewage.”
Through Grace’s brother John, Houssam finds Grace at the clinic she had been recuperating.For the first time ever, the two meet each other face to face. Not via Skype or Facebook but in reality.
But Grace was not okay. She was definitely in bad shape and needed medical attention and immediate surgery. He recounts:
“When I was at the front of the room, I hesitated for 2 seconds and then I entered. I was simply shocked. They had stitched her like a butcher stitches meat. They left many wounds not stitched wide open to the air. The stitching was so unprofessional and even I who doesn’t know anything about stitching, I figured it should not be like that. Her wounds were left like that without any medicine, until it became rotten and started to smell. The compresses were never changed. I did what I could with the wounds, cleaning them with betadine and putting some antibiotic cream on the facial wounds.”
This is when he knew that he had to take his fiancée out of Ormoc and to Cebu, where the conditions were much better and where she could receive proper medical attention. Before he could get her out of the clinic,he had to pay them $400 just to discharge her and then he would have to pay them even more later inspite of the shoddy treatment she had received.
After getting out of the clinic, they rushed to the port to get tickets to Cebu. But just like him, almost everyone else were desperate to get out of Ormoc. There were no more tickets. His pleas to authorities for help was met with indifference; he was lost, desperate and he even tried talking to the coast guards who also showed indifference.
In what can be described as a miracle, Houssam was able to talk with a certain Lieutenant Ramirez, who after seeing Grace promised that they could take the first boat by 10 PM.
“We took a tricycle to the port and Lieutenant Ramirez was there waiting. He right away ordered his man to take their weapons and escort me to the boat. They were with me the whole way, they obliged the transportation companies to give me tickets for me, grace, john, christelle and her mother. They were pushing everybody away very hard to let me pass since I didn’t have much power anymore to lift her.”
Tired and helpless, Houssam collapsed on the boat and when he woke up,they had arrived at Cebu.
Houssam friend Dr.Mercel Cabahog, whom he had met earlier in Seoul, was friends with the head of surgery at Chong Hua hospital in Cebu , and she got Houssam to get in touch with the head surgeon directly.
The results after Grace had been inspected was startling.
- Critical Eye trauma
- Face reconstruction is required because she had glass in the face which causes swelling (plastic surgery)
- Broken ulna and wrist (bone surgery with metal implant tomorrow morning)
- Very badly hit ribs
- Big infection on the leg that was not stitched correctly (now they are putting antibiotic directly to the wound to take out the swelling and therefore restitch her correctly). They want to avoid that the bacteria access the blood vessels. She is plugged with IV.
- All front teeth need to be replaced (Dental reconstruction)
Under the best circumstances at Ormoc, patients already do not receive world class treatment, and combined with the case of the bad storm, this situation only worsened and Grace received very poor treatment which did nothing to alleviate her pain or problems. The medical bills would be astronomical, and while Houssam started paying for the treatment from his own pocket, he knew that more would be needed for her treatment. He launched a blog detailing Grace’s struggles and recovery hoping to receive help from the good folks on the internet.
And after early successful operations, Houssam married Grace under Muslim rites on November 23, 2013.
They plan to settle in Canada after Grace has undergone some of the more critical operations. In the meantime, money is still being raised for Grace’s further treatment. You can donate straight from his blog at Tumblr, where there is an option to do that through PayPal. Houssam is very transparent, as he posts pictures of invoices detailing the cost of every operation and doctors’ fees.
As Typhoon Haiyan slowly fades from everyone’s memory, especially those who were not affected, it won’t be the case for those whose lives were directly affected by that storm. Usually we only hear of political ramifications and grievances in the aftermath of a typhoon but this time, we have a story of how the love of Houssam and Grace was able to bring hope to many who are still left asunder by the destruction.
Traveling halfway across the world to rescue your love during a very deadly typhoon is no ordinary feat. Would you the same for the person you love?