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Marvels of culture _ and medicine

Since arriving Thursday night from Kosovo, 8-year-old Edina Sejfic and 3-year-old Dreni Bajraktari have experienced American culture _ and South Tampa living.

They went to International Plaza and crawled all over the plastic turtles in the center court. They wore Gasparilla beads and went to Publix on Neptune Drive, where they were fascinated with the lobster tank. Their mothers were fascinated with the selection of cheese.

On Monday, it was down to business. Edina and Dreni made their first trip to Tampa Children's Hospital at St. Joseph's. A day full of echocardiograms and EKGs and news: what kind of surgery they would need.

So far, the children's only diagnoses occurred in war-torn Kosovo, where medical equipment is limited. But they were among four children chosen for treatment here by Samaritan's Purse, a North Carolina-based relief organization headed by Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham. Since 1997, the organization has helped more than 185 children from Bosnia, Kosovo and Mongolia.

Edina and Dreni are staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Tampa and seeing doctors at Tampa Children's. Leona Halilaj, 10 months old, and Irfan Revjai, 2, are staying in St. Petersburg and are being helped by All Children's Hospital.

On Monday, Leona and Irfan also visited their doctors for preliminary tests. Wednesday is their echo and EKG tests.

"I am thankful for everything, everything," said Edina's mother, Zyrafete Sejfic, who has four other children in Kosovo. Her husband is a police officer.

The help was not something the mothers requested.

All they did was take their children to clinics in Kosovo, some two hours away. Edina was crying constantly, said her mother. "She was losing weight and going down and down."

Last November, Edina's mother got the news her child would get life-saving treatment in Tampa.

"Everything was going to be all right," she told Edina. "Don't worry." And the youngster didn't.

During the two-day journey, with stopovers in Amsterdam and Detroit, she hardly slept, "only looking and looking," said Nora Kaja, the interpreter who traveled with the families from Kosovo.

It has been an adventure for her. She went to Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church and met Addison Hill, 5, who had heart surgery when she was a baby. She told Edina about "the jelly on the belly." She also said: "They'll be fine because I'm fine."

"Edina, Dreni," the nurse at Tampa Children's said Monday, opening the door of the waiting room.

Edina climbed quickly onto the blue examination table in a room down the hall. Clips were placed on her index finger. Blue tabs on her chest for the EKG. Wires trailed under her pink, Old Navy shirt. The 8-year-old didn't cry.

But Dreni did, especially when the nine sticky tabs were pulled from his chest.

"Nun," he called out to his mother, meaning "mom" in Albanian.

Dreni was quiet during the echo. The images of red and blue _ showing blood flow in and out of the heart _ lighted the darkened room.

Afterward, Dr. James Huhta had good news for Dreni and his mother. He would not need surgery. More than a year had passed since he was seen by doctors and The hole in his heart was closed.

Dreni's mother cried. "Thank God, Thank God," she said.

Then, Dr. Huhta then moved to the next room, to Edina.

Her case was worse than they thought. There were three big holes in her heart, he told her mother. He held his hand up and pointed to the valley between his fingers. "And the holes are in hard-to-reach places," he said. Surgery would last up to three hours. "It's going to be a challenge."

Edina's mother, looking worried, nodded her head and held her daughter's hand tight as they left the hospital.

Today, the Kosovo kids, who are scheduled to leave April 10, are back on the fun track. Stops at Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Aquarium are scheduled.

Edina plans to enjoy every moment. Her operation is March 18.

Shqiponja Bajraktari holds her son, Dreni, 3, after he is prepared for an electrocardiogram Monday at Tampa Children's Hospital. The test turned up good news.

Zyrafete Sejfic watches her daughter, Edina Sejfic, 8, play with a new toy given to her by Cindy Bonsall, the media coordinator for the Children's Heart Project for Samaritan's Purse. The Kosovo girl's heart has three holes that will be repaired with surgery.

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