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(E) CROATIA Gift of Life
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  10/31/2003 | Charity | Unrated
(E) CROATIA Gift of Life


Press Release -  Rijeka, Croatia – October 16th, 2003


A project of the

·        Rotary Club, Rijeka – Sv. Vid  - Croatia  - Mr. Dean Trbovic, President

·        Prof. Dr. Vladimir Ahel, Director

Klinika za Djecje Bolesti “ Kantrida”, Rijeka, Croatia

·        Mario Picinich, Trustee

The  Rotary Clubs of Rotary International District 7490 - United States of America

·        Wanda S. Radetti, Commercial and Cultural Attaché’

City of Rijeka,  Primorsko-Goranska County, Republic of Croatia  - United States of America


Presentation to the Media:

Monday, October 21, 2003 – 11:00 am

Grand Hotel Bonavia – 4 Dolac, Rijeka

Tel. 385 51 357 100

For information please contact:

Mr. Ivan Miljenovic, Project Manager       Tel. GSM:++385 (0)98 328 206

Rotary Club Rijeka-Sv. Vid                     e-mail:


Wanda S. Radetti                                    Tel.:   GSM -Croatia: ++385 (0) 91 580-4040

                                                                        GSM - USA:   ++ 917 257-5777


“ Gift of Life" is a program begun in 1974 by several American districts of Rotary International. Since then some 3000 children from 36 countries have received cardiovascular life saving operations in the United States and just recently, and for the first time, a little girl from Croatia, Ms. Matea Kristof of Rijeka.


In 1985, District Governor Nominee Arthur Scialla was looking for a project for his year as governor.  After much discussion among Rotarians, and help from District 7470, the program was started in Mario Picinich’s  District and the Rotary International District 7490 Gift of Life Foundation was founded.

 Rotary International District 7490 Gift of Life Foundation has hosted currently over 300 children. 

Children who come to the United States with heart defects are usually referred by physicians or participating groups in their home country to Rotary District Gift of Life Foundation who forward their medical information to participating hospitals.

 Doctors and hospitals receive a nominal fee of $6,000 for the valuable services they render. After cases are approved for surgery by attending physicians, they are assigned to local Rotary Clubs, Interact Clubs or auxiliary organizations. They in turn provide any additional funds for medical care (prescriptions, etc.) and host the child with a parent while they are in this country. 

The Foundation or individual Rotary Clubs raises the monies needed to finance the program. District Foundations are responsible for administering the programs. This includes communicating and coordinating with Rotary Clubs over-seas or with groups such as the Korean, Polish or Ukrainian Gift of Life in the U.S. Now we are happy and grateful to also be able to include in our list the Rotary Club Rijeka –Sv. Vid, Rotary International District 1910.

These organizations often provide transportation from the home country and the services  of interpreters.  One does not have to be a Rotarian to participate in this program. It is the District Rotary Foundation's responsibility to oversee the visit, hospital stay and safe return of the child.  Volunteers and Rotarians who participate do not receive any pay for their services.

  The Rotary Gift of Life program has been a great success because it functions at a grass roots level with direct people to people; contact between the Foundations, Clubs, hosts, medical personnel and the friends and families of our children. It promotes lasting friendships between participants of different nationalities.

The children that are served, are from where cardiovascular procedures for children are not available. The children  have come from Anguilla, The Dominican Republic, Armenia, Ecuador, Egypt, Kosovo, Georgia, Guatemala, Haiti, Iraq, India, Jamaica, Korea, Peru, Poland, Philippines,  Russia, Trinidad, Ukraine, Croatia and even the United States.  The Doctors that participate in our program have traveled world wide to educate local doctors in the procedures.



Mario Picinich, Trustee, Gift of Life Foundation – Rotary Clubs of District 7499, a native of island of Susak in the Gulf or Kvarner, Croatia,  has been an involved and a contributing participant to the Gift of Life. He has organized  and hosted in his home children and accompanying family members. 

Mario left Susak with his family when he was 4 years old, spent one year in Italy and arrived in the United States at the age of five.  His family settled in the State of New Jersey.  Like all the people that have to leave their country of birth, no matter where in the World, a piece of Mario’s heart was left in the island of Susak.  He returns to his island regularly.

So many children where being helped by the program to which Mario was dedicated and to which he contributed so much, they came from every part of the World.  Not one from Croatia. Knowing that so many of our children could be without access to help, Mario saw the need for incorporating Croatia in the Gift of Life Project.

