EXCLUSIVE: "I'm Bea Rose Santiago, And I'm A Survivor"—The Former Miss International Titleholder Details Her Chronic Kidney Disease
In 2013, Bea Rose Santiago made the Philippines proud by being named Miss International, a victory she thoughtfully dedicated to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
Before joining the pageant scene, she was a communications student (majoring in public relations) at York University in Canada, and was also the only Filipina model to be under Elite Model Management and Ford in Toronto during that time. But what is perhaps not known to many is that this beauty queen had a very difficult time growing up in the province of Masbate. And it is this background that keeps Bea constantly grounded, determined to overcome challenges, and filled with passion to succeed.
Raised by her grandmother along with her two siblings, Bea was brought up under humble circumstances. “I went through poverty. I lived in a place where there was no mall, no grocery store, no nothing, but you know the sea, the cows, the baboys, the chicken, the fruits, the tricycles, the motorbikes, that was my life. I know how to handle a chicken. I know how to ride a baka. I know how to catch fish. I know how to kill chicken by myself,” she tells Metro.Style of the simple lifestyle she was accustomed to.
Bea and her family moved to Canada when she was 15. In 2011, she began joining pageants like Mutya ng Pilipinas, Miss Tourism Queen of the Year International, and Binibining Pilipinas—a pageant that led to her winning the coveted Miss International crown; she is the fifth Filipino to win the title.
Things were going well for Bea; she even dabbled in acting at some point. However, in 2018, she received devastating news. She was told she had chronic kidney disease, and that only fifteen percent of her kidneys were functioning. The National Kidney Foundation defines it as "a condition characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over time." This came as a shock to Bea who was particular about taking care of herself and mindful of what she puts into her body, even more so when she became a beauty queen.
Perhaps that was a conscious effort on her part, too, because she's always had health issues. Bea was diagnosed with Stage 1 IgA nephropathy when she was 16. As a result, she became sickly and would experience sore throat quite often.
When she migrated to Canada, the stress that came with adjusting to the new environment also took a toll on her health. Bea shares, “I think when I was 16, I went through a very traumatic experience. We just recently moved from the Philippines to Canada, and then I moved from school to school. We moved to this really suburban place where I didn't have any friends. I had fights with my family and it was just very hard to a 16-year-old that time... and I just moved with my mom. It was a very difficult phase in a teenager's life and I think it affected my immune system and that's when it attacked my kidneys.”
Yeah....... kinda have kidney failure. I was diagnosed months ago, I was in denial and thats why I left the Philippines to get a second opinion in Tokyo and when it turned out to be a confirmation. Flew right away to be with my family and my potential live donors. Yes, I will be needing a life saving transplant. I live because of a machine, my dialysis machine and the doctors and nurses at Home Hemo Dialysis centre in Toronto General. I am blessed and I will continue to spread positivity to the world?? I am in a good place now but my heart isn’t. Its not easy and will only get harder! I am not asking for sympathy I am asking for awareness. At 16 I had IGA Nephropathy stage 1. I suffered from UTI’s when I was younger, food poisoning and stress. Apparently its genetics and popular in Asians, so please get checked! I am healthy and I workout regularly none of my family suffers from kidney related illnesses but things like this happens. Does not mean Im done. Im unstoppable and will be healed! God loves me and he keeps showering me with love and blessings from friends and family! I am lucky and I am loved! Bad kidneys can kiss my @$$! #almostperfect #kidneyfailure #loveyourself #kissmyass #bearosesantiago Ps. No I suffered no symptoms! Symptoms started after my diagnoses and then the excess water in my body disappeared after and then was stable. Still it wasnt enough I needed to dialyze. So please please when u feel weird and off, go get yourself checked!
Living with the disease
In her Instagram post last December, Bea shared how unexpected this diagnosis was. "I am healthy and I workout regularly. None of my family suffers from kidney related illnesses but things like this happens. Does not mean I'm done. I'm unstoppable and will be healed!," she said.
Despite this major setback, Bea stays positive and resilient. Once, a netizen bashed her and wished she would die. As part of her response, she said, “I hope you live a life full of love to cure that deadly disease of hate... He who is God can cure all your hate with love.”
