Miss International 2013 Bea Santiago shares journey as kidney disease survivor


Posted at Jun 02 2023 07:23 PM | Updated as of Jun 03 2023 03:21 PM

Miss International 2013 Bea Santiago. Instagram/Bea Santiago
Miss International 2013 Bea Santiago. Instagram/Bea Santiago

Bea Santiago is seeing the world with gratitude as a kidney disease survivor.

In a recent interview with showbiz host Butch Francisco, the former Miss International said she will always be thankful to her younger brother for "extending my life."

Paul, who is younger by seven years, donated his kidney for Santiago's kidney transplant.

"Thank you so much for helping me, for extending my life, and I'm forever grateful," Santiago, who is now based in Canada, said during the online interview. "You gifted me something more than an organ, but also a grateful heart." 

"The world is new again," she declared after all that she has been through. "It's changing, I'm changing, and I can't wait to see what life has to offer."


Santiago rose to fame after winning the Philippines' fifth Miss International crown in 2013. She pursued a showbiz career afterwards and appeared in a number of ABS-CBN shows, but had to move back to her family in Canada because of her health condition.

In her interview with Francisco, the beauty queen-turned-actress revealed that she had IgA Nephropathy as early as 16 years old. Mayo Clinic described it as "a disease that occurs when an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) builds up in your kidneys." 

She recalled having symptoms similar to allergies: "Akala ko lang kasi po allergies kasi nga my throat was itchy, my tonsils was always inflamed. May flu, may fever, cough, cold, runny nose. [Tapos] may parang mga red dots ako sa legs na hindi naman siya from anything else."

Santiago was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy after undergoing several tests. Her condition worsened over the years, and it led to end-stage renal failure.

She only found out after she was brought to the hospital due to severe headaches.

"I was having really bad headaches na naging frequent... Hanggang sa naging every day na to the point na I was already vomiting. I was nauseous and dehydrated," she said. 

Santiago went on: "Akala ko may aneurysm ako noon kasi sobrang sakit ng ulo ko. So I thought it was because of the stress I was feeling... Pero 'yun pala, extreme dehydration from the vomiting that happened to me. My kidney was failing, my blood pressure was so high."

While she was earlier diagnosed with a kidney disease as a teen, Santiago found it hard to accept that she had end-stage renal failure, pointing out that she has always felt "normal."

"Di ko muna siya tinanggap. Kasi I was like this, I was normal, I didn't feel anything. I just thought na parang it's just a fluke," she said. "It took us almost one month to figure out what was happening kasi I feel normal, I look normal. I don't feel like I was sick." 

It was when she flew to Japan to get a second opinion that it all began to sink in. Santiago later on acknowledged how kidney disease can be a "silent killer," and focused on her recovery. 

The first step was for her to move back to Canada to be with her family. After regular dialysis, she was able to have a kidney transplant, thanks to her brother.

"The first time (dialysis) was overwhelming... Umiiyak ako," she said, pointing out that the pain she felt was more mental than physical.

When asked to give a message to kidney disease patients, Santiago stressed the importance of not just getting proper treatments, but also "staying positive" amid struggles. 

"Always choose positive. Walang mangyayari sa atin kung 'yung negative papasok sa brain natin, nakaka-toxic din siya. When you put that here (points to head), it goes around [your body]," she said. 

"Kasi 'yun na lang ang meron tayong hawak at magbibigay sa atin ng hope," she added. "When all else fails, always stay in the light."