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Young Soviet Heads To United States For Leukemia Treatment

November 20, 1988

MOSCOW (AP) _ A pale and seriously ill former paratrooper left the Soviet Union on Sunday for the United States, where he hopes a network of support set up by his uncle in Moscow might save his life.

Alexander Muchnik, 20, of Klaipeda in the Baltic republic of Lithuania, is suffering from leukemia and his 15-year-old sister, Viktoria, is the only source of the bone marrow needed for a transplant that couldn’t be performed in the Soviet Union.

Before boarding a plane for New York on Sunday, the siblings, their mother and stepfather said good-bye to friends and relatives. Among them was Alexander’s uncle, Ilya, a 50-year-old Moscow computer scientist who built a network of medical help stretching from Moscow and Amsterdam to the United States.

Muchnik, whose pale complexion and sparse moustache give him the appearance of a young student rather than a veteran of the Soviet army’s paratroop force, said simply, ″We’ll see,″ when asked about his prognosis.

In the Soviet Union, doctors could only promise him a death without pain.

In the United States, the family planned to be united with Alexander’s grandmother, who emigrated years ago and now lives in Brighton, Mass., and two aunts who live nearby. On Tuesday, Muchnik has his first appointment with a Boston doctor.

Ilya Muchnik said so far they have raised only a few thousand dollars to cover a complicated operation that will cost about $100,000.

″The question about financing the operation remains open,″ he said. ″I think I have about three weeks. But three weeks, that’s the limit.″

He said Dr. Dean Buckner, a Seattle specialist who examined Alexander on a trip to Moscow and has followed the case since, estimated the operation had an 80 percent chance of success if performed in the very near future. But he said the chance of success will fall sharply after that.

In early October, doctors in Lithuania spotted a deformation of cells that signaled a severe worsening of Muchnik’s condition, his uncle said.

When Muchnik fell ill in July, shortly after being released from the army, his uncle prevailed upon two well-known Soviets, sociologist Tatyana Zaslavskaya and economist Abel Aganbegyan, to help him find a place for his nephew in a top Moscow hospital.

Doctors in the Netherlands analyzed blood samples and determined that his sister could donate bone marrow.

A long-time friend of Ilya Muchnik, computer science professor Semyon Meerkov of Ann Arbor, Mich., found American doctors who took an interest in the case and started a bank fund in the Michigan city.

Friends from Canada, the United States, West Germany, Hungary and Poland sent medicine that is not produced in the Soviet Union.

U.S. Embassy officials in Moscow processed the necessary visas, which the family received Nov. 14. The young man and his family are traveling to the United States as immigrants, a decision spurred by the illness.

Muchnik’s uncle said the family was held back at first because Alexander and Viktoria’s natural father would not sign waivers allowing them to leave the Soviet Union, but he consented when told of his son’s illness.

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