She is now in the process of screening living donors and also doing dialysis. So far, her candidates are her mom, her brother, her best friend, and her boyfriend Marc Nash. If Bea’s kidney transplant goes smoothly, she’ll be back in the Philippines after a year. Aside from working on getting better, Bea is saying farewell (for now) to her friends in the Philippines.
Bea tells Metro.Style, “For the first few months, you’re really not allowed to do anything fitness related. There’s a hook in a collarbone and it’s painful, so the first three months, I really couldn’t do anything... even lift my arm or something. And then eventually, I started body weights, and then now I can do a little bit of weights, some maximum of 50 pounds. I need it for my endorphins, to make my brain happy.”
For her favorite healthy fix, Bea likes Greek Salad without the dressing. “But I’m fortunate now that I can eat whatever I want. My tests came back good, and actually, gusto pa nila na kumain ako ng mas maraming pagkain, like red meat,” she shares. “In Canada, I do home hemodialysis, so I lose blood almost everyday. I do the dialysis five times a week for eight hours day. I have to take iron shots 'pag hindi kaya ng pagkain.”
Graduation day!!!!! I am sooo excited I brought my black toga robe ?? For the past 3 and a half months Ive been coming to this hospital, 4times a week 5hrs a day. I wake up 5:30 or 6am travel 2hrs and set my machine up. It tested my whole being. I took uber, lyft, go trains, YRT and ttc to get to the hospital. It tested my patience, confidence in myself, my faith and my family. Not gonna lie its still an on going process. I have shitty days where I allow myself to feel pity, sad and angry towards myself (usually weekly ??) but I lift myself up, listen to Queen and dance naked ( I look amazing naked since I lost water weight and been keeping it because of my machine??????) God could have let things happen by itself, without HIm intervening It could have been worse or in a trophy??from MI(not kidding I want my ashes in my trophy). God wanted me to live so He made me go to the ER for my migraines, He gave me friends who are too loving they can be saints and a family and bestfriends thats willing to share their organs without me forcing them ??????. I am here because He wanted me to be here and for that I am grateful and will forever be inlove with HIM. #beasantiago #kidneytransplant #kidneyfailure #kidney #thankful Ps still doing dialysis but will be doing it at home instead!
Since Binibining Pilipinas 2019 was recently held, we asked Bea to look back on her pageant journey, which was a turning point in her life. “During my journey to become Binibini, I found myself more. I became more confident. I stopped pleasing others, and I started focusing on myself. And then when I started focusing on myself, other people saw, ‘Oh she has potential. She’s good pala.’ 'Oh, she’s beautiful, like beautiful as a person, not just the face.' It’s inside... It gave me a voice to showcase my small town and also it made me realize na kulang ang Philippines sa sex education.” This is something she was fortunate to learn in Canada and is something she has been trying to improve in the country. She has worked a lot with United Nations Population Fund for this and also with the Red Whistle for HIV awareness.
Bea may have taken a break from the spotlight, but it is through this period when she makes wise use of her time to pursue other things. She opened a small library in Masbate, and in the near future, Bea plans to start her own business as well as study entrepreneurship. As a proud fur mama, she also wants to open a shelter for dogs.
Her chronic kidney disease cannot stop Bea from living her life the way she wants to. She admits that this hurdle "tested my patience, confidence in myself, my faith and my family," and that accepting her situation is still an ongoing process. But what's important is that, at the end of the day, she continues to fight. "I have shitty days where I allow myself to feel pity, sad and angry towards myself," she says, but it doesn't mean she is giving up and living with hatred in her heart.
As a piece of advice to people going through health trials, Bea says, “Your worst enemy is yourself. Whatever you do, think about your mental health and yourself. You have to find joy. Find what makes you happy because it’s going to be really, really hard. Have a very strong support system. Your core has to be intact and you have to be patient. I think the worst is if they’re not strong for you. They have to be stronger than you because you will go through a lot. You’re gonna question yourself, your faith. It will be a rollercoaster…You need somebody who’s a light. You can’t be too dark.”
“Listen to music, dance. Whatever you do, you know, have a little fun. Do something crazy for you to live a little. That’s the reason why I’m still here.”
“I'm Bea Santiago, and I’m a survivor,” she declares.
Photography by Gee Plamenco, Jr.
Hair and makeup and styling by Bonita Penaranda