TWO LOCAL DOCTORS, AMHERST WOMAN RECOUNT WAR-ZONE MISSION OF MERCY

Published on May 16, 1994
Author: MIKE VOGEL – News Staff Reporter
© The Buffalo News Inc. 
In a sense, it was a mission that couldn’t fail.

When a team of 16 physicians learned they could not reach beleaguered Sarajevo to provide medical aid, two local doctors and an East Amherst woman started out anyway. And when they could not get through, they found that the

supplies they carried were just as needed at refugee hospitals near the war-torn countryside that once was Yugoslavia.

“What we did was bring supplies of drugs,” said Mary Ann Zylka, whose family comes from the combat areas of Bosnia and Croatia.

“They were intended for Sarajevo, but we left them at a hospital in Zagreb. They desperately needed them.”

Traveling with Dr. Riyaz Hassanali of Williamsville and Dr. Michael Wycoki of Cheektowaga, she also came home with a mission — to bring back two war refugees for needed medical care here.

This summer, a teen-age Croatian girl will come here for reconstructive surgery on her badly burned face and hands — the legacy of an explosion that killed her parents.

“It’s just a terrible situation,” said Mrs. Zylka, after the group returned earlier this month from a week-long trip.

“In Zagreb, nearly every day, we visited different refugee hospitals and rehabilitation centers, and we talked to doctors at the University of Zagreb medical school.”

The refugee centers are treating not only combat injuries but also rape victims, with some trauma counseling as well as medical treatment.

“Really, the need is not in physicians — they have

physicians,” Mrs. Zylka said. “The need is in drugs, equipment, that type of support — the doctors haven’t seen medical journals in two years, and they’re not up on the latest treatments.”

Hassanali and his associate, Dr. Jeffrey Meilman, are planning to fly Tihna, the 17-year-old Croatian girl, here this summer at their expense for her surgery.

“After she finishes school, she’ll be coming — probably by the end of June,” Mrs. Zylka said.

Her own interests in the war-torn region are more than academic, Mrs. Zylka added.

“My whole family comes from Croatia and Bosnia,” she said. “Presently, my family are refugees from Bosnia, to Croatia.”

Part of the message of hope the three Buffalo-area travelers took overseas with them was simply an example, she added. The delegation mirrored some of the same religious and ethnic differences that have torn the Balkan homelands apart — but the Western New Yorkers showed another vision of the future, simply by working closely and smoothly together. 

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