He’s a visible face in marathon events, never misses his hosting stint on Showtime, and is undoubtedly in the pink of health.
But two years ago, this was not the case: Kim Atienza almost died.
At the launch of his latest endorsement Omron, a blood pressure monitor, last July 2, the television host recounted his near-death experience.
“Two years ago, na-stroke ako nun, e. And the stroke affected the left frontal lobe of my brain, I almost died.
“The cause of the stroke was congenital— meaning, I was born with a hole in my heart. And that hole in the heart is asymptomatic.
“It can just happen to anyone— 25 per cent of us have that hole called Patent Foramen Ovale.”
According to MayoClinic.com, this condition happens “during fetal development, where a small flap-like opening—the foramen ovale—is usually present between the right and left upper chambers of the heart. It normally closes during infancy. When the foramen ovale doesn't close, it's called a patent foramen ovale.”
According to Kuya Kim, “You’ll only know if you have Patent Foramen Ovale after a stroke that is cryptogenic—meaning, a stroke that is unexplainable.”
His stroke happened at around eight o’clock in the morning, while preparing for his then-morning show Showtime.
The ABS-CBN star further related, “Nandun ako sa banyo, I was preparing and I was naked. And then all of a sudden, like a switch, I lost my memory, I lost my cognition, I lost all sense of where I am and who I was.
“My mind went blank.
“A stroke when it happens and hits the right side of your brain, it debilitates you physically. Malambot ka, blackout ka, pag sa right.
“Pag sa left frontal lobe, that’s part of the brain that’s in charge of cognition, memory, language.”
“I COULDN’T SPEAK!” He adds, “Instinctively, what I wanted to do was scream for help, but I couldn’t…
“I realized I didn’t have a voice. I know what to say but I couldn’t say it.”
So, what he did next was “to run outside so people can see you.”
He initially thought, “I was poisoned or drugged.”
And unlike most people who become weak while having a stroke, he felt very strong at the time.
“But my mind was blank.”
For about five minutes, he remembered running around the house naked and panicking.
In between, he managed to wear pants “para makatakbo ako sa labas ng bahay.”
Once outside the house, his driver saw him and rushed him to the nearest hospital: PGH (Philippine General Hospital)
Talking candidly, he exclaimed, “Naku! Muntik na akong mamatay dun. Let me qualify, ha. PGH has the best specialists, the best doctors in the Philippines, but, don’t ever go to the emergency room, you would die.
“I had to fall in line. I had no shirt, I just had my pants.”
And the funny thing was—some people even approached him for a “picture-picture!”
To cut the story short, with his driver calling his wife Fely, who then called an ambulance, he was transferred to Makati Medical Center within two hours.
Right away, “I was given anticoagulant [a substance that prevents coagulation (clotting) of blood] medicine for the stroke to dissolve, the block to dissolve.”
Still, according to Kuya Kim, “I was very lucky because the block in my left side of my brain burst into seven little pieces so nakaikot ang dugo.
“If it did not disperse, it could have been a massive stroke, and I would be… I would not have been a vegetable but I’d be blank.
“Maraming nai-stroke na they lose their emotion, they’re just blank, gano’n… that could have been me.”
“I COULDN’T PRAY” His mind was “parang na-reset” so even if he remembered praying to God, he couldn’t.
It was a life-threatening and life-changing moment.
And one of his realizations was, “…Life is just that. Life is like a switch. It can be taken away from you like that.
“You think you can pray? You can’t even pray. Wala!”
He regained his ability to speak after three days.
Kuya Kim’s visitor then was his former co-host in Umagang Kay Ganda, Donita Rose.
“I walk up in the morning and my colleague in the morning show was there, Donita Rose. She’s the first one to visit me in the I.C.U.
“When I woke up, I saw her, I said, ‘Donita.’ Then I realized I could speak na. Bumalik.
“And then, the doctor was explaining to me, there’s a three-day window in a stroke, within three days, whatever you recover within three days is what you’ll live with. Whatever you don’t have in three days is what you’ll work on. May therapy naman 'yan, e.
“So, in three days I was able to get 70 per cent of Kuya Kim back but, memory was in shambles.”
“I COULDN’T MEMORIZE.” When the doctor asked him where he was, his only reply was “Makati.”
The former politician added, “I forgot the med.”
Having started his career as a segment host a Animalandia, he knows even the scientific names of animals.
But when the doctor asked him, “Name me five animals,” he only remembered cat, dog, and bird.
Good thing he didn’t forget his wife’s name.
Half-joking, he said, “Kung mali yung nasabi ko, naku, problema…”
Kuya Kim further explained that during the stroke, what stayed in his brain was the “language you think with.”
So, even if he’s fluent in English and also knows Spanish, “I was speaking in Tagalog. I could only speak Tagalog at malalim ang Tagalog ko.”
HEART MATTERS. Part of his initial therapy was to “walk at least 30 minutes a day.”
He was also advised by the doctors to “monitor my blood pressure, three or four times day.”
That was why Julie Lim, the vice president for business development of Collins International Trading Corporation, which distributes Omron, didn't think twice about getting Kim as their heart ambassador.
Julie said, “We all know what happened to him, and he’s the best person to tell every Filipino out there that it’s important to monitor your blood pressure and prevent stroke.”
Omron’s campaign aims to increase awareness.
Ming Lee Lim, general manager of the brand’s sales and marketing group in Singapore, told PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal), “In Vietnam—which is almost of the same size and population as the Philippines—almost every home has a BP monitor.
“The demand there is four times higher than here.”
Kuya Kim reiterates, “I know the importance of taking good care of the heart and I know the importance of monitoring blood pressure because at one point, my life was dependent on it.
“Ngayon kasi bata pa tayo, akala natin invincible tayo, e.
“When you reach the age of 40, a lot of things happen to our bodies.”
In his case, other than the stroke, his 20-20 vision became 75/100. He’s now far-sighted.
He resumed, “When you’re 40, the incidence of strokes and heart attacks doubles. For women, after menopause, it becomes the same risk as men.”
So, Julie—in a separate interview with this website— encouraged everyone to have a BP monitor at home.
Their basic models cost 2,000 pesos.
But Julie stressed, “You just don’t buy a BPM, what is important is you buy something that is accurate. Otherwise, it doesn’t give you accurate data.”
Omron also has calibration machines to make sure that your BPM is still accurate even with the passing of time.
Lastly, Kuya Kim warned, “It can just happen and when it happens, hindi ka makakapagdasal at hindi ka makakapag-goodbye sa misis mo.
“The best thing to do is to prevent it.”