WILBERT Tolentino is a successful entrepreneur, Mr. Gay World Philippines 2009 and national director for Mr. Gay World, HIV/AIDS advocate and philanthropist, to sum it up, an LGBTQIA+ icon.
When the global pandemic struck hard on businesses, Tolentino felt the slump and had to close down his bars, spa/salon in accordance with quarantine restrictions. Fortunately, his online marketing company Web Marketers Association of the Philippines (WEMSAP) remained open and helped buffer the loss of income from his other businesses.
He teamed up with a group of friends including his long-time pageant mentor Rodgil Flores to create Sir Wil Online Challenge, a series of online competitions for the different sectors of the community with handsome cash prizes for the winners and consolation prizes for non-winners.
A visionary who had already felt the need to set aside contingency funds for his businesses, he felt ahead of time (during his birthday last year) that something so severe would strike soon although he could not identify what it was.
Health-conscious all his life, Wilbert did not visualize that he himself would be infected by COVID-19.
Wilbert’s ordeal began on July 24 when he had sore eyes, a mild symptom of coronavirus that immediately alarmed him.
The infection developed quickly. Wilbert began to feel back pain, chest pain, sore throat. He tried water therapy and steam therapy (suob) but his condition did not improve.
He underwent a rapid test which was negative, but later on a swab test confirmed he was positive.
Wilbert immediately went into self isolation, concerned for the 10 members of his family and househelp, including his most precious toddler son.
On July 29, amid mixed feelings of anxiety, panic, paranoia and depression, he was checked into St. Lukes Medical Center in Quezon City where he was diagnosed as COVID Positive Critical with Severe Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
Feeling so alone in his room, but grateful for the health workers who attended to him, Wilbert reached out to his family and friends on his Facebook page on August 6. “Guys, I badly need all your prayers for my speedy recovery [from] COVID pneumonia. My heart is grateful. Love you all,” he wrote.
On August 7 he was transferred to the ICU for intubation, medicines, nutrition as well as excretory function (catheter), and underwent convalescent plasma Type A+ transfusion.
Realizing he was in the most critical, life-threatening stage of his battle, Wilbert prepared for the worst and told his sister-in-law that he was bequeathing his son and everything to his three brothers.
“Imagine for 72 hours, I could not sleep. How can you when the slightest movement caused the most excruciating pain?”
His family and friends went on a prayer vigil on social media, with some of them even going to the shrines of Our Lady of Manaoag and Padre Pio to ask for healing.
“I reached out. We know that the virus is everywhere. Let us not hide our real health condition,” Wilbert related. “In the most critical period of your life like what I have gone through, you will surrender everything to God. And always lean on your family and friends, your support system.”
After 72 hours in the ICU, he was returned to a regular room.
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Finally in August 16, after two successive tests with negative results, Wilbert was almost in tears when the health workers handed him a pink card that read: “I survived COVID-19.”
Wilbert is up and about now, more health-conscious than ever, taking all the prescribed medicines and supplementary vitamins and minerals, and slowing down from his very active lifestyle on the way to his full recovery.
He has resumed his Sir Wil Online Challenge, this time, a virtual competition for the title of Miss GCQ (Gandang Contesera Quest) for beauty pageant veterans who have been sidelined from their dreams to become a beauty queen.
And most importantly, Wilbert has openly shared his battle against COVID-19 in social media, hoping to inspire others to rise up to the challenge of overcoming the obstacles and surviving in this unpredictable global health crisis.