St. Louis Bosnians Unite to Help 2-Year-Old Battling Rare Cancer

click to enlarge Dzevad Dizdarevic and his daughter, Ariana, who suffers from a very rare cancer. - Photos from Facebook
Dzevad Dizdarevic and his daughter, Ariana, who suffers from a very rare cancer.

As his two-year-old daughter Ariana in the hospital with a very rare cancer, three more kids at home, a pregnant wife and no insurance, Dzevad Dizdarevic sat outside the hospital with his head in his hands.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he told his wife's sister, Sajra Dizdarevic. "I saved everything I could think of. How am I going to feed those kids?"

In Bosnia, where Dizdarevic's family is originally from, neighbors drop everything to help a family with such need, making meals, babysitting siblings -- anything that could help.

But in America, walking into a stranger's home and offering to make dinner would be a little weird, so St. Louis' Bosnian community is continuing their tradition of support in times of crisis with a distinctly American twist.

The Dizdarevics are fundraising for Ariana's healthcare costs, holding one event at south city's Lucky Duck bar Saturday, planning another at Grbic Bosnian restaurant next month, placing donation boxes around town and even launching a crowdfunding website on GoFundMe.

"In Bosnia, people don't have money lying around to give financial assistance," says Erna Grbic, whose family was one of the first to settle in St. Louis from Bosnia and now runs Grbic Restaurant. "In America, we all have jobs and fancy websites like GoFundMe to assist these families."

click to enlarge Ariana's family at the hospital before chemo made her lose her hair
Ariana's family at the hospital before chemo made her lose her hair

After only two days of sharing the crowdfunding site online, Ariana's family raised $25,000 in donations from St. Louis Bosnians, as well as Bosnians and non-Bosnians across the country.

"It's just amazing to see how many people have reached out; we're shocked," says Ariana's aunt, Sajra Dizdarevic. "Americans are donating, too. Nobody is treating her any differently. Everybody has come together."

click to enlarge Ariana and her favorite cartoon, Dora the Explorer.
Ariana and her favorite cartoon, Dora the Explorer.

Ariana is still in the hospital receiving chemotherapy for clear-cell sarcoma of the kidney, a very rare cancer that affects fewer than 500 children each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

"When they said 'tumor,' oh my God, my whole world crashed," says Sajra. "We were just in total shock. They did the emergency surgery right away."

Ariana will need six months of chemotherapy and has already been re-hospitalized for fevers and blood transfusions. Another family member, Irma Dizdarevic, posted on Facebook that Ariana needed $8,000 in shots on top of the costs for treatment and surgery.

"I told [Ariana's father] we need to do something," says Sajra. "Somebody will help us. We have to get funding for this little girl."

The Dizdarevic family moved to St. Louis because of its large Bosnian population -- the largest per capita of anywhere outside of Bosnia. As the medical bills pile up, Sajra says, she's happy to be surrounded by such a supportive community.

"St. Louis just feels like home," Sajra says.

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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