EXCLUSIVE: The Touching Story Behind Nadia Montenegro's Life-Saving Response To John Regala's Emotional Call For Help
They practically grew up together, but lost contact with each other for years. Now that the friends are reunited, Nadia tells John, "Hindi kita pababayaan"
Thirteen days—that's how long actor John Regala hadn't had a single bite to eat before he drove himself to Pasay City. There, he has a trusted friend who owns a clinic where he receives medical assistance.
When he visits the clinic, he gets hooked up to an IV line that hydrates his ailing body. It's the only form of nourishment he's been able to manage for some time now. The intake of solids causes him to violently vomit; his digestive system no longer functions as it should and rejects anything John attempts to put in his stomach. The presence of varicose veins in his throat that burst, partnered with his unmanaged diabetes, chronic gout, advanced liver cirrhosis have all painfully complicated his condition, and if you might ask why someone in a state like John's would drive to the doctor on his own, that's because he had no choice.
His physical maladies are one thing, but his lack of social support is another; he hasn't been in touch with his family, work has been on a slippery downward slope, and friends have long been missing in his life. He says that an ordinary John and Jane Doe would never be able to make it through this ordeal.
Any and all people he knew from better times had left him to live his remaining days alone long ago—that is, until actress and entrepreneur Nadia Montenegro responded to his distress signal from far, far away.
Finding a long-lost friend
"Nagulat ako hindi sa situation ni John. Nagulat ako doon sa 'Nanaman?' I think in the last year or so, parang this is the third time he’s been on the news. I kind of took a step back kasi feeling ko naman sa laki ng industriya, baka mas maraming makakatulong sa kanya," Nadia begins.
She is, of course, referring to the incident that struck the match.
On that fateful drive to his friend's clinic, John had become so dizzy on the road that he felt compelled to ask for a stranger's help. He approached a Grab Food driver in the middle of a pizza delivery. It didn't take long for him to realize who the man he was helping was. Approaching nearby barangay tanod, the good Samaritan would be the first link in the chain of people who would rush to John's aid.
The video of the encounter would not stay private for long, and in a matter of hours, the footage made it to the news, and then to Nadia's radar. She, along with industry friends Aster Amoyo and Chuckie Dreyfus, didn't think twice about what to do next. The trio rushed to Pasay (Liza Diño visited John too), and hoped to find an almost long-lost friend in the city.
Aster, who Nadia warmly calls Nanay, eventually found him after an entire afternoon's worth of searching.
You know you're in good company (the best company you could ever wish for) when, regardless of the circumstances that brought you together and in spite of the suffering staring right at you, you can jokingly say, "Ang tigas talaga ng ulo mo." And then have a deep belly laugh about the moment of cariño brutal, the kind that says, "I've missed you. Where have you been all this time?"
Still without having a bite to eat, the arrival of an old friend in the nick of time seemed to feed John in a different way. Perhaps his spirit, too, had longed to be nourished.
"Gabi na siya nakauwi. Nagpagupit, so, talagang pinagalitan siya ni Nanay. Noong nagkita kami, parang amazing naman ang ginagawa mo para sa sarili mo. Parang hindi yata tama iyon. Unang-una, COVID, tapos he’s not at all healthy to be outside in public," Nadia shares.
John's most pressing needs
But isn't that what your truest friends are for? As harsh as they might be with their initial sermon, what's throwing all the verbal punches are actually the hearts that are most willing to help you and people who will bend over backwards to exhaust all means to help you back up on your feet.
It only took that one reunion for Nadia, Aster, and Chuckie to take action.
That evening, they learned about all of John's most pressing needs—how every week, he spent an average of P15,000, or about P780,000 a year, for maintenance medication, procedures, and other routine treatment-related costs, plus dialysis. The amount likely doesn't cover other living expenses like utilities, food, and transportation (or haircuts).
Being frank about the situation, Nadia expressed her shock at how he had managed to sustain himself for so long without a source of steady income. His last TV appearance was when he guested in Ang Probinsyano in 2016.
"Minsan kasi, akala niya porke't may isang tao nagbigay ng ganitong malaking halaga, okay na, sapat na," Nadia says.
"We have to sustain it also because every two weeks iche-check ang blood chemistry. The whole blood works talaga, uulit-ulitan 'yan to make sure he is progressing, maybe get him to a point where he can start eating again slowly and start regaining his strength. Because he really wants to work pa rin, and ang dami niyang bilin na mga gusto niyang gawin. Kaya hindi pa siya nakukuha ni Lord. Ang dami pa niya talagang plano," she continues.
