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MIKE DOWNEY

'94 WINTER OLYMPICS / Lillehammer : Few Know Troubles He's Seen

February 27, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

Maglica said, "I had to do something. I couldn't just sit there."

What he did was set into motion an exhaustive effort to find Sead Bekric, the boy on TV, and fly him to America. With considerable assistance from a Connecticut relief organization called Ameri-Cares, the injured teen-ager was located and prepared to be evacuated. Maglica financed the airlift from Croatia and passage all the way to Los Angeles, 8,000 miles away. He volunteered his company's funds to cover countless hours of surgery at the Jules Stein Eye Institute on the campus of UCLA, where facilities were far superior to those Sead had known until then. Back in Tuzla, medics had to treat their patients without antibiotics, without anesthesia.

The first time he saw Sead in person, Maglica said, "He was so thin, I could pick him up with one hand."

Sead held that hand.

"Sead wouldn't let my hand go. I had to stay right by his hospital bed," Maglica said. "And yet he was so calm. His wounds were horrible, but his brother was there and he was taking care of his little brother, who was crying and absolutely terrified. Sead kept telling him, 'Don't worry, I'll be all right. Everything will be all right.'

"What a wonderful boy he is. And today, 16, he is almost like a man."

Sead's sight was too far gone to save. His blindness will endure. But the surgeons at UCLA did remarkable things, nonetheless. They helped Sead survive a massive infection that was threatening his life. They also worked diligently on his features, to the point that now his scars are few, his face restored. He looks like any other Orange County teen-ager now. He is one.

For one more day, though--this day--Sead Bekric is back in Europe to embody wartime and its consequences, to shine a flashlight in its eye.

He says, "People must see and they must help. It's the only hope we have."

He is symbolic of his people's grief. He is also symbolic of their salvation.

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