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The doctor’s D.R.E.A.M. of fulfilling other&rsquio; dream
by Spencer Cayabyab

Mental and developmental health problem in the country is an issue that is harly given as much attention. Founders of A Child's D.R.E.A.M. Foundation hopes that one day, the public will have a different perspective when dealing with specian needs. -- Contributed Photo

They are everywhere in Baguio. They can be the beggars along Maharlika Livelihood Complex or the plastic vendors at the City Public Market. They can also be at shopping centers, inside churches, along Burnham Park, or beside City Hall. They are everywhere in different places but they are nowhere in everyone’s priority.

In the September 2016 Monthly Index of Medical Specialities, data shows that one out of five Filipinos suffers from mental health problems. Among Filipino children aged five to 15 years old, 10 to 15 percent of them are mentally challenged. With this, mental health is indeed a must-talk-about issue the country has to face today and beyond.

Despite the high need for mental health doctors and specialists, there are only 700 psychiatrists and around 1,000 psychiatric nurses in the country, according to surveys. With the current country’s population of 103 million, the number of doctors attending to the needs of these mentally-challenged individuals is insufficient.

The problem of mental health in the country, specifically in the provinces of the Cordillera, has already caught the attention of a man whose greatest dream is to fulfil other people’s dream.

An innate care for children

Dr. Francis Xavier Dimalanta already loved children with special needs even during his teenage years. While taking his Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree at the University of the Philippines Diliman, he worked as a clown in parties to earn money he can use for school projects. In this job, the passion for children which he learned from his parents was even sustained. After college, he took up Bachelor of Science in Medicine at the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center College of Medicine. He became a trainee of St. Luke’s Medical Center and then continued his studies in Harvard University and Cornell University to specialize in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

During his stay in the United States, a lot of universities have offered better compensation packages in a bid to convince him to practice his profession overseas. However, Dimalanta’s passion to reach out to people in need back in the Philippines has convinced him to decline the offers. He has to explain to these companies that his primary reason for specializing in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics is to help menatally challenged children in the Cordillera.

“This is a sector of the society that is not given enough attention. As in our culture, we think that children who have disabilities have nothing more to offer. But if we change that perspective and have a paradigm shift, we will know that there is more we can do for them,” says Dimalanta.

After completing his training abroad, Dimalanta came back to the country and built his first clinic for children with special needs.

Materializing his dreams

Dimalanta had his first clinic at St. Luke’s Medical Center. Despite the long travel from Manila to Baguio, he never failed to visit children in the Cordillera. Whenever he came to Baguio, Dimalanta noticed a lot of children in the city suffer from mental health problems. This reality struck him and caused him to conduct different activities to help children with special needs. He also asked his older sister, Maria Mita Dimalanta, who works in the banking industry, to sponsor the transportation and lodging of psychiatrists for them to be able to come to Baguio.

Dimalanta’s sister paid the transportation of physical and behavioral psychiatrists and allowed them to stay in their house in Baguio while doing their check-ups on the children.

In 2003, Dimalanta decided to put up the very first foundation in Baguio City that caters to the needs of children who are mentally challenged – the Child’s D.R.E.A.M. Foundation.

D.R.E.A.M. stands for Developmental, Rehabilitative, Early Assessment and Management. The foundation aims to develop and rehabilitate mentally challenged children through early assessment and management.

Since its inception in 2003, the foundation has already helped patients not only from the Cordillera but also from other Luzon provinces such as Tarlac, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, La Union, Ilocos, and as far as Romblon. Patients coming from overseas are also given treatment and rehabilitation.

With the help of the partners and sponsors, A Child’s D.R.E.A.M. Foundation provided mentally challenged children with free therapy sessions and other interventions.

A holistic approach on treating the patients

Given Dimalanta’s expertise in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, he has developed a systematic and holistic approach on doing therapies for the patients of the foundation.

Before starting therapy sessions, the foundation checks the medical history not only of the patient but also their parents. The foundation also gathers records of the atmosphere of the place wherein the child is fully exposed – who is with him, what is being taught to him, who talks to him, or is there even someone who talks to him.

The foundation acknowledges the important role of the family in the development of the children. They believe the way the family and the parents treat their children affects his or her development and behavior.

During therapy sessions, parents should also participate in all the learning activities held inside the therapy rooms. Parents are encouraged to join the activities such as singing, playing, and dancing, among other events. After the therapy sessions, both the parent and the child are given take-home assignments which they both need to work upon.

According to Mita Dimalanta, the participation of the parents and the intense monitoring of the children’s behavioral, speech, and language development are indeed vital for the success of the therapy. An hour of therapy session inside the foundation, according to her, is just a part of the program. The success still lies on the role that is being played by the family themselves.

“We don’t cure your children, you have to take care of them in your own home,” says Mita Dimalanta.

Reaching out to communities

More than advocating the importance of the family in the treatment of children, A Child’s D.R.E.A.M. Foundation also holds projects and activities to make the Cordillera communities more aware on issues regarding mentally challenged children and to show everyone the hidden talents of children with special needs.

Activities such as paper art workshops for mentally challenged children, ballet workshops, sandpaper painting workshops, zumba parties, and many more have showcased the talents that have always been waiting to be discovered.

Moreover, the foundation conducted a series of seminars and workshops on mental disorder awareness. There were free seminars regarding autism and down syndrome. In 2010, one of the events they held was the “Day in the Life of a Special Children,” which has shown everyone the life of children with special needs.

The grateful parents and patients

With more than one decade of providing free medical assistance to special children, A Child’s D.R.E.A.M. Foundation has touched many lives inside and outside of the Cordillera.

One of the many grateful parents who were helped by the foundation is Karim Pacis. Her child, “Mitchell,” was only able to write “Mitchell.” After getting series of therapies in the foundation, the child can already write up to 25 words and was able to develop her communication skills. Also, the child’s motor skills have improved a lot compared to what it was before entering the foundation.

“Dr. Dimalanta is the rare breed of medical professional who not only possesses great skill and expertise in his field of Developmental Pediatrics, but also the empathy and understanding that is so much appreciated by parents seeking consultation for their children,” Edwin Hawson, another parent, said.

“Through the last 10 years, Francis (Dimalanta) has ably guided me and my husband in obtaining the optimum educational, therapy, and medical support for Ina, our daughter with Down Syndrome,” says Maricar Rosal, mother of a patient.

Passing the dream

Dr. Dimalanta has undeniably succeeded in his mission of providing Cordillerans with proper medical assistance, especially for those who are suffering from mental health problems. Aside from direct provision of medical assistance to patients and their parents, the establishment of A Child’s D.R.E.A.M. Foundation had urged other foundations in Baguio City to also provide mental health assistance.

More than that, Dr. Dimalanta made sure the fulfilment of this dream will traverse to the next generation. The foundation provides scholarships and endorsement letters to their volunteers who want to pursue Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and other related courses. Through the help of their partner companies, universities, and other foundations, they provide their volunteers an avenue to fulfil their dream of continuing Dimalanta’s legacy.

Questioning the normal

By just walking along the streets of Baguio, everything seems to be normal. However, by walking along the streets of Baguio and looking closely into it, everything will be abnormally normal. Dr. Dimalanta had solved a problem that nobody has even paid attention into.

They are everywhere in Baguio. They can be the beggars along Maharlika Livelihood Complex or the plastic vendors inside the public market. They can also be at the shopping centers, inside the churches, along Burnham Park, or beside City Hall. They are everywhere in different places and they need their own “Dr. Dimalanta” to help them.
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