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UPDATE ON BROTHER John Regala With the help of Nanay Aster A. Amoyo & Chuckie Dreyfus we have created a “Gava Gives Assistance Account” for John and are now waiting for APPROVAL for the account where in anyone who wants to help can send it through there. I talked to him this morning but cant hardly understand his words. I will be seeing him later together with a doctor friend that will take all tests brother John needs urgently. CONDITION: John is suffering from Liver cirrhosis and hasn’t had dialysis for months now due to lack of funds. He needs health assistance urgently. We need the following: A wheelchair Daily food and medical assistance. To those who want to send donations and help of any kind to John pls send pm me. God bless you all! Thank you! ❤️🙏 We love you Brother John! #HelpJohnRegala Temporary account: BDO SAVINGS acct Cucina Ni Nadia/ Nadine Marie Inez Montenegro Pla Acct 00 20 3 021 3396 @aaamoyo @chuckiedreyfus
How Nadia and John became friends
She reflects on how she and John made their way to each other's lives some 30 years ago.
It was the 80s; Nadia's mom, Rosalinda, and John's, Ruby, were great friends. John would stay over at the Montenegros' when Ruby had work, and Nadia with her siblings had no doubt grown up with John, an honorary brother for the Montenegro kids. Come adulthood, Nadia and John became godparents to members of both of their families. It was an old friendship for sure, one built to last for years and years and years.
But even with the tightest and most solid of friendships, life happens. Unpleasant surprises come your way, priorities change, schedules are never open up for a lunch catch-up, and just like that, one your bestest friends fades into the background to become but a memory washed in black and white.
Nadia wasn't with Aster when she found John.
She was overwhelmed by the idea of coming face to face with him, knowing that she would be at a loss for words and overcome with feelings she was not quite willing to face.
"Nanay had been telling me to call him sa phone after nahanap na siya... Nanay said, 'Tawagan mo na, inaantay tawag mo.' Sabi ko, 'Nay hindi ko kaya kasi naiiyak na ako, hindi ko kaya.' Sabi niya si John din daw iyak nang iyak. Hindi ko talaga kaya. So, I slept over it. Hindi ko siya tinawagan," Nadia admits.
He didn't pick up the next morning. Nadia decided she would give him a ring, but not even 10 missed calls patched them through. She texted him to say she would visit him at 3 p.m. that day, but still, no response came.
Not wanting to show up at a bad time, Nadia attempted to call John one last time.
"Sumagot," Nadia says.
"Sabi ko, 'John, tol, si Nadia ito. Sabi niya, 'Mommy, nasaan si Tanya, nasaan si Kat?' Lahat ng kapatid ko kilala niya," she goes on.
"When I saw him, [sabi ko], 'Humihingi ako ng tawad sa'yo dahil hindi kita man lang kinamusta ng mga ilang taon. Pero sana maintindihan mo; may inalagaan din ako na medyo mas malabo, mga pitong taon yata. Sabi niya, 'Oo, alam ko. Okay lang,'" Nadia continues.
Swinging from walks down memory lane, emotional confrontations, bucketloads of tears, and intimate moments of silence, Nadia and John's first in-person conversation ended with a promise from her: "Hindi kita pababayaan."
A call for help
On July 31, four days after John's video hit the headlines, Nadia took to Instagram to make an announcement.
Beginning that day, she would be taking charge of accepting donations in kind and in cash. John needs financial assistance for his medical and every day needs, and those willing to help could course things through her.
"With the help of Nanay Aster A. Amoyo & Chuckie Dreyfus we have created a 'Gava Gives Assistance Account' for John and are now waiting for APPROVAL for the account where in anyone who wants to help can send it through there. I talked to him this morning but cant hardly understand his words. I will be seeing him later together with a doctor friend that will take all tests brother John needs urgently," she wrote.
Thousands upon thousands of people responded to her plea.
Though her mission really was to get help, the amount of it that flooded in was unanticipated! She even had to empty her business' back account to be able to use it as a temporary account for donations in the beginning. She, Chuckie and John's wife continue to manage all the accounts (yes, plural) as countless kindhearted people, many of them John's fans, still wish to extend help in whatever way they can.
What's most touching, however, isn't even the amount of people who responded, but their intentions.
She explains, "There are people donating P100 pesos, P60. Nakakaantig. Sabi ko nga kay Chuckie, pandemic ngayon, pero ganito pa rin. Alam mo 'yun? Iba talaga ang spirito ng mga Filipino when it comes to helping... Meron din tayong donor's fatigue, pero nakakatuwa na kahit na sa ganitong pandemya, they’re saving lives. They’re saving John’s life. It’s such a great thing, even God is smiling above."
A friend, indeed
Some donations even came with notes for John. As much as possible, Nadia shares well-wishes written just for him, as well as prayers, messages of hope and comfort, and notes cheering him on.
"You can see the difference sa face niya, sa smile niya. [He's] so different. Makulit na nga eh, nangungulit na," Nadia smiles.
She pauses to think before she says, "Talagang baka calling ko ang tumulong kay John." And if it is indeed, John will be happy to know that the job was given to Nadia. Of all the people he's met, come across, become acquainted with, and loved, in the end, life would bring him and Nadia full circle, cementing the friendship that began at a time when everything was pure and good.
