EXCLUSIVE: Inside A Father’s Heart—Here's The Full Story On Gary Valenciano's Recent Open Heart Surgery
Paolo, Gary Valenciano’s wide-eyed eldest son, pensively reflected on his father’s open heart surgery last April. We caught up with the hotshot concert director just after the “Vees” with Paolo’s in-laws and wife, Sam, caught the last full-show of SOLO. Arms crossed and feet rocking, staring into space, Paolo remembers the recent ordeal. “We grew up with him having attacks because of the diabetes. The hardest part was seeing Papa as the strongest guy I’ve ever known, then having to see him in the hospital bed, surrounded by nurses. That was tough, seeing him vulnerable.”
Gary Valenciano sits to rest after his first attempt to walk just a few days after heart surgery.
“The doctors observed he had really low tolerance to pain. When we’d visit, we could tell he was in a lot of pain. We couldn’t react or show him what we really felt. We pretended that we were strong, but we weren’t.”
According to Paolo, they did their best to remain calm.
Gary’s heart journey began April 22, after performing with his second son, Gabriel. He leaned toward Gab saying, “Pray for me ha…,” Gary, breathing heavily, said. “I have chest pain, but I’ll be okay.” Moments earlier, he had landed yet another high jump to end a live ASAP performance. “I went to the dressing room and told [my road manager] Vina, ‘I think I need a checkup.' I was a little concerned… I never felt this before. I usually bike from Antipolo to Alabang, to ABS-CBN from my condo in BGC—I never get it [chest pain], even when I push myself,” Gary explained.
Earlier that week, Gary’s schedule was jampacked. Many assume that Gary is a night owl who stirs by midday. He is actually an early riser, very “dad-like” by sunrise if he’s had no show the night before. The guy’s usually pacing his turf by dawn, hot morning coffee in hand. One can then observe him do a soft-landing on the TV couch, browsing his itinerary or doing quiet prayer time. Mr. Pure Energy revealed to us that a Monday bike ride prior to the dance on ASAP had offered a preview of things to come.
Tapping through his smartphone, Gary pulled up a screen of his calendar packed with multi-colored blocks. While pointing, he shared, “On Monday, April 16, I went to visit a school, JRU Manila. That was part of the big plan I have to visit 35 schools in line with my 35th anniversary. After JRU, I biked home pa, but somehow, God prevented me from pushing further, because my sugar dropped while I was biking. I stopped at a gas station, drank something sweet, then, got on my bike. When I got to Marcos highway, I got tired again. My sugar was still low. I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to push it.’ I put the bike back in the car [which follows me] and went home.” He said seeming mishaps like this protected him. That same week, he played basketball with a nephew. During a one-on-one game at his home court, Gary pulled a leg muscle and this prevented him from exerting more effort.
Gary moved across his smartphone calendar to Thursday, “I had my first dance rehearsal. After the first run, I was like ‘Guys, continue na lang ha... I will just rest for a while kasi parang it’s kind of hard to breathe—it’s kind of painful.’ I was feeling it [the chest pain] already. That evening, I attended a run-through at PICC for the tribute of Gabby Lopez from the dance rehearsal at ABS-CBN. I stayed until 1 am.”
In Balesin for Coleen and Billy’s wedding
Friday. “At 4 a.m., I headed for the airport to make it to Coleen and Billy’s Balesin wedding. I flew back immediately to perform for the Gabby Lopez event in the evening. Saturday, we had another dance rehearsal. Sunday, was the main performance for ASAP.”
ASAP Summer Power, April 22
That Sunday, as he performed on live TV with his son, Gary felt the pain. Marnie, a freelance videographer I know, who watched the dance from home, told me he spotted that Gary’s timing wasn’t as sharp as usual. “I saw Gary dancing with his son Gabriel, and napansin ko, ba’t ganun—parang unusually pagod siya. Hirap siya to keep up with Gab just that time.”
Gary reached out to his endocrinologist immediately. “The Monday after ASAP, April 23, I texted Dr. Mike Villa—I gave him a rundown of what happened. He advised I get a 2D echo and a stress test.” The stress test involved a combination of slow and fast treadmill walks plus uphill climbs. Results revealed Gary needed an angiogram immediately.
When Gary’s wife, Angeli, was asked by Dr. Enrique Posas, Gary’s cardiologist, to take a seat to discuss the angiogram results, she knew something serious was up. The good doctor had both good and bad news. “I knew something was wrong,” Angeli shared. “…and the first thing he said, ‘Your husband is alive by God’s grace. Do you see this?’ He showed me the tiny portion of his left main artery that was blocked. He said, ‘If this snapped, you would be a widow now.' Dr. Posas told us that Gary would never even have made it to the hospital if he had a heart attack.”
After the angiogram, Dr. Posas gently woke a drowsy Gary V to explain. “He sat on my bed and I was like ‘Hey, Doc’—Gary said. “Posas goes ‘Look at the screen. Whatever you’ve done with your heart in the past is quite remarkable…’ They said my heart looked like it belonged to someone in his twenties. All the arteries clean—except one; the main artery on the left, which apparently, medical jargon calls the ‘The Widow Maker.' It was 95% blocked.”
Gab received the news of his dad’s condition from his mom and Paolo. “It was around 6 or 7 a.m. I didn’t really quite get it. I’d just woken up and I was reading through the message and was like, ‘What? Dad needs what?’. My brother just said, ‘Come to the hospital, we need to talk about something.’ So I went to the hospital. Mom was there, Kuya Pao, Tita Gina Valenciano. They looked at me and said Papa needed open heart surgery.”
