Hershey Medical Center offers life-saving treatment to Bosnian children

Hershey Chronicle – Thursday, December 28, 1995
by Tom Bower

HERSHEY – Two Bosnian children who are suffering from heart problems are undergoing life-saving treatment at Hershey Medical Center. And thanks to one pediatrician through the help of a Christian organization, their recovery may be the best gift their parents will have received this holiday season.

The Macedonian Outreach, a non-profit Christian foundation from San Francisco, which has brought the children to the United States through its humanitarian efforts, will provide 19-year-old Sonja Dicic from the former Yugoslavia and 1-year-old Sanja Jovanic of Bosnia with cardiothoracic surgery, treatment they most

One-year old Sanja Jovanic, left, and Sonja Dicic, 19, center, are two Bosnian patients at Penn State Children’s Hospital at Hershey Medical Center who have been receiving cardiothoracic treatment. With them are Jovanic ‘s mother, Mira; Dr, Ljubisa Stankovic, center back, and Dicic’s father, Milorad
(Photo by Tom Bower)

likely would not have been able to receive in their own country.

Dr. Ljubisa Stankovic, a pediatrician who has a medical practice in Camp Hill, served in getting the children here and assists both Dicic and Jovanic with their treatment at the medical center’s Children’s Hospital. He’s also their interpreter.

Both Dicic and Jovanic arrived for treatment Dec. 6 and were seen by medical center pediatric cardiologists on Dec. 7. Dicic, who is from Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia, was accompanied on the trip by her father, Milorad and had surgery Dec. 14 to correct a transitional atrioventricular canal.

After being discharged within the past two weeks, she has been staying at the Hershey Ronald McDonald House so that her condition can be monitored through clinical visits to the medical center. She is recovering well and, Stankovic said, will most likely bee able to return to Bosnia by the first week of January.

Jovanic will also receive surgery involving transposition of the great arteries, according to Stankovic, but for now remains too malnourished to undergo any surgical procedure.

Stankovic said the type of surgery that Jovanic needs usually takes place in very small children when they are two or three months old. However, she has not been able to receive such treatment until now.

According to Stankovic, Jovanic’s present condition prevents blood from being properly oxygenated in the brain and as a result, the infant’s fingers and toes sometime appear discolored due to improper circulation. “When she cries her face turns reddish-blue, Stankovic remarked. “But she is a happy baby and is in good spirits most of the time.”

Jovanic and her mother, Mira, who are Bosnian refugees from the town of Sanski Most, are also staying at the Ronald McDonald House until Sanja becomes well enough for an operation.

Stankovic said he hopes Sanja will be able to undergo surgery by the second week of January, which he said will take place in two phases. “It’s going to be tough,” he commented, but she will more than likely come through with a good prognosis. Only after her surgery and subsequent recovery will it bee known when she and her mother may return to Bosnia.

According to Christopher Mart, M.D., who is coordinating the care of both patients, The Macedonian Outreach estimates more than 500 children in Bosnia need surgery that they are not able to receive in their own country.

“It’s a privilege for me to participate in the care of these children,” Mart said. “The kindness shown by all who have participated is marvelous.”

Another child, a 1-year-old, was to also scheduled to come to Hershey for treatment, but died before the trip.

Stankovic first initiated the idea to treat Bosnian children at the medical center in 1993, one year after the war in their country began. Before the war, Stankovic said, Bosnia had very good medical treatment and facilities.

But just prior to the war’s start in 1992 and even today, he said, citizens are not able to receive necessary medical treatment due to the war’s conditions and sanctions that limit essential emergency services and utilities in medical facilities.

He pointed out that the many children in need of medical attention, mostly for heart conditions, are chosen in Bosnia to come to the United States based on medical necessity, which is usually determined by their long-term prognosis or immediate need of surgery.

Out of the many who wait in hopes of getting treatment either at medical facilities in the United States or Europe, tragically, about 60 percent will not make it, said Stankovic. “It is a very large undertaking.”

However, Stankovic indicated, there is a very positive outlook. Other facilities throughout the country also aid The Macedonian Outreach and similar organizations.

Such groups he said try to help at least 15 to 20 children each year get medical treatment. In the past three years alone, several children have been treated at medical facilities in Little Rock, Ark. and Stanford University in California.

Child patients from Bosnia will also be treated in other Pennsylvania health care facilities such as the University of Pittsburgh and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Although it is not yet a formal agreement with the medical center, Stankovic said that by February or March, one to three Bosnian children may be brought to Pen n State Children’s Hospital for cardiovascular treatment. In the next year he hopes to help as many as 11 more patients.

“I’m very pleased to be able to do this for them. I hope it’s only the beginning,” said Stankovic.