Who best to care for John at his worst than a friend who's known him at his best?
John is currently under the care of Dr. Melissa Sinchongco. She's brought his health checks to date, performing a battery of tests to determine what his body truly needs to recover. She's helped him manage his physical discomfort, too, to be able to give him some degree of mobility and inspire confidence in his own recovery.
Every time John goes for a major medical appointment, Nadia posts an update on her Instagram account for all his donors to see, and perhaps also to share hope with others in similar situations.
"The main focus now is to make his body strong enough para mag-take ulit ng medicines. Let’s concentrate on cleansing everything, to make him comfortable lang... And ngayon, happy naman siya," Nadia shares. The next step is for John to become strong enough to go for an IV drip, and then oral medication, and finally, dialysis needed to address his most serious health problems.
Nadia believes that it's God's hand working behind the scenes in John's life.
How she found her way back to him, the generosity of donors, the very fact that he's still alive—all of it is the grand work of the Divine, according to her. There's also the fact that John had told Aster that he wished to find his son who'd never known him; based in the US, this son of John's had been completely cut off from John. Aster found him, too.
"It’s something you really want to share because this cannot all be happening if there’s no God. It can’t," she says.
John's health updateHer most recent update on John was posted just five hours ago, as of this writing.
He needed to be brought to the hospital and confined; he complained of severe pain and tests showed that his liver functions have further deteriorated.
"John's recent blood chem results have come out and shows that his creatinine levels and liver functions are very bad. The swelling of his feet is also caused by his liver's lack of function. He was brought to the hospital and is currently in confinement. He is scheduled for more laboratory tests, as well as ultrasound. In addition, John was also checked for COVID-19 in the hospital via rapid test to ensure his safety and the safety of those caring for him," Nadia wrote.
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UPDATE #3 ON JOHN REGALA'S CURRENT CONDITION (as of August 3, 2020) Earlier today, Dra. Melissa Sinchongco visited John because he was complaining of excruciating pain. John's recent blood chem results have come out and shows that his creatinine levels and liver functions are very bad. The swelling of his feet is also caused by his liver's lack of function. He was brought to the hospital and is currently in confinement. He is scheduled for more laboratory tests, as well as ultrasound. In addition, John was also checked for COVID-19 in the hospital via rapid test to ensure his safety and the safety of those caring for him. Currently, John is being monitored closely and being given the necessary medical care he desperately needs. We will continue to update everyone on John's condition and hopeful improvement. We are extremely thankful to everyone -- friends and even strangers -- who reached out, sent prayers, and donated (in cash and in kind) to help John get better. John sends his love and gratitude to all of you. Please continue to pray for John because he still has a long way to go. ————— We have opened up a crowdfunding page to cover John's badly needed medical support and proper healthcare. If you would like to donate and assist in his financial burden, any donation through this crowdfunding campaign would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much. You may donate here: https://bit.ly/helpjohnregala You may also donate through the following bank account which we opened just now for John's expenses: BDO (Joint Account) Account name: NADINE MARIE INEZ M. PLA / ASTERIA A. AMOYO Account No: 002030228830 (If you donate through BDO, please send a copy of your deposit slip to me or Nadia Montenegro Pla via PM so that we can do a proper accounting of your donation. Salamat po.)
Along with John's fans, we wait for news about him, and we pray that it will only be good news.
Hopes and dreams
And while John has big dreams left for himself, Nadia has a few of her own, too. She has a second cookbook coming up, and she hopes to develop her food business into a safe, delicious delivery service for frontliners and other professionals who continue to go to work during the pandemic.
That, and to put up a foundation for actors. She envisions the foundation as a source of aid for actors and actresses should life suddenly take them on an unexpected detour.
"[It's] just like any Filipino or any human being deserves. You go to work, you give your heart out, you give your whole life to it, and then when there’s a time that you will need it, wala kang pupuntahan. I mean, parati na lang bang sad stories tayo?" she reflects.
"My job is I’m an actor. I’m a co-actor, but my heart is I’m a Christian. That’s why I can do this... But this industry has been here for the longest time, and I still don’t understand what’s happening. Where’s everyone? [We need] something solid na pagka nagkasakit ako, alam kong may pupuntahan akong hospital, may healthcare ako," she points out.
Nadia turned 48 this year, noting that she's been in the industry since she was 11 and yet still notes a lack of security for artists like herself.
But even the biggest of dreams have to start from somewhere. And if an all-knowing power is, indeed, working in John's and Nadia's lives, who's to say that this isn't the start that Nadia needs?
"Please continue to pray for John because he still has a long way to go," said Nadia on Instagram about her friend.
The same goes for her; with a heart like Nadia's, prayers should be offered for her, too, because John—and the industry, and all Filipinos—need more people like her now more than ever.
Interview by Geolette Esguerra
Photos from @officialnadiam @lizadino