MANILA -- The pain of losing Miko Sotto at a young age 10 years ago was "horrific," according to his mother, Ali Sotto. But she said her decision to donate her son's corneas has helped her cope with the loss.
In an interview with ANC's "Dateline Philippines" on Saturday, Sotto said donating Miko's corneas to the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines has given her and her grieving family comfort.
Sotto lost her 21-year-old son on December 29, 2003 after Miko fell from the 9th floor of his condominium building in Mandaluyong City.
"It really helps you in the grieving process especially for a mother who lost a child, a son. You know the pain is beyond words. It's a horrific pain. Having donated Miko's corneas actually gave me and our family unspeakable comfort," she said.
"Because here is a boy who had so much promise, who had so much potential and he loses his life at a very young age. It gives meaning to a sudden death that you cannot understand, you're asking 'Why him?'"
"And then you believe in the divine hand in it. Because you know it's not a meaningless death. It's a meaningful death because it gives you the knowledge that he did not die in vain," she added.
Sotto, who has since been actively involved in this advocacy, shared that the feeling was "indescribable" when she met the two recipients of Miko's corneas.
She said she felt -- and still feels up to now -- that "a part of [her] son literally lives on."
That is why she is also encouraging other people to help "extend the life of someone" through organ donation.
"Be a hero," she said.
Erasing the stigma
Every year, tens of thousands of Filipinos are in need of organs for transplant, but only hundreds are able to receive donated organs.
According to Department of Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag, many people are still not open to the idea of donating their organs because of the stigma associated with the procedure.
Tayag told ANC that they want to raise awareness among Filipinos about the hope organ donation gives to those who are in need.
"Really, there's a long line of patients who need these," he said.
On Friday, the Philippines set a new world record for the most number of people to sign up for organ donations in a period of one hour in a single venue.
A total of 3,548 people signed up for organ donation in an hour at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Sta. Mesa, Manila.
This beats India, which holds the record for having 2,755 pledged organ donors in a period of one hour in one site.
"But the most important part of this is not actually breaking the world record. It's actually raising the awareness among Filipinos that we can save lives. Some way or another, our life ends, but it begins if we donate a part of us," Tayag said.
The organs that can be donated are the corneas, heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, ovary, uterus and liver. People can also donate limbs, blood, skin, bones and bone marrow, Tayag said.
The health official explained that those who made pledges have the choice of what organ to donate when they die.
He said they will be given a card by the Philippine Network for Organ Sharing (PhilNOS) which states the organs they are willing to donate.
"It's like your last will... So if they find this on your body, then the doctors can notify the PhilNOS so that what you indicated will be harvested," Tayag said.
He noted that it is very important that those who pledge to donate their organs immediately notify their family about their decision to prevent any conflict when they die.
This, he said, as some families refuse to donate their deceased loved one's organs even if the latter had pledged to donate.
"Save lives. It doesn't have to be something that's impossible. Because this is something that you can really share with all your heart and with all your mind," Tayag said.