Project Highlight

"Erasing All Boundaries" – How One Bosnian Family Changed Five Lives

Banja Luka audience moved by IWPR film on parents’ decision to donate son’s organs without regard for ethnic divides.
  • Milan and Smilja Vidovic, who decided to donate organs of their deceased son to both Bosniaks and Serbs. (Still from New Life documentary by IWPR)
  • (r to l) Dr Darko Golic, Dr Halima Resic, Dr Mirko Stanetic, film co-author Duda Sokolovic, and event moderator Jelena Babic. (Photo: Maja Bjelajac)
  • Packed movie theatre at the Palace Cinema in Banja Luka at the screening of New Life, a film by IWPR. (Photo: Maja Bjelajac)
  • (l to r) Duda Sokolovic, co-author of the film New Life, Dr Mirko Stanetic and Dr Darko Golic. (Photo: Maja Bjelajac)

Members of a cinema audience in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka said they were deeply moved by a documentary about parents who decided their deceased son’s organs should be donated to anyone who needed them, regardless of ethnicity.

New Life, a 30-minute documentary produced by IWPR and Mebius Film in Sarajevo, features Milan and Smilja Vidovic, Bosnian Serb parents who faced up to the painful issue of consent to organ donation when their son died as a result of a road accident in 2007. (A shorter version of the documentary can be seen here or below.)

Bosnia: Life After Death - Film by IWPR and Mebius Film

Slobodan Vidovic, a keen sportsman whom everyone called Bobo, was hit by a car while out cycling. In the days that followed, doctors told his parents he was not going to survive.

Milan and Smilja decided their son’s organs should go to whoever needed them most, whatever their ethnic or religious background.

“The only thing I cared about was helping people and having part of my son saved through those people” Milan said in the film.

The sole condition the parents set was that they wanted to meet the people who received transplants and find out whether the operations had been successful. Bobo’s organs saved and improved lives of five people, both Bosniak and Serb.

They now meet up with the Vidovics on a regular basis, and as Milan says in the film, “We have all become like relatives.”

“I find this a very moving, very emotional story. I’m sure I’m going to be thinking about it a lot,” Sladjana Zrnic from Banja Luka said after the screening. “Amid all the bad things happening to us in Bosnia and Herzegovina, this is one of the noblest stories I have heard in recent times.”

New Life, part of the Ordinary People series funded by the Norwegian embassy in Sarajevo, was shown to a packed theatre at the Palace Cinema in Banja Luka on December 10. At a press conference beforehand, one of the authors of this film, Duda Sokolovic, explained why IWPR and Mebius Film decided to make it in the first place.

“In the Ordinary People series, we wanted to tell positive stories about people who don’t care about ethnic divisions and who in their own way are helping the reconciliation process in this country”, she said.

The Vidovics attended the screening, and Milan told the audience of the moment when his family made the decision to save the lives of others.

“When the doctor told me there was no chance that Bobo could be saved, I started thinking what we could do, and I came up with the idea of donating his organs to people in need. I shared the idea with my family and they agreed at once,” he said.

Also present at the screening was Dr Mirko Stanetic, who was director of the Banja Luka Clinical Centre at the time and recalled how his hospital worked closely with the Clinical Centre in Tuzla in what was an unprecedented move.

“None of the doctors or people involved mentioned politics, religion, nationality, or anything like that – everybody just wanted to do it in the most correct way possible,” Stanetic remembered.

Banja Luka is in Republika Srpska (RS), one of Bosnia’s two administrative entities, while Tuzla is in the other, the Federation. The two entities run separate healthcare systems.

After watching the film, Banja Luka resident Miodrag Dakic said he was moved by two different issues that it brought out.

“One is that people of different ethnicities in Bosnia and Herzegovina can live together in peace and harmony. Although it often seems to us that it’s impossible, this story shows us that it isn’t,” he said. “Furthermore, there’s this absurd situation with organ donation – there is no donor network in RS, yet we hear so much about the success of our healthcare system.”

Another member of the audience, Branislav Tesanovic, spoke of the courage and humanity of the Vidovic family.

“I was particularly moved by Bobo’s mother, who said her son’s organs live on in other people, and who called on other people to donate organs as well,” he said. “Smilja Vidovic is erasing all boundaries – these people were strangers to her, people of different religions and ethnic affiliations, but she didn’t care about that. We don’t see anything like that very often. In their great tragedy, Bobo’s parents found satisfaction in the fact that they had saved other people’s lives.“

Dr Darko Golic, the first doctor the Vidovics told of their decision, attended the Banja Luka event, and explained that transplants from deceased persons were still very rare in both Bosnian entities.

“I think the problem is that we don’t have an adequate organ transplant policy or programme either in the Federation or in RS,” he said. “There are no planned budgets for organ transplants, which are very expensive, so medical institutions have to cover all the costs themselves.”

Dr Halima Resic, who is head of Sarajevo Canton Donor Network and also of an association of doctors across Bosnia working on kidney disease, dialysis and transplants, said the donor network operated informally rather than as an integral part of the healthcare system.

“There’s no umbrella institution that deals with this, because there’s no political will to have something like that,” she said.

Maja Bjelajac is an IWPR reporter in Banja Luka.

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