'I will always love you:' Doctor grieves specialist-wife who lost long battle against COVID-19

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 24 2020 03:01 PM | Updated as of Aug 24 2020 04:28 PM

MANILA — Another doctor lost the battle against coronavirus disease (COVID-19). 

Dr. Kathlynne Anne “Kharen” Abat-Senen, the only neonatologist in Valenzuela City and also served the Philippine General Hospital, died on Sunday, her husband confirmed. 

Kharen is among the 40 or so health care workers in the Philippines who have died from the disease, which has affected more than 200 countries and infected 23 million people as of Monday. 

Kharen is survived by her husband and their two children, ages 8 and 11.

"I will always love you, and keep you close to my heart. I will still say 'I Love You,' even if there is no physical reply. But I will always feel your presence as if you never left my side," her husband, Dr. Jerome Senen said in a tribute post on Facebook. 

"No more pain and suffering, hon. It was a hard fought 44 days in the hospital...the world is a little dimmer when it lost a bright light in you. I will try to carry on that light in me," he added. 

Senen, a pediatric pulmonologist, said they had no idea how Kharen contracted the virus, especially since both of them had been very careful. As a neonatologist, Kharen looked after newborn babies. 

“As doctors we were very very careful with ourselves because we know that we have 2 kids. And if something happens to us, the kids are still small so we have to be very very careful,” Senen told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview.

He said they even wore full personal protective equipment (PPE) suits while in the clinic or during patient rounds.

“We do not know kung saan niya nakuha. Alam mo naman it can be anywhere (We do not know where she got it. You know it can be anywhere). It can be a patient. It can be just somebody you encountered in public,” he said.

Senen said when his wife first experienced coughing, she thought it was just asthma. But as a precaution, they also had her x-ray taken.

“And the x-ray showed, unfortunately, may infiltrates nakita sa x-ray, which is indicative of a possible pneumonia. That is why we eventually went to PGH by June 10 and she was admitted there,” Senen said.

Her first swab or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test turned out to be negative for COVID-19 so she was initially treated for the pneumonia and asthma. 

However, after a week of hospitalization and no signs of improvement, she had another swab test. Her June 17 result showed she was positive for COVID-19.

Senen said Kharen was immediately given convalescent plasma, which uses antibodies of recovered patients to help boost her fight against COVID-19. 

After 2 weeks and another swab test that turned out negative, Kharen was discharged.

“We were happy we were going home,” Senen said, as he recalled that his wife no longer had symptoms except hoarseness of voice. 

But after 2 days at home, “she again complained of loss of appetite but this time it was accompanied by loss of smell, and she had fever again. This time high-grade fever.”

She was brought back to PGH on July 11 where she was again confined in the intensive care unit (ICU). In two days, she was intubated and she spent the rest of her stay at the ICU.

“She was given all the possible treatments that can be given. However, unfortunately she did not win the battle anymore,” Senen said.

 

While Kharen’s only pre-existing condition was asthma, Senen said “there were a lot of stumbling blocks throughout the management” of her illness.

“Nagkaroon na ng other organs involved, not just the lungs. That is why the problem there is that it was a very very severe type of infection of COVID. Lung-compromised then eventually other organs became affected until yung last yung her heart was the last one to go,” he said.

(There were other organs affected, not just the lungs. That is why the problem there is that it was a very very severe type of infection of COVID. Lung-compromised then eventually other organs became affected until her heart was the last one to go.)

Senen said there were times Kharen showed improvement but “once the medication already wore off, the effect, eventually the virus got hold of her again.”

A CASE OF REINFECTION?

While other reports claimed that Kharen was reinfected with COVID-19, Senen said the medical team who treated her remained unsure if it was a reinfection or a continuation of the existing infection.

The Department of Health on Monday also asked media to refrain from using the term reinfection because of inadequate evidence.

“Ating pinagaaral lahat po ng mga circumstances ngayon kasama ng nangyari sa ibang bansa,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing.

(We are studying all circumstances including those happening in other countries.)

She said they also helped the Senen family by facilitating the convalescent plasma treatment and the use of machines to help her recover. 

Senen said their only message to the public is to stay safe and “do their part.”

“Everybody has to do their part,” he said. “For the public, you have to observe the steps you have to do, distancing, wearing a mask, wearing of your face shields if ever.”

Senen said they are very grateful for their family and friends who supported them throughout the more than 1 month of confinement at PGH, as well as the health workers who took care of his wife.

“In PGH they handle around close to 200 patients daily. It’s not a simple feat. And I understand their fatigue,” he said, referring to health groups speaking out against being overworked due to lack of manpower and resources as COVID-19 continues to spread in the Philippines.

Senen said COVID-19 is a problem that should be “taken care of by everybody - not just the government, the health care workers…but everybody.”