I recently visited Sarajevo, as per wish of the Bosnian American Institute, to commemorate the anniversary of my injury. My reflections of the trip were bittersweet as I have not visited Sarajevo in the past twenty-four years during nor on January 8th.
This year, out of spite, out of gloom, and out the agony, I built up the courage to ask the question “why did this happen to me?” I met with very important people in Sarajevo who frowned at the thought of Voices of the Bosnian Genocide making a rose memorial in Sarajevo as a commemoration in my name based on the premise that I was not dead and that that reason should suffice. Regardless of the drawbacks, I was able to collaborate with the mayor of the Municipality Centar Sarajevo, Dr. Nedzad Ajnadzic. Together, we decided instead to build a memorial center for every injured child, who withstood an injury during the Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1995.
The agreement seemed surreal. The city that I call home (Sarajevo), the city I currently live in (Seattle), all of my close and extended family, stood united for my provision. It was in that moment, that I realized how impactful my tenacity was going to be, not only for myself, but for all children injured in the war.
As I stood on the place on January 8th 2017, where twenty-four years ago, at exactly 04:35PM a grenade hit a building at the location of Bolnicka street 6, and one shrapnel embedded itself so deep into my skull and brain, that I almost immediately lost consciousness. However, I vividly remember my father, Hasim Sejfic, screaming over my limp body trying to revive me.
I wanted to assure the thirty-five-year-old man that I will be alright and that he should not scream this utterly horrifying sound we commonly heard in our new millennium. This was 1993 for me.
Once I got to the hospital, the medical personnel aimed my ambulance bed toward the morgue. I withstood a great injury and my chances of living were zero percent. I remember my father pleading with the doctors, telling them I was only ten years old, begging to save his daughter. Only ten years old, but what a lucky double digit number that turned out to be.
Dr. Muhamed Čustović, a well-known neuro-surgeon, performed a very complicated surgery on my brain. After he was done, all that could have been done was to leave me in Gods’ hands. I can only say that I was more than blessed to have lived. The near death experience did not stop me from breathing on my own. After twenty days of being in a coma and countless tears being shed over my immobile body by family members and friends, I woke up.
After I woke up, we found that my whole left side was paralyzed and I had a speech impediment. Regardless, to my family and friends, it was a miracle. They began to call me a phenomenon. At the time, I was too young to understand why they were calling me this, but it sounded fantastic, so I went with it.
Due to the rigor of my rehabilitation process and additional surgeries I needed to go through, I was selected by a German organization to be evacuated out of Sarajevo with my mother and my younger sister. Among all the madness, I found happiness in that I was able to save my family from the war. I am thankful it was I that was injured and not them.
My father stayed behind in Bosnia, but once the war ended, he joined us in Germany. Since then, we have moved to the States, looking toward a better future. A future that entailed an incredible education, a distinguished career, and a loving family.
My left arm never fully recovered, but it is a constant reminder that an enemy of life tried to welt and extinguish a rose that was ready to blossom. It is too bad for them that I am that rose and I am blooming!
As I stood on Bolnicka Ul. Street on the side walk, on January 8th, 2017, at the exact same spot where the enemy tried to add me to the number of all those who lost their lives during the Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1995, I realized, that in spite of their attempt, not only have I survived, but I have prospered. In spite of all the barriers, I do not and will not ever hide under a different name. Nor will I ever pretend to forget that by them trying to kill me, they attacked my identity, nationality, and the honor my forefathers have left to me as a tribute. Thankfully, God has blessed me with a second chance and in my lifetime, I am prepared to sustain anything that comes my way.
I am very beholden by everyone who has supported me on my journey. Municipality Centar Sarajevo, Mr. Serif Becic, Mr. Munir Radaca, Mr. Mirsad Ahmis, my whole family who endured me through the whole process and came to see me prosper in life. A great appreciation for Dr. Nedžad Ajnadzic who was the main supporter of the idea to compose a memorial center for every injured child no matter what nationality or ethnic back ground they come from, in Sarajevo.
Per the wish of the mayor and everyone in Sarajevo, including myself, we are hopeful that the world will not be blinded, muted, or deafened to understand that a child’s life should not be politicized nor taken for granted because the world’s future lies in the arms of those very children.
I am very honored to have come from Sarajevo, because not only is it a beautiful metropolis, but it is diverse and is home to all kinds of individuals, no matter how big or small, enabled or disabled. It has proven this numerous times, just like it did on March 15th, when the Municipality Centar Sarajevo organized a talent show including children with special needs. A local artist and councilman Sulejman Memo Haljevac lead this heart-warming project. The children now have a venue to show off their artistic talents. Over two thousand people attended to see a new rising star, Sarah Panjeta, perform a song that translates to: “While Sarajevo is being, everything else is passing.”
To the city, I call home, and all of its population, Without you and the collaboration with the Voices of the Bosnian Genocide todays Bosnian American Institute, all of this would not have been possible.
Attached you can see a couple of photos where I am surrounded by the most caring and loving family and friends. In my daughter’s name and on behalf of mine, we are more than grateful. As long as we are connected to organizations and are building institutions and strong communities, we will soar the skies undefeated.
The Bosnian American Institute is to be thanked and honored, because with all of their might and capacity, they blow wind under my wounded wing so that I can soar higher than has ever been predicted for me.