Church Worker Uses Internet to Save Bosnian Boys' Leg

by National Council of Churches

When Peter Mikuliak, regional director of the Balkans for the National Council of Churches/Church World Service, was "surfing the net" one afternoon last April, he never suspected something so important and good was about to happen.

Mikuliak was sitting at his office computer in Metkovic, Croatia, searching for news about Bosnia and Herzegovina. He came across the web site of Pacific Interactive Media - Berserkistan - and thought it looked promising.

"Its menu presented a thorough collection of news stories about Bosnia that I had not seen elsewhere, and even suggested 'interactive' ways to get involved," Mikuliak said.

Then, Mikuliak noticed the face of a child in the right-hand corner of the screen with the question "Can this child's leg be saved?" Milukiak clicked on the image and was linked to a story by Cynthia Lee, a freelance photographer, about a 12-year-old Bosnian boy named Elvis from a village near Bihac.

A year earlier, Elvis and his older brother Edis had discovered a grenade while playing. The grenade exploded, killing Edis instantly and severely wounding Elvis's right leg.

The local physician did what he could with limited equipment, but Elvis needed sophisticated, orthopedic micro-surgery to save his leg. The story was a cry for help.

"My mind replayed a conversation I had had only a few days before," Mikuliak remembered.

"We were celebrating Easter back in my home town of Mayfield, Pa. I was introduced to a young orthopedic intern, Dr. Anna Marie Chwastiak. When she learned that I was doing relief and development work in Bosnia, she told me that she and other colleagues were interested in helping out in some way. She asked me to let them know of any possibilities. 'Sure,' I said, and filed it away.

"Now her offer was ringing in my ears," Mikuliak said. The next step was quite simple.

A few clicks took him into the e-mail program where he wrote a brief note to both Cynthia Lee (the photographer) and Anna Marie Chwastiak, the surgeon. "That's all I did," Mikuliak said.

A month later, things were miraculously falling into place. Medical records were sent, examined, and the physicians at the Janet Weis Children's Hospital at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. offered to donate the operation and post-op therapy.

A local TV station, WNEP Television of Scranton, Pa., publicized the story. Local support was given by the Kiwanis Foundation, and the Ronald McDonald House provided lodging for Elvis and his father.

Cynthia Lee coordinated things internationally, arranging round-trip airfare for Elvis and his father through Macedonian Outreach. Peter Maxwell of the charity "Terre des Hommes" provided logistical support in Bosnia and Croatia and a host of other people contributed ideas, energies and resources.

In late June, Mikuliak, Lee and Maxwell visited with Elvis and his family in their village.

On July 1, Elvis, his father, and Lee boarded the plane in Zagreb and flew to Pennsylvania. Since then, Elvis has had several successful major operations, including bone and skin grafts.

Elvis has taken his first, tentative steps and will return to his homeland soon.

"The success of this single story amid so much pain and suffering poses an immense challenge to us," Mikuliak stressed. "What do we really need to do with this new technology?" Although there is evil and stupidity on the Internet, wise people can utilize this tool for initiating humanitarian actions, he said.

"The Elvis story proves that thoughtful use of the Internet can encourage projects to take on a life of their own. Innovative use of the Internet can not only 'identify' new resources, it can help create them where they did not exist before," he said.

As the person who helped Elvis get the medical attention he needed, Mikuliak prays that "God might be with Elvis and his family as they struggle to build a new life together."

NOTE: This and other stories may be viewed directly on the Internet, at Mikuliak's home page.

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