Friday, August 29, 2008
Utah 'angels' help burned boy
Jessica Free, who met Marius Dasianu (age 9) in a Romanian... (Paul Fraughton / Salt Lake Tribune)
BYU students head up effort to aid Romanian, 10, whose parents died
By Jennifer W. Sanchez The Salt Lake Tribune,firstname.lastname@example.org
FARMINGTON - One night in December, 9-year-old Marius Dasianu suddenly awakened in his home in Romania. He was on fire.
He broke his bedroom window and jumped out of the burning house. That's all he remembers. He awoke 10 days later in a hospital about 150 miles from his village. About 75 percent of his body was burned. His parents were dead. He wasn't told until months later.
"I was alone," said Marius, now 10. "It was bad."
This week - after strangers with ties to Brigham Young University helped raise thousands of dollars and persisted through months of paperwork - Marius visited Utah for two fundraising events and to thank his benefactors. He is scheduled in September to start medical treatment at the Los Angeles Shriners Hospital for Children.
It all started with a call for a birthday surprise for Marius.
In January, Jessica Free and Ashley Ludlow were among eight BYU students traveling to Iasi, Romania, as part of an internship to work at an orphanage and children's hospital.
The students heard about Marius' situation and wanted to do something special for him for his Jan. 30 birthday. So they got balloons, made a banner and sang to him.
But, Marius, in deep pain, wasn't interested. His fingers were removed from both hands. His entire face was disfigured - he had no nose. He didn't smile. He didn't want the students to sing or read to him.
"It was hard for him to open up and feel comfortable around us," said Jessica, a 20-year-old BYU junior from Mesa, Ariz.
Jessica and Ashley didn't give up. They continued to visit him. They also told their moms about Marius and discussed how they could help him get better medical attention in the United States.
The women started "Team Marius" and a Web site to drum up support for Marius and his brother, 19-year-old Ionut Dasianu. Ionut was working construction in Italy when the accident happened and returned to Romania to care for his little brother. But money was tight, and the hospital is a four-hour bus ride from their village. He was only able to visit his brother a few times a month.
Ionut, who has custody of Marius and who accompanied him to Utah, said he was skeptical why strangers were so interested in helping.
"I didn't know what to believe at first," he said.
Marius slowly opened up to Jessica and Ashley, who visited him daily. He never asked them for anything.
In the United States, Kristin Free, Jessica's mom in Arizona, and Lynne Woodward, Ashley's mom in San Diego, started collecting donations and sought medical assistance for Marius. The team paid for a native Romanian to help them with Marius' medical records, Ionut's bus rides and medications.
Free, with seven kids of her own, said she got involved to be a voice for Marius' mother and demand that he get the treatment he needed.
"You would hope someone would do that for you," she said.
In March, Marius was accepted by Shriners Hospital in Los Angeles. Jessica and Ashley returned to the United States in April.
Teodora Racoveanu, a Romanian psychologist who unofficially serves as Marius' interpreter and social worker, called the team's efforts "a miracle."
"In Romania, these kinds of surgeries are not possible," she said. "It's his only chance for recovery."
After a few months of dealing with passport and visa paperwork, Marius, Ionut and Teodora traveled to Los Angeles on Aug. 4. The trip cost $6,000 and was covered by the team.
It was the first time Marius put on clothes because of the severity of his wounds.
The foursome and some team members went to Disneyland, Sea World and the beach.
Marius, wearing a Spider-Man cap and cargo shorts, said he didn't even know about Disneyland, but was excited about the trip. Then, before coming to Utah this week, they headed to Jessica's home in Mesa, where Marius and Ionut will be living in between surgeries in Los Angeles. His first operation is Sept. 17.
It could take up to nine years for doctors to finish the treatments Marius needs, Kristin said.
Ionut knows there's nothing he can ever do to show his gratitude to Team Marius.
"They are like angels saving his life," he said.
If you want to help. Donations for Marius Dasianu can be made at any Wells Fargo Bank under the Marius Burn Fund, or go to www.teammarius.org. You also can go to that site to stay updated on his progress.