Everything they see is amazing: Disneyland, of course--the beach, the clean hospital, fresh fruit every day, telephones and television cameras, chewing gum galore.
But the outpouring of love has been so natural, so spontaneous that it has almost overshadowed the wonderful thing that recently happened to Leszek Kisinski, 16, and Izabella Kazmierczak, 13.
After surgery at St. Vincent Medical Center, Izabella was the first to notice her lips and fingernails were no longer blue.
She and Leszek--who also had open heart surgery at the Los Angeles medical center on Feb. 12--are making steady progress, recuperating in the homes of Polish-American families since being released from the hospital last Wednesday. They expect to return home in about three weeks after seeing more sights, visiting new friends and, doctors hope, squeezing in some rest between all the fun.
Izabella and Leszek were "blue babies," suffering from tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect limiting proper oxygenation of the blood by the lungs.
Life has been restricted for both children since birth. Izabella tired so easily before the surgery that she could not attend school, so tutors came to her home. They each had two previous heart surgeries in Poland that alleviated the problems only temporarily.
The two teen-agers from small towns in Poland were flown to the Los Angeles Heart Institute at St. Vincent Medical Center for the surgeries. Leszek came with his mother; Izabella with a physician who is a family friend.
Their trip and medical care were arranged by Heart to Heart, which began in the United States in 1984 as part of the Children's Heart Program in Korea. Since then more than 650 Korean children have been flown to the United States for heart surgery. At St. Vincent's, where the program has expanded to include children from Mexico, Canada, Europe and Central and South America, more than a dozen children have undergone surgery at the hospital at no cost to them.
A First for Program
Leszek and Izabella are the first Polish children to be included in the program, with plans in the making for 13 more within the next two years. Leszek's father is a truck driver, his mother works in a laundry. He has an 18-year-old brother. The family learned that Leszek was to be included in the program just before Christmas. Izabella's father is an electrician, her mother cares for her and two sisters, one 11 years old and the other 6 months old.
Dr. Jerome H. Kay, president of the Heart Institute, said St. Vincent's performs 10 or 12 heart surgeries daily. He predicted that the children would be "restored to normal life" by the surgery. Without it, he said, they had limited activity and probably could not have lived past 30.
Leszek and Izabella are visibly amazed by what has happened. They each have received approximately $25,000 worth of medical care from the team of surgeons and the hospital and they received free transportation from KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines. And they have gotten a deluge of affection, concern and attention from Los Angeles' Polish-American community--which provided 24-hour interpreters at the hospital and has opened its homes to the visitors.
A retired parishioner of Our Lady of Bright Mount church who had volunteered to sit with the children in the hospital compared the outpouring to the response any community gives during times of disaster. "That is our blood, we help. They are our people," she explained.
Young and old alike signed up for six-hour shifts to sit in the teen-agers' hospital rooms so they and the nurses would be able to communicate, no matter the hour.
They seemed to be doing very well in the hospital. Amazed at having telephones in their rooms, they called friends and one another. They also played tapes of Wham, Leszek's favorite group.
Young people from a folk dance group, members of Los Angeles' two Polish Catholic churches and members of Polish clubs converged on the hospital--to visit, to bring gifts, to help.
Dr. Zbigniew K. Dworak, a surgeon on the staff at St. Vincent's and a native of Poland who was instrumental in including Poland in the Heart to Heart program, said the crowd visiting the children, especially on the weekend, was "almost too many people."
The children had not known each other when they came, nor did they know anyone here.
But about 40 people served as interpreters or chauffeurs during the hospital stay, according to Zofia Adamowicz, who coordinated the volunteers from the churches and various clubs. "I have 10 names of people who didn't see it soon enough so they will be volunteers for next time. I also have four homes for them to stay in," said Adamowicz, although only two children will come at one time. The next ones are expected in April.
Leszek and his mother are staying in the home of Bruno and Teresa Mudy in Sherman Oaks and Izabella and the doctor who accompanied her, Henryk Szczesniak, are staying with Roman and Ala Jozefowski in Lakeview Terrace.