For those going through rough times in their lives, asking for and accepting the help of family members and friends during a crisis can be humbling. But when people who are close can only give so much to those needing help with difficult medical conditions, those in need can be forgotten by others. A new program now enables people in the U.S. to help such Croatians here and abroad.
For Croats in dire need, The Angel’s Fund can provide the help that others cannot. The program, a partnership of Pittsburgh-based Croatian American Cultural and Economic Alliance and the Croatian Fraternal Union, was the idea of Dr. Marion Vujevich, president of CACEA and a prominent Pittsburgh dermatologist. Dr. Vujevich recently met the parents of Antonela Kacic, a Croatian girl living in Pittsburgh who is here with her parents to get medical treatment for her condition.
Dr. Vujevich learned of Antonela’s situation through the CFU, and he sympathized with the young girl, who has had health problems since shortly after her birth. Antonela’s situation was relayed to the CFU in 1999 by the Rev. Grgo Sikric, who at the time was priest of the now-closed St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Pittsburgh’s North Side. CFU also was informed of the Kacic family’s situation by architect Louis D. Astorino, a longtime friend of the Croatian community who designed and built the addition to the CFU headquarters outside Pittsburgh.
Dr. Vujevich was moved by the Kacic family’s plight. His recognition of the hardships of the family compelled him to act.
“After talking with Antonela’s parents and learning of the severe medical status and great financial and personal hardships they have endured, I felt overwhelming compassion. As a physician, and as a person of Croatian heritage, I felt compelled to help establish some type of assistance program for Antonela and other children, and for people like her with serious medical conditions,” Dr. Vujevich said.
The unusual problems of Croatia, which survived through subjugation as part of Yugoslavia and which was hard-hit by the subsequent war for Croatian independence, have contributed to some of the dire needs of the country’s citizens. The war has informed the views of many Croats, who have had to stoically deal with hardships that others cannot imagine. Croatia, partly impoverished through the war, also has sometimes had a difficult time being able to care for its own. But The Angel’s Fund is tending to the needs of Croatians harmed by the war, as well as those hurt by life’s sometimes unfortunate circumstances.
Frano Kasic survived the war, but he still sees devastation. He was hardened by the many tragedies he witnessed in the conflict, but the war wasn’t as harrowing as witnessing his daughter’s suffering, he explained. “None of this can get you prepared to watch your own daughter die a slow death,” he said.
Antonela is the only daughter of Frano and Mirela Kasic, and was born in Metkovic, Croatia. Antonela has been ill since she was 16 months old. Her intestine became twisted and gangrenous, and most of it had to be removed. Surgery took all but 15 centimeters of her intestine, after which Antonela recuperated for months in the hospital, being fed intravenously.
Her doctors initially believed she would live less than a week. Antonela now is twelve, and as beautiful a child as a parent could hope for, but her medical problems persist and she must get nutrition through an IV in her chest.
The Kasic family relocated to Pittsburgh 10 years ago to be near Children’s Hospital, where Antonela is receiving medical care. Antonela often must stay in the hospital due to complications of her condition, which makes her prone to getting infections. And though she is an otherwise active adolescent, she cannot play sports or engage in activities that could cause her undue strain.
So the Kasic family waits, staying in Pittsburgh and hoping for an improvement in Antonela’s condition and the cure for her medical problems. They are dependent upon others for help, and thus far, most of that help has come from Croats in Croatia. Even so, the family is relying upon charitable contributions to make her transplant possible.
Fortunately, the CFU, CACEA and The Angel’s Fund intervened. To initiate The Angel’s Fund, CACEA president Dr. Vujevich, who is an Honorary Consul to Croatia, gave $12,000 to the Kasic family. The fund, with the help of Rev. Skiric and Astorino, was able to raise a total of $90,000 for Antonela’s first transplant.
By reaching out to support the Kacic family, The Angel’s Fund is connecting Croats with other Croats. The charitable fund is bridging the cultural divide between Croatians in America and those in Croatia, by providing medical assistance for Croats who need it.
Founded in 2002 in Pittsburgh under the leadership of Dr. Vujevich, CACEA’s mission is unique among Croatian organizations in the United States. The group works to promote and enhance economic, cultural, educational and community collaboration and development between the two nations. Its goal of introducing U.S. companies and organizations to Croatia’s resources, and of introducing Croatian companies and groups to opportunities in the U.S., demonstrates CACEA’s fraternal thrust. CACEA believes Croatians should help each other, as good family members do.
