Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday's Women of Courage - Therese Necio-Ortega

The strength of a human spirit is never more evident than when one experiences a "near-death" event.

In this scenario, where survival depends on faith and determination to live, the courage to overcome any adversity or challenge is put to the test.

In the case of Therese Necio-Ortega, she passed with flying colors.

As told in an article first published in the Philippine, "her story unfolds around 4 p.m., July 16, 1990. The then 27-year-old Necio, then with the press relations office of the Hyatt Terraces in Baguio City, Philippines, had called a meeting with the hotel’s banquets and food and beverage (F&B) officers at the executive office on the second floor. They were preparing for the 10th anniversary of the casino, and people were very busy. So busy, they had to move the meeting to 4:30 p.m.

Richie Tomada, the banquet manager, jokingly shooed Ortega away, insisting she go ahead to the casino manager’s office on the third floor. She obliged, not knowing Tomada’s suggestion would save her life.

“I even teased her that perhaps they wanted me out of the room so they could all talk about me,” she says, laughing almost painfully at the recollection.

Nobody had a chance to talk for long. A magnitude 7.8 quake shook and twisted the whole building. Seconds before the hotel crashed, casino manager Agapicio Valencia shoved Ortega under a narra table. The space could only fit one. The table withstood the beams that collapsed.

From the third floor, Ortega crashed to the ground floor mezzanine. She spent two hours pinned down by the rubble, with only her face showing.

“I knew I was going to die. I knew it when I saw my whole life flashed before me. I saw my graduation pictures from St. Theresa’s College, and then from the University of the Philippines, I was praying and ready to die,” she says.

Valencia, who was found by rescuers first, asked people to look for Ortega. When they saw her condition, they had to find the smallest engineer to get into the crack and pull her out. The guy was Tony Nab-Ali, a 4’9” engineer of Igorot descent. He wrenched Ortega out of the rubble.

The first thing Nab-Ali asked Ortega was whether he should look for her legs, which he assumed had been cut by the impact.

“I was carried like a rag doll,” the 5’4” Ortega recalls. Miraculously, she suffered no cuts but was literally black all over with bruises.

Ortega was brought to the Ifugao garden beside the hotel car park where her secretary, Bing Torres, massaged her legs until they started feeling a tingling sensation. In less than an hour, Ortega was back on her feet and, being one of the few hotel managers who had survived, was tasked to oversee the recovery operations and handle the media".

To this day, Therese keeps a gratitude journal. In it she writes "thank you for being alive". And now, she savors every moment. For she once saw her life flash before her eyes, and believed it was not yet her time to go.

Her life, her courage, her passion should inspire us all. Make each day count. Love life and it will love you back.

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