Raisa's story

Kosovo, November 6, 2002

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    Raisa with Mercy Corps Health Program Manager, Kosovo, Irene Taylor. Photo: Mercy Corps Kosovo Photo:

Raisa was not like the other children in the village. As other children played and ran around, Raisa was always sitting on the steps of her house alone or by the time she caught up to the others, they had run off somewhere else. Even eating was exhausting. When I first saw her I was shocked at her poor physical condition but really touched by her capacity to accept, go on smiling and to use the small amount of energy she had to give me a big hug.

I found out about Raisa when I was approached by two UN International Police Officers who had been involved in the training of a Bosniak Kosovar police recruit in Peja in Northern Kosovo. Frank is with the German Border Police and is working on cases involving trafficked women. Allan is with the Northern Ireland Constabulary and has seen his fair share of death and destruction in his own country. He is now involved in training police recruits. As they had got to know Raisa's father they heard about the plight of his daughter, Raisa. She was dying a little day-by-day because the required treatment is not available in Kosovo.

They asked if Mercy Corps could help. I felt really frustrated when I started to explore options and discovered there was no help for her. After meeting Raisa and examining her medical file it was apparent that without lifesaving surgery, Raisa was in serious trouble. The surgery she needed was complex, expensive and could only be done in an advanced hospital with a specialized heart surgery unit. The parents had no passports or money.

Raisa has a congenital deformity resulting in an extra vessel leading to the heart. This means that the blood cannot flow properly and her heart is under constant strain. Her heart is three times larger than it should be. It had been detected at birth and she had been sent to the Children's Hospital in Belgrade but they could only give drugs for the symptoms, suggesting that Raisa would have to go to another part of the world if she was to survive. The troubles and the war came.

For those of us who believe in miracles, regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs, there is no explanation needed for what happened next. I got on the Internet, entered surgical assistance for children in Kosovo, the first entry was for an organization in Switzerland especially working to help Kosovar children receive life saving surgery. I immediately wrote to them and the response was that they had limited funds left for Kosovo but if I forwarded the medical files to them, they would have their heart surgeon review the case.

The rest is history. Raisa had the lifesaving surgery in Geneva two days ago, performed by one of Switzerland's best heart surgeons and it has been a success. All medical expenses were covered by the hospital and the surgeon performed the surgery for no fee. Frank and Allan turned the UNMIK system upside down getting the visas and wouldn't take no for an answer. I ensured we had Raisa in the best possible physical condition prior to the surgery and worked closely with the surgeon to achieve this. All Raisa's friends at the police station and Mercy Corps donated money for the tickets for Raisa and her mother and the Bosniak community in Geneva provided for all the family support needs in Geneva. I know some of you were praying for her and thinking of her as well.

Raisa will be in intensive care for at least four days and will have months of rehabilitation but the signs are excellent that she will have the full life she has never enjoyed and completely deserves. Her ongoing care will be supervised by us on her return. Her 8th birthday party promises to be a big event.

Courage needs witnesses and Raisa's courage was witnessed and a diverse group of people from all over the world came together, wouldn't take no for an answer and changed not only Raisa's life but that of her family and friends. I don't think you can ever understand all the effects of such things. All of humanity is touched when compassion and kindness replace destruction and hopelessness. Everyone in the Mercy Corps family participates in this wonderful story because we are interconnected and I hope you all feel as inspired by Raisa's story as I do. I just wanted to share it with you all and thank you for providing the support and inspiration that enables us here in Kosovo to reach out to people on your behalf.