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Romanian Immigrant Baby Saved by U.S. Medics - 2002-04-12

English Feature #7-33485 Broadcast April 3, 2000

New American Voices is a weekly program in which we talk with immigrants to the United States about their experiences and their life here.

Last week you met Adrian Chira, a 30-year-old Romanian who moved to the United States with his family five years ago. Adrian's oldest son, Gino, who is now six years old, was born with spina bifida - a congenital disease of the spine. The condition requires complex surgery and long-term medical treatment, neither of which was available for little Gino in Romania.

Thanks to the efforts of a Baptist missionary working in Romania, the Chira family was able to come to the United States to seek the medical care that Gino needed. Because of their missionary friends, their first steps in this country were not as difficult as they might have been.

"If you come here in the U.S. and you don't know anybody it's a little bit difficult. We were fortunate to know this missionary friend of ours and he was able to give us room in his house, and we stayed with them for six months. And after that through another friend of his who was an electrical contractor, he hired me as an electrician and they found us an apartment. Coming here I had to learn a lot of things, but right now I'm ready to take my test to be a licensed electrician."

Was life here what Adrian Chira expected, or were there aspects of it for which he was not prepared?

"No, I expected it to be a lot better than Romania, but soon I realized that even so you have to work a lot. Right now it was a transition in Romania, a lot of people are laid off and it's hard to find a job, and that was the mood before I left Romania. But when I came here that was the surprise - that you have to work a lot."

Adrian Chira's job as an apprentice electrician did not pay nearly enough to cover the costs of Gino's surgery, hospital care and medication. But the Chiras were fortunate.

"In the first place when we came here the doctor who did the surgery is a very well known neurosurgeon in the country. He agreed to take Gino for no charge. Even so, the manager of the hospital wasn't sure that they would cover (the costs), but I think behind this was God's hand that put everything together and it was the way that he provided for us. In the beginning Gino was a teaching case patient for I think two years, and after that when we integrated into the society here working here, the state of Virginia has a law called CSS which provides care for children with special needs."

The man who made it possible for Gino to receive the treatment he needed to survive was Dr. Don Kyer, a Baptist missionary from Fredricksburg, Virginia. Dr. Kyer had worked in Eastern Europe for almost thirty years, most recently running a Bible study program in Romania. Through his efforts, the University of Virginia Children's Clinic agreed to take on Gino's case. An airline donated three airplane tickets so that the Chira family could fly to America.

"Just within a few days after Gino arrived, before he was one month old, he'd had his surgery to close his spine, the next day a second emergency surgery to install a shunt in his head because of fluid that was gathering on the brain and had to be drained off. And of course those kind of surgeries just would not have been possible in Romania, or in most of Europe, for that matter."

As good as the medical treatment in the United States may be, it is also very expensive. Dr. Kyer is proud of the fact that in treating Gino, neither the hospital nor the doctors expected any payment.

"They did everything free. The total bill soon ran to well over $30,000, and the University of Virginia just absorbed all of that. It just all fell into place so quickly that we just considered it to be nothing short of miraculous."

Don Kyer and his wife continue to keep in touch with the Chira family. There is now another son, Christopher, born in the United States. Dr. Kyer believes that the Chiras have what it takes to makes a life for themselves here.

"You know everybody is a capitalist at heart. And so they've done quite well. It's amazing. Gino has a smile on his face that I think the only way you could get it off would be to surgically remove it. Every time you see him, he's happy. He can't walk, you know, he's in a wheelchair, or he can get around with a walker and braces. But he's in kindergarten here, Christopher is in a preschool program, and everybody who comes in contact with them comes away affected by them."

Next week on New American Voices we'll introduce you to Esra Ozben, a Turkish woman who immigrated to the U.S. for another reason - she fell in love with an American serviceman stationed in Europe.