To this end Mario contacted Wanda S. Radetti, a native of Rijeka residing in New York.  Although, Wanda was also very young when her family left Rijeka, she too was conscious of the missing bit of her heart that was forever left in her city of Rijeka.  She too returned, and continues to return… as often as possible… always searching for the grounding that only Rijeka can provide for her, she returns to identify and recapture her soul, she returns to bring love to the family left behind and to make Croatian friends to love.

Mario and Wanda met about a year ago in New York to talk about the Gift of Life Program for Croatia.  Wanda’s interest in helping was immediate, and on one condition, that is: that the program be first introduced to the City of Rijeka and that Rijeka retain the lead and the ultimate administrative control of the program for the Country of Croatia.

On her next visit to Rijeka, Wanda met with Prof. Dr. Vladimir Ahel, the Director of the Children’s Hospital of Kantrida.  Wanda proposed to Dr. Ahel that he take on the responsibility of leading the program “medically”.   Dr. Ahel, understood the importance of such an opportunity and was delighted to accept the responsibility and promised to provide his full cooperation. 

It was necessary that the information about the Gift of Life reach the members of the Rotary Club Rijeka – Sv. Vid.  Wanda elicited and immediately received an invitation to be a visiting guest at the meeting by Dr. Ivan Modric, Assistant Governor of Rotary International District 1910.  The presentation was made, the response was positive and we were on our way.

At the time of the very first meeting, Dr. Ahel already had under his care two little children from Rijeka that were in urgent need of cardiac surgery.  The medical records were submitted by Mario Picinich on behalf of the Gift of Life Foundation of the Rotary Club International District 7490 for review and consideration by Henry Issenberg, M.D., Director, Pediatric Heart Station, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Cardio thoracic Surgery and Radiology of the Children’s Medical Center at Montefiore of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York City. 

Both children were chosen to go to the Montefiore Medical Center for surgical correction; Matea Kristof for admission on August 28, 2003, which was eventually postponed to Thursday, September 4, 2003, and Mia Baric for admission on September 23rd, 2003.  Both children’s operations would be under the auspices of the Rotary Gift of Life program, which would provide all needed funding.

Before Mia Baric could come to the United States for her operation, she was suddenly subject to a worsening of her condition and was transferred urgently to Italy for the required operation, which, Dr. Ahel advises went very well.

Matea Kristof, came to the United States accompanied by her mother Vlasta on the appointed time.  The Rotary Club of Rijeka, under the leadership of  Dean Trbovic, the President, helped the family with the gathering of the documents required for the Visa to enter the United States, the cost of local transportation and travel to and back from the United States.

When Matea and her mother Vlasta arrived in the United States, they were the guests of Mr. Sam Mustafa and his wife Eli of Rutherford New Jersey for their entire stay.  Mr. Mustafa and his wife are Muslim, Palestinian, immigrants that settled in New Jersey and are members of the Rutherford Rotary Club. The program does bring people in peace, together.

Matea’s operation was a success and, on Friday, September 19th, 2003, Mario Picinich organized a Dinner and Dance party to introduce Matea and her mother Vlasta to the community and to raise funds that will help bring into the fold of the Gift of Life Program other Children from Croatia.  Matea and her mother Vlasta have returned to Rijeka, Croatia on Monday September 22, 2003.  On October 16th, 2003, Matea celebrates her 2nd Birthday.


With the Rotary of Rijeka firmly behind the Gift of Life Program, it is expected that in not too long they will reach out to the other Rotary Clubs of Croatia and invited them to join the effort, while at the same time providing information and instructions.

To be noted that a presentation regarding the Gift of Life Program has already been presented this past July to the Rotary Club of Opatija that has shown serious interest in following the lead of the Rotary of Rijeka.

Upon the invitation of Dr. Dusko Vrus, President of the Lions Clubs, District 126 – Croatia,  Wanda was invited to speak about the Gift of Life Project at their meeting just before the beginning of this past summer.  Confirmation was provided that the invitation to participate would be brought to the attention of the members when the Lions Club reconvenes again in the fall


























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  • Comment #1 (Posted by lee robbins)

    I work with the Gift of Life of Long Island, NY. I am also a Rotarian.

    You wrote an excellent article. Thank you on behalf of Gift of Life, Inc.

    Best Regards......Lee Robbins
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