Nicaraguan Girl’s Hospital Bill Remains Unpaid
CHICAGO (AP) _ Former White House aides, including Lt. Col. Oliver North, are being blamed for a delinquent $31,000 hospital bill for treatment of a young Nicaraguan refugee.
The wounded girl, 11-year-old Maritsa Herrera, was brought to Washington in 1985 to help raise money for the Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua’s leftist government, The Chicago Tribune reported Saturday.
Maritsa was treated at Children’s Hospital National Medical Center from April to June 1985 for a severely infected bullet wound, the newspaper said.
She also underwent extensive dental surgery and psychotherapy for emotional shock, the Tribune reported.
The hospital recently turned the bill over to a collection agency.
For the past 21 months, the bill has been sent to Nicaraguan Refugee Fund.
″It’s our understanding that there was a promise from North and the White House that this would be paid,″ said Doris Indyke, media coordinator at Children’s Hospital.
The Tribune said the promises were made to former Nicaraguan ambassador Alvaro Rizo, who at the time was executive vice president of the Refugee Fund and the child’s legal guardian.
A White House spokesman, Albert R. Brashear, said Saturday that he had not seen the Tribune report and had no comment on it.
Rizo said Robert Reilly, then a special White House assistant, told him ″not to worry″ about the hospital bill.
A follow-up call came from one of North’s secretaries, Rizo said. ″She told us to send all the bills, and they would be taken care of,″ he said.
North is at the center of numerous investigations concerning the sale of arms to Iran and the diversion of profits to the Contras.
The Nicaraguan Refugee Fund is now $80,000 in debt, Rizo said.
″We keep telling Children’s (Hospital) we are sorry, we have no financial means to pay the bill,″ he said. ″We sent all the bills to the White House.″
The newspaper said Miss Herrera and four other Nicaraguans were brought from a refugee camp in Honduras to Washington in August 1985 by a group of fund-raisers in hopes of winning support for the Contra cause.
Rizo said Maritsa went through five days of press conferences, briefings and a $500-a-plate dinner before anyone looked at the wound beneath the sling she had been holding tightly against her chest.
Her left arm was severly infected from a bullet wound suffered three months earlier when she was shot by Sandinistas as she prayed in a chapel in her village in Jinotega province.
The girl was admitted to the hospital April 16 and was rushed to surgery to clean out the infected wound and bone fracture, the Tribune said.
Doctors said amputation would have been necessary if the treatment had been delayed a few more days.
She has since returned home.
Reilly, now deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, denied telling Rizo the White House would pay it.
Later, Reilly called the Tribune and said that an arrangement had been worked out between the White House and the hospital but that a hospital official involved in the deal was no longer employed there.