Gab said he wasn’t as affected as Paolo. “I think, among the three of us, my brother took it the hardest. My brother kasi looks at things and likes to decipher all possibilities from all angles—reasons why this happened, reasons why it shouldn’t have happened—that’s just my brother. When people get to know him, he’s very deep and very into the details, he’s really like Sherlock Holmes. He likes to know everything and makes sure he finds out.”
The youngest of the “Vees," Kiana, is often described as the calmest among Gary’s three children, when tense “feels” are flying high. “Of course, I think it was very natural to worry, but I wasn’t scared. It was new to me to see him sick, weak, and tired. We were assured by the doctor that he would come back stronger. I knew that there wouldn’t be any major complications. I knew he was going to be fine.”
The award-winning singer-performer’s biggest feat in 35 years might just be how deeply he knows each of his children inside and out. He’s nurtured tender relationships with each one, well into their adulthood. He barely had to wonder, “I know Paolo took it quite hard. Gab was just on the side, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ And Kiana, always positive.”
As a father, Gary knows all three have grown up witnessing his vulnerability as a Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetic their entire lives. While others say that this must have been tough, he believes the challenge of knowing that their “Superman” dad dealt with his own kryptonite daily actually shaped and prepared his children for life differently. It gave them empathy and taught them to be there for others even in dark seasons.
Paolo and his wife, Sam
Gab and Kiana
“Gabriel witnessed most of my diabetic attacks. Paolo would be at school. Gab would be home and I went through all these weird things. Kiana was also there, but she was too young to understand. But I believe—first—that this taught them through the years that sometimes you just need to say ‘No’. Some things [that you want] are simply not for you.”
“They saw me denying myself stuff I liked; I cannot take cake, ice cream—I couldn’t take ANY of that. Every year, they’d see me drawing the line, so I believe it taught them that. Second—it showed them just how human I am. Even if people see me as Mr. Pure Energy, and it has been like that for 35 years, they see that their dad is human—Papa gets tired.”
Gary’s bypass was scheduled at 7 a.m., May 6, Sunday. The operation took about six hours. A handful of inner-circle family and friends were taken into the family’s confidence; some visits the day before surgery were allowed. To give the family and the hospital team privacy and focus, Angeli was advised by Cory Vidanes, COO, ABS-CBN Broadcast, “Give him the weekend.”
Angeli mentioned that Gary wanted his written statement released, but Cory counseled otherwise, to keep the public statement on hold until the operation was done. “Cory was very kind,” Angeli said, “‘We don’t want people bothering you,’ Cory said. I really respected Cory, because others would have wanted it to be a scoop, but no, she wanted the family and doctors focused and protected from more pressure. Gary wrote the release and so, we posted it immediately after he was out of danger.”
Throughout Gary’s confinement, the Valencianos were encouraged by doctors to share about his bypass journey in order to help inform the public about how critical it is and how it can save a life. The minute Angeli released Gary’s written statement online on May 6, Sunday, post-operation, she was overwhelmed with the care and concern of his fans, loved ones, and fellow celebrities. “I convinced him to speak out [via IG vlog] on Monday. Reason being, oh my, the fans were texting me, DM-ing me, some crying. I got so many messages, it wasn’t funny. I tried to respond to all—some were like wanting to die, some were so sad. Many from all over the world.” Following the double bypass, Angeli continued to chronicle his progress with videos and stills using social media.
The vlog that Angeli requested Gary post after surgery.
On the third day following his open heart surgery, Gary was encouraged to begin walking again. He took a first step which excited him, but also made him feel the weight of the surgery. “I was encouraged to get into it. Get into it right away so the body is pushed to heal. If you rest too long, your body will get used to it. Get up and walk,” doctors said.
Post-op, Gary was also cautioned about laughing. Kiana shared how the family had to make sure Gab was kept out of sight for a while, “I think the funniest thing was we all at one point wouldn’t allow Kuya Gab to see my dad (laughs), because my dad wasn’t allowed to laugh. We were like—okay, I take the morning shift so Mom can sleep, Kuya Pao can come, but Kuya Gab stays upstairs.”
Gary was released from confinement on Mother’s Day. He is now recovering steadily at home, eating healthy (as usual) and returning to his doctors for check-ups.
Cardio Rehab #7 day 16 days after his open heart surgery !!! His cardiologist Doctor Fabio Enrique Posas said “You’re okay pards! Four weeks after surgery (May 6) you should be okay! Six weeks, just like before except for the chest! ” Praise God ! Praise the good Lord Jesus ! How cute my husband no? Still a bit masungit but they said that’s a good sign! hehe (I won’t tag him!!!!) ?? @michellearville ?????? @toniandguyph ??@natori @josienatori Thank you @vincearie @zaloraph (nax the plugging !!!!) #garyvishome #garyvalenciano #thevalencianos
His post-op medical therapy involves light cardio training on a stationary bike, and other exercises with the aid of therapists combined with daily walks at home. A moment in retrospect brings him back to the crack of dawn in his hospital room after the operation.
He’d woken up and it was as if he was seeing the cityscape with new eyes. “There is one time I posted a picture on Instagram, I was the only one awake, that was 5 a.m. Suddenly, the cityscape was so beautiful. It didn’t look the same, parang there was more. From my window, it was more vibrant—there was more depth. There is a city I want to reach. There is a new sense of purpose. I will have to see it unfold as I pursue whatever God puts in my heart. Only as I fulfill it will He will share what the depth of my new purpose is.”
Photos courtesy of Gary and Angeli Valenciano