Through strengthening collaborative efforts between Croatia and the U.S., and by building a network of chapters across the U.S., CACEA members hope to reap benefits in both countries. Thus far, one obvious benefit has been the organization’s work to encourage the exchange of educational and arts opportunities between Croatia and the U.S. CACEA also serves as a vehicle for successful Americans to help others reach their economic and cultural potential. Numerous individuals have taken the opportunity to help the nonprofit group, such as prominent Croatian Americans including Nadine Bognar, Drazen Jukic, Dave Klasnick, Joseph Katarincic, Bernard Luketich, Zoran Micetic, Edward Pazo and Bernadette Sikaras, to name a few. Many other Croats also have provided aid to the charitable group.
CACEA’s cultural focus has led its members to host exhibitions in Pittsburgh of naïve art from Croatia. The organization also has been a major player in the plan to save St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Pittsburgh’s North Side, which is the oldest Croatian church in America. The nonprofit has worked to preserve Croatian cultural heritage in Croatia, by aiding in the preservation of the Church of St. Eusebius and Polion, in Vinkovic. CACEA also has forged contacts in Croatia and in the U.S. to develop agreements that could lead to more collaboration between professionals in the biomedical and informational fields.
CACE’s insignia, The Dove from Vucedol (which is the oldest dove in the world, at 5,100 years old), is reminiscent of the ceramic sculpture found at a Neolithic site in Croatia. The Vucedol dove, which is an ancient symbol of peace, exemplifies the fruits of CACEA’s mission—caring for others and goodwill in the world.
Since its inception, CACEA’s purpose has broadened to include the edification and enhancement of the cultural assets and living conditions of Croatians in Croatia and in the U.S. CACEA is a nonprofit, community-based foundation that built its endowment largely through donors in Southwestern Pennsylvania. One purpose of the group is to enable individuals to become involved by investing in the people and resources of Croatia and the U.S. The organization’s decisions are made by a community-based board of directors.
MEANS OF MOBILITY
The Croatian war of independence affected many families, especially those with kin involved in the conflict. Anto Bosnjak, of Zupanja, Croatia, is still dealing with problems from his 1993 injury in the war. He was wounded when a mortar shell exploded next to him, and fragments from it tore the artery in his upper right leg.
Captured by Muslim soldiers, Bosnjak was taken to a hospital in Tesanj. There he received minimal care, and his right foot had to be amputated. Irregular re-bandaging and cleaning of the wound created the need for seven other amputations. Two of the surgeries were done without anesthesia. In December 1993, with the help of a Croat from Usora, Bosnjak escaped from the hospital and found his regiment. He was transferred to Zagreb, where he received proper medical care and his first prosthesis.
With the help of Croatia’s Ministry of Defense, Bosnjak attended college and earned an engineering degree. He has yet to find employment in his chosen profession, and his hopes of finding a job already have been damaged. Since he was wounded in the war in Bosnia-Herzgovina as a member of the Croatian Army, Bosnjak petitioned the government for a pension and a job, both of which he was promised. But his requests have been ignored. He must pay all of his medical expenses out of his own pocket, and partly because of that, recently he was in need of a new prosthesis and could not afford one. But the transcontinental connections of CFU and The Angel’s Fund made the difference for Bosnjak.
Damir Bacic, president of the CFU lodge in Zupanja, Croatia, asked the fraternal group to help Bosnjak. As a way to assist immediately, Zajednicar, the CFU’s newspaper, published an appeal for aid for Bosnjak. CFU members sent $1,655 in donations. The Angel’s Fund covered most of the cost for the new prosthesis, by providing $10,000 for it. The $11,655 provided to Bosnjak covered all expenses for the prosthesis.
Bernard M. Luketich, president of the CFU and a co-founder of CACEA, said that though the group is new, it has received a lot of support. Part of that support can no doubt be attributed to the group’s altruistic mission. “It was organized to help our people,” he said.
To donate to The Angel’s Fund, please make checks payable to CACEA, and send them care of Bernard M. Luketich, president, Croatian Fraternal Union, 100 Delaney Drive, Pittsburgh, PA, 15235.
Jonathan Barnes is a Pittsburgh freelance writer who is part Croatian.
This story was published in the Croatian Chronicle.