Russian family struggles


    By Stacy Hinojosa

    Despite publicity, hope is dimming for a Russian mother and her dying son.

    For Larisa Brusnitsyn and her son, Dmitri, each day in Moscow is a struggle to survive.

    Brusnitsyn, who suffers from a congenital hip disorder, must tend to her son who is battling brain cancer.

    Alyona Slowinski, a resident of Orem, became aware of Brusnitsyn”s situation in November.

    She viewed a satellite broadcast of a Russian television program focusing on Brusnitsyn and her efforts to care for her son.

    Slowinski, a BYU graduate, decided to do something.

    Determined to bring them to Utah for treatment, Slowinski has already raised several thousand dollars. However, it is simply not enough.

    Slowinski said it is imperative that they receive treatment in the United States.

    A hospital in Russia gave Dmitri a 30 percent chance of survival. In Utah, hospitals have raised that estimation to as high as 60 percent.

    “They have no options,” Slowinski said. “They”re really hoping that something will come through because the doctors there told them that they need to try to get outside the country to get treatment.”

    Several Utah doctors have agreed to assist Brusnitsyn by offering to perform her surgeries free of charge, including Dr. Harold Dunn of the University of Utah Hospital.

    However, hospitals are unwilling to cooperate.

    “At this point, I don”t know how else to get through the walls of the hospitals because they do not want to help at all,” Slowinski said.

    When contacted, the University of Utah Hospital explained they lack the resources needed to provide surgery without payment.

    “Sadly, there are people all over the world who need various surgeries, and unfortunately the hospital can”t accommodate those people because it just doesn”t have the resources to do that kind of charity care,” said a public relations spokesperson for the University of Utah Hospital.

    Desperate for support, Slowinski sought media attention, prompting articles in several local newspapers.

    “I tried turning to media because, I thought, if they would only do something, do a story or something on this family maybe people will help,” she said.

    Brusnitsyn, who was born with her hip condition, underwent several surgeries as a young girl. Her family moved to Uzbekistan, where she began to improve, until another surgery failed and left her unable to walk.

    Determined, Brusnitsyn began rehabilitation and learned to walk again. She went on to earn a bachelor”s degree in economics.

    Brusnitsyn married in 1987, however, she and her husband were unable to conceive a child.

    After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Brusnitsyn and her husband were forced to return to Russia. Over the years, Brusnitsyn”s hip condition worsened, as did her marriage. Her husband”s dependence on alcohol and violent tendencies lead to divorce.

    Shortly after the divorce was finalized, Brusnitsyn learned that she was pregnant with the child she and her husband had tried for 10 years to conceive.

    Brusnitsyn gave birth to Dmitri in October 2000. Shortly after his first birthday, Dmitri became seriously ill.

    His constant vomiting worsened to the point of paralysis before Russian doctors were able to diagnose that he had a malignant brain tumor.

    Five surgeries later, Dmitri is still in desperate need of medical attention, and his mother”s ability to care for his needs weakens every day.

    Despite her continual efforts to gain sponsorship for the Russian family, Slowinski is discouraged by the lack of support.

    “After the Olympics, we opened up to other countries to other states, so I didn”t think that I would get one door after another slammed in my face,” she said. “Everywhere we”ve just been getting no as an answer -foundations, organizations, hospitals, hospitals out-of-state. I”ve tried everything.”

    Slowinski has even written to Oprah Winfrey, but received no response.

    One local organization did respond to Slowinski”s plea for help.

    That organization was the Utah Russia Institute.

    Amy Barnet is the deputy director of the Utah Russia Institute, located on the Utah Valley State College campus.

    “It is a medium for promoting relations and awareness between Utah and Russia,” Barnet said of the institute.

    “We became aware of the situation in December,” Barnet said. “We”re trying to bring awareness to the situation.”

    The institute has received some response.

    “It hasn”t been as much as we had hoped,” she said.

    Barnet praised Slowinski for her efforts.

    “Alyona is amazing,” Barnet said, “She”s been a support in a way Larisa never imagined.”

    Brusnitsyn and her son are living in Slowinski”s vacant apartment in Moscow.

    “Larisa”s pension, due to her disability, is $20 a month,” Slowinski said. “Moscow is very expensive.”

    Slowinski said Brusnitsyn wrote a letter to the Russian government, asking for assistance and received a letter that told her not to bother the president with her problems.

    “Although she”s an educated woman, the government doesn”t want to help them,” Slowinski said. “She”s on her own, pretty much.”

    Slowinski has never met Brusnitsyn in person, but she maintains contact with her, speaking on the telephone for 20 to 30 minutes daily.

    “I talk to her everyday, and it seems like I know her just as well as I know my family,” Slowinski said.

    Though progress has been slow, Slowinski is happy about one development.

    On April 12, Brusnitsyn joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    “She just embraced the whole idea of religion and gospel,” Slowinski said. “She”s a very spiritual woman, an amazing woman and I have learned a lot from her. This has been a very spiritual experience.”

    Despite her spirituality and courage, Brusnitsyn remains fearful that Dmitri will not receive adequate medical attention.

    “Time is not on our side,” Slowinski said. “If cancer comes back, he needs radiation immediately. There is no time to wait because they will be fighting for every day of his life.”

    Slowinski is also quick to note the seriousness of Brusnitsyn”s condition.

    “She might end up being paralyzed for the rest of her life if she doesn”t get surgical help as soon as possible,” Slowinski said.

    Despite physical suffering, Brusnitsyn continues to work and care for her son in Moscow, hoping for an answer to her prayers.

    “She has no time to think about herself and her pains because she is so concerned about her son,” Slowinski said.

    Slowinski continues to pray that people will learn about Larisa”s situation and want to help.

    She has set up a donation fund at Zion”s Bank, hoping that members of the community will answer Brusnitsyn”s prayers.

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