Dzevad Dizdarevic sat outside the hospital with his head in his hands. Inside, his two-year-old daughter Ariana lay in the hospital with a very rare cancer. With no insurance, three more kids at home and a pregnant wife, Dizdarevic was at his wits' end.
Ariana is 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 Dizdarevic, his wife's sister. "We were just in total shock. They did the emergency surgery right away."
Ariana will need six months of chemotherapy and has been repeatedly 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."
In Bosnia, where Dizdarevic's family is originally from, neighbors drop everything to help a family in need, making meals, babysitting siblings — anything that could help. But in America, things are a lot different, and 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 began fundraising for Ariana's healthcare costs, holding an event at south city's Lucky Duck bar Saturday, planning another at Grbic Restaurant next month and placing donation boxes around town. But they also launched 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."
After only two days of sharing the crowdfunding site online, Ariana's family raised $25,000 in donations from both the local and national Bosnian community, as well as from those who have no ethnic ties whatsoever.
"It's just amazing to see how many people have reached out; we're shocked," says Ariana's aunt, Sajra. "Americans are donating, too. Nobody is treating her any differently. Everybody has come together."
As of this writing, the total amount raised for Ariana has leaped to $70,735 (find the campaign at www.gofundme.com/58op7k).
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," she says.