May 07, 2021

Bosnian girls given clean bill of health, released

WATERVILLE — Exactly four months after they were seriously injured in their native Bosnia by a mortar attack, two sisters were discharged from Mid-Maine Medical Center in Waterville on Thursday.

Sanela, 6, and Minela, 8, Smajovic will still need months of outpatient treatment and will be cared for daily by home health personnel, said Monica Charette, spokesperson for MMMC.

They left for their host family’s home at an undisclosed location and when last seen by Charette, were settling in with their parents to return to a normal family life. “When I left the family about 7 p.m. last night,” said Charette, “Sanela was outside shovelling snow. They were so thrilled to be able to go outdoors.”

The girls had begged their father, Izet, to let them go outside to play last Nov. 10 after a respite in the shelling over Sarejevo, Bosnia. When he let them outside, a mortar struck and killed five other children instantly. The girls and their father were evacuated by Veterans For Peace, under the group’s Children of War Rescue Project. They arrived in Bangor on Christmas Eve. Because of a delay in getting an exit visa, the girls’ mother, Emina, was only able to join them last Monday, after a three-month separation.

Charette said the family had their final medical examinations at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning and then began moving their accumulated gifts and belongings from the hospital to the new home, with an anonymous host family in Waterville.

Charette said the children’s departure was difficult for MMMC staff. “It was a highly emotional morning for everyone that has been a part of their lives. The staff was very happy to see them medically well enough to go home, but at the same time saddened to see a family leave that had become a part of the hospital family. It really was a bittersweet, although proud, moment. We all got very used to hearing their accents and their Bosnian words. The halls in the pediatric ward are a little quiet today. They will be missed.”

The children are both scheduled for a followup visit with Dr. Eugene Peters, chief of pediatrics, and will continue treatment at home with Kennebec Valley Regional Health Agency. On March 24, Minela’s leg will be re-evaluated and a decision about further surgery will be made.

Louis Sinclair, vice president of VFP, said the family was settling in to their new home well. “The girls were deciding which drawer was whose and they were just so happy to be in a home. They have been in a hospital for five months. No matter how wonderful the hospital treatment, there is no place like home.”

Sinclair said the family will take the next several weeks to relax, rest and recover.

VFP will look into schooling options for both children and parents. Both parents are interested in learning English at the Waterville High School through adult education.

“The biggest thing right now for them is making the transition from the hospital to the home and settling in with their host family. So far, it is happening very smoothly,” said Sinclair.

“They were occupying a small apartment in Sarajevo and they were talking about that today, just how nice it is where they are and how comfortable they are. They are already saying they feel at home. The host family has been wonderful, gone out of their way to make them comfortable. The family has been so gracious and really opened up their hearts to them. The family has two young girls about same age as Sanela and Minela and the girls have been playing together for the past month, visiting each other and a good friendship has been formed between them.”

Izet Smajovic and the two girls entered the country under tourist visas, said Sinclair, because that was the quickest way to get them here.

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