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Polish Boy Readied For Lifesaving Heart Operation

January 25, 1985

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) _ The six-year-old son of a former Polish Solidarity activist played with toys, watched cartoons and slept with Kermit the Frog before undergoing heart surgery today at the Stanford University Medical Center.

″I will be happy when it is finished so I can go home,″ Piotr Sternik said before the surgery, which began about 6 a.m. and was scheduled to last several hours.

Halina Sternik feared that her only son, Piotr, would not get the life- saving operation when hospital officials told her it would cost $25,000 to pay for the hospital care associated with the surgery. Doctors had agreed to donate their services.

But those doubts were swept away when well-wishers across the nation flooded the mother and son with donations, including a $15,000 contribution from a San Francisco man and a $1,000 check from songwriter Burt Bacharach.

Mrs. Sternik said Piotr was very lucky not only to get the money, but to have been allowed to leave Poland for the operation.

The boy’s father, Michal, remained at the family’s home in Gdansk and will not be told about the operation until it is over.

″He drives a taxi and I’m afraid he might have an accident if he thinks about Piotr,″ Mrs. Sternik said.

Piotr suffers from a congenital heart defect which stymied Polish physicians. The disease suffocates him by forcing blood to bypass his lungs, causing him to tire very easily.

Mike Goodkind, Stanford University Medical Center spokesman, said most Communist bloc nations lack the technology to perform the operation.

Doctors plan to correct the heart defect by transplanting a valve taken from a heart donated earlier this week.

Goodkind said physicians sometimes use animal and synthetic tissue, but since the boy is going back to Poland, it was best to use human tissue to minimize the chance of rejection.

Peter Wasowski, who is letting the family stay with him, said Piotr is ″especially anxious to get the operation over with because I promised him a trip to Disneyland when he recovers.

″You should have seen his eyes just twinkled. He’ll finally have a chance to meet alll the cartoon characters he sees on TV.″

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