Totoy Hapon: 90 year-old beats COVID-19

Photos and Text by George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 10 2020 03:13 AM | Updated as of Jul 10 2020 08:39 AM

Inside a room, the chatter of nurses mixes with the music from a radio playing in the background. The bright lights overhead illuminate the usual hustle and bustle of a medical facility.

Yet, 90-year old Francisco Del Carmen is unperturbed as he lies calmly on his bed, waiting for his routine dialysis session at the World Citi Medical Center in Quezon City. At 90 years old, “Totoy Hapon” as he is fondly called, is one of the oldest survivors of COVID-19 in the country. 

Being a retired police officer of Camp Crame’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Francisco, according to his wife, has had his fair share of police stories. This includes one of the operations that led to the arrest of Boy Ampil, one of the most wanted prison escapees in the late 70s. 

Even at his age Totoy Hapon is still a fighter, and he can add beating COVID-19, which so far claimed more than a thousand lives in the country, to his resume.

Testing Positive

Del Carmen was admitted last June 20 after showing symptoms particularly pneumonia. This prompted attending physicians to quickly request for a swab test for him and his wife. After 4 days, he was confirmed positive of the disease. 

“At the start kasi di naman agad pangit yung kidney function nya. Pero during the treatment, unti-unti itong nasira. Naisip namin actually, mukang isa ito sa complications ng COVID19,” says Dr. Gino Natividad, one of the senior resident doctors of the internal medicine department.

He adds, “Kaya nung June 24, nag-decide ang COVID team na sya ay i-undergo ng dialysis.”

Despite his heavily slurred speech, Del Carmen showed signs to the medical staff that he was fighting his way to recovery.

“Nung day 1 (of his dialysis), unresponsive and sometimes iritable talaga sya,” says Mary Grace Brondo, head nurse of the hospital’s hemodialysis unit. 

“But now, sumasagot na sya sa mga tanong namin. Tapos kahit hindi namin sya naiintindihan, slurred speech, nagiging okay na sya. As in parang normal na siya ulit in the sense na alam na nya yung date, kung night or morning. So ibig sabihin maganda yung response nya sa dialysis.”

May and December

Del Carmen’s wife Cerilda never left his side while he was confined. When she heard the bad news, Cerilda says that she was shocked but eventually decided to face the problem head-on, and treated the crisis as one of the hurdles that test their relationship. 

Cerilda was 17 when she was wooed by then 48-year-old Francisco. Their love bore fruit to two children; Shiela and Jon Vincent. 

Despite the 31-year age gap, Cerilda was the first and only wife of Del Carmen. 

 Cerilda says “Sa loob ng 14 days, 24 hours ang duty ko sa kanya. Mga nurse nga 12 lang e diba. Ako 24. Pero pasalamat ako sa Diyos nakayanan ko. Kaya ngayon, ibayong kasiyahan. Kaya lalo ko syang gagawing baby talaga. Talagang mahal na mahal ko yung asawa ko eh.” 

Cerilda underwent swab tests as well but fortunately, she tested negative. Despite the scare, she never left her husband in the hospital fearing that it would be their last moments, even if it meant being required to wear complete sets of PPEs. 

“Biruin mo yun, 14 days walang ligo. Panay alcohol lang.” Cerilda laughs while sharing her experience. 

Bright and sharp

Shiela Del Carmen Tuliao arrived at exactly 2:36 pm on the day her father was scheduled to be released. The 42-year-old mother of 2 just came from a 4-hour drive from Pampanga and braved heavy NLEX traffic on a Thursday. 

“It’s been 19 days since he was admitted here and we’re just so happy that many people have prayed for his recovery, and now he’s gonna be back with us,” she says. 

Shiela lives with her husband and two young boys in Angeles, Pampanga. She drove to the hospital in time for her father’s big day. As she waits for the cashier to settle their bill, Shiela shares that for a 90-year-old, her father wasn’t really showing any signs of weakness and still has a sharp brain.

“Naglalakad yan ng diretso. Hindi din malabo mata nya. Hindi rin sya bingi. Pag lang talaga may mga tugtog gusto nya malakas. Kasi gusto nya mapakinggan lahat ng instrumento. Mahilig lang talaga sya sa music.”

After settling the bills, Francisco and Cerilda were picked up by the ambulance of Barangay Socorro in Cubao, where he is a security consultant. Doctors and nurses send off their oldest COVID-19 survivor in the hospital with cheers and a banner that contains his patient number, as a souvenir. As barangay health workers load the stretcher to the vehicle, Totoy Hapon once again throws his two thumbs-up sign, as if saying to the god of death; “Nope. Not me. Not today.”

Francisco Del Carmen, undergoes his regular dialysis session at the World Citi Medical Center in Quezon City on Thursday. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

At 90 years old, Del Carmen battled the virus for 19 days in the hospital and was discharged from the hospital on Thursday. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Shiela Del Carmen Tuliao checks in at the hospital's triage in Quezon City, Thursday. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Francisco reacts as his daughter, Shiela shows a video on her tablet. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Cerilda shares her and her husband’s experiences in the hospital. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

An artwork made by one of his grand children keeps Francisco company inside his room at the World Citi Medical Center. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Francisco poses for pictures with his family inside his room. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Francisco smiles for a photo inside as he waits to be discharged. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Francisco shares a light moment with his daughter Shiela. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Francisco reacts as his wife shares their life’s story. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Cerilda Del Carmen shares their experiences in the hospital. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Shiela waits as the cashier prepares their bill before being discharged. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Doctors and nurses send off Francisco as he gets discharged from the World Citi Medical Center. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news

Francisco throws a thumbs-up sign as he is loaded into an ambulance to be taken home. Geprge Calvelo, ABS-CBN news