Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
- Hebrews 13:2
The name Ewa Dobrowolska may not be familiar to everyone, but to those who have traveled to Columbia Countys sister city, Nowy Sacz, Poland, or played host to their visitors in return, the peppy, Polish surgeon was an angel.
Ewa (Eh-vah) made two trips to Georgia, but she wont be coming again. Ewa died of cancer two weeks ago. Our angel now has her wings.
Mother Teresa had nothing on her, said Dr. Randy Smith, Ewas mentor in plastic and reconstructive surgery. She gave, gave, gave.
She was already a pediatric surgeon when the Iron Curtain fell in 1989. But even in emerging democracies like Poland, life continued to be difficult for young professionals - especially for a woman whose superiors still clung to male-dominated, Communist ideas. Especially if she didnt speak English.
So in 1994, at the age of 40, she laid aside her impressive credentials and spent eight months as a maid in New York. How else, she wondered, could she learn English well enough to live in a post-Communist world except spend time in an English-speaking country?
Though Ewa returned to Nowy Sacz and resumed her practice following her stay in the United States, her eyes were already on further medical education when a sister-city agreement between her city and Columbia County made it possible for her to make a return visit. This time she would not come as a maid.
But Ewas interest in joining the 1996 Polish delegation to Georgia might not have happened at all if Smith hadnt first made a medical mission trip to Nowy Sacz for a week of reconstructive surgery at the hospital where Ewa worked. And Smiths trip might not have happened if some of Columbia Countys friends in the Nowy Sacz government hadnt intervened when the same hospital personnel who were hampering Evas career tried to stop Smith from taking up hospital time doing needless surgery.
However, after the mayor of Nowy Sacz conferred with the Polish minister of health, the hospital administrators were ordered to allow Smith to come.
Grudgingly they agreed - and assigned Ewa to assist him.
At the beginning of the week Ewa knew nothing about plastic surgery. But knowing there was no plastic surgeon within 200 miles of Nowy Sacz, and no one skilled in breast reconstruction in all of Poland, by the end of the week both doctors knew this would be her new field. Smith invited her to join the next delegation to Georgia, and spend the week working with him at University Hospital.
When she returned to Poland she returned to medical school to study plastic surgery, eventually earning the highest medical degree available in Poland today. Ironically, she was now one of only four doctors in her city to have such a degree, astounding at least two of her bosses who were no longer her medical superiors.
Ewa also continued to train with Smith during his subsequent mission trips back to Poland - nine in all - and to work tirelessly to establish breast reconstruction clinics across Poland. Now as much a political activist as surgeon, she went all the way to the first lady of Poland for help in opening and maintaining the clinics.
When Ewa developed cancer two years, Dr. Smith made arrangements for her to come to Georgia for treatment. She arrived in May 2000 and stayed two months. Because her tumor was inoperable, she underwent seven weeks of radiation - a half-hour each morning, after which she donned scrubs and assisted Dr. Smith in surgery.
I met Ewa that June, the day presidential candidate George W. Bush came to Augusta to campaign. Earlier that year, Ewas sister had been the guide when Bushs parents visited Poland.
She had her picture taken with them, Ewa whispered just before the speech began. Do you suppose I could have my picture taken with their son?
In one of the proudest moments of my life, I snapped a picture of the bubbly doctor who at that moment looked the picture of health, and the affable candidate who enjoyed the reminiscence of his parents. Some time later, an enlargement of that surprisingly good photo acquired the autograph of then President-elect Bush, and was sent to a grateful doctor in Poland.
But Ewas tumor didnt shrink and, as her host and friend Ginny Husen tearfully recalls, We said a tearful good-bye, and sent her home to die.
It was her indomitable spirit that kept her alive another 18 months, Smith said. She set new goals, and willed herself to still be here for her sons wedding, my next visit, and last September, the 10th anniversary celebration of the sister-city compact.
Columbia County Commission Chairman Barry Fleming also speaks fondly of the brave and caring Polish doctor who accepted the instruction of a foreign doctor, overcame the wasteful and inefficient Communist system that had just collapsed in Poland, and used her medical skills to touch and heal thousands of people in her country.
The large, American flag-designed bouquet leading the procession at the popular doctors funeral bore the following inscription: In loving memory of Ewa, devoted friend and physician, from her family in Columbia County.
A grateful Nowy Sacz community, both to their beloved doctor and to their family in Columbia County who had shared time and knowledge with her, picked up the tab for the costly bouquet.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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