Kosovo refugee sends medical supplies to Kosovar hospitals

Andi Canhasi (right) stands with his father, Dr. Behxhet Canhasi, on White Coat Day at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences during Andi’s first year of Osteopathy Medical School. (Photo courtesy of Andi Canhasi)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

INDEPENDENCE — Imagine being 10 years old and having to flee your native land of Kosovo because of the Yugoslav/Albanian conflict which had been going on for years. The fear and uncertainty would be overwhelming. But Andi Canhasi, now 29, never let it undermine his dream and his goals.

He has wanted to be a doctor since he was about 4 years old. He is currently working on a double degree in medicine and business at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and Rockhurst University. And for the past year he has volunteered at the Franciscan Mission Warehouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist in Independence. He is working to fill a container with medical and hospital supplies to ship to Kosovo.

He was born and lived for 10 years in Prystina, the capital of Kosovo, where his father, Dr. Behxhet Canhasi, an Albanian, was head of the nuclear medicine department at the University. Andi recalled sneaking down to the basement of their home where the first cancer screening equipment in Kosovo was kept cool to sleep on hot nights. “I got yelled at a lot for doing that, but that didn’t stop me,” he said with a laugh.

Andi and his siblings knew there was ethnic conflict between the Serbians who ran the Yugoslav government and the Albanians who lived and worked in Kosovo, but they felt safe and secure. Until 1999.

Dr. Canhasi spoke Albanian. When the Serbs outlawed the language in public places, like universities, Dr. Canhasi refused to teach in Serbian, and continued teaching his students in Albanian. He was fired from the university, and subsequently arrested. While he was soon released, he and his wife agreed it would be best for their family if he left Kosovo. Some friends lived in California so Dr. Canhasi decided to stay with them for a while.

During Dr. Canhasi’s 6-month stay in California, the Serbian government conducted an “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovar Albanians, killing half the population and causing a mass exodus. Andi, his mother and siblings both walked and rode toward the border of Montenegro. At one checkpoint, his mother was ordered out of the car. Andi jumped out after her, and soldiers trained guns on him. He finally convinced them that he simply wanted to stay with his mother.

Meanwhile, Dr. Canhasi learned that he could apply for refugee status and, if approved, could be reunited with his family in the U.S. He had moved to the Tampa, Fla., area, where a cousin was living, and had received some assistance from Catholic Charities. He received refugee status as the situation in Kosovo deteriorated. His wife and minor children were able to join him in Florida after just a few months; his older daughter came to the States on her own later.

Andi decided right away that America was a paradise and he was going to succeed in this country. He learned to speak and think in English, and made many friends in grade school and then high school. Still determined to be a doctor, he attended St. Petersburg College in Clearwater, Fla., earning a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology. He spent the next years backpacking through Europe, working in sales and earning a master’s degree in medical science. He has accumulated 14 years of work experience since he was a teenager, 10 of them in sales.

“I have to understand how something works before I can commit to doing that something,” he said. “It’s almost an obsession, learning how things and people work.”

Last year, Andi decided it was time to begin realizing his dream of being a doctor. He applied to 20 different medical schools; Kansas City University of Medicine and Bioscience was the last school he applied to. “I had to write essays for each school on why I wanted to attend and why I wanted to be a doctor. By the time I started writing the essay for KCUMB, I was pretty good at essays,” he said grinning. “I then found out about their MBA partnership with Rockhurst University and that made it perfect. I started the dual degree program last year. I finish my finals in July and start my second year in the program the first week of August.”

KCUMB has a service program for new students titled “We Care Days.” Andi was assigned to go to the Franciscan Mission Warehouse in Independence. There he met the director, Paul Wilson, who introduced him to the mission warehouse ministry’s founder, Sister Andrea Kanter.

Franciscan Sister Andrea Kanter served as a missionary for many years in Brazil. She became ill and had to return to the States 24 years ago. She said when she recovered she started receiving numerous requests from Brazilians asking for Pepto Bismol, which helped treat and cure stomach ulcers.

She expected to collect a couple of boxes of Pepto Bismol, maybe more. She recalled being amazed that enough Pepto was donated to fill a 20-foot container. In the next five years, the Sisters received enough medical supplies, furniture and equipment to fill 24 20-foot containers and ship them to people in need around the world.

Today, the mission works with area hospitals and coordinates picking up supplies, furnishings and equipment, and educational supplies and equipment that was headed for the dumpster and storing them at the warehouse. When they have enough supplies, equipment and bedding if needed, they fill 20-foot containers and ship them to Native American reservations, Catholic immigrant agencies, Haiti, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Tanzania, Cameroon, Liberia, Ghana, Uganda, Russia, Ukraine, Siberia and Mali.

Through the mission warehouse donations shipped where needed, the Sisters help facilitate the starting of new clinics and hospitals and schools. The warehouse has two full-time and two part-time staff. Wilson said that volunteers are the mainstay of the warehouse’s mission. “They make it happen,” he said.

Andi is working with Wilson to understand the logistics, shipping costs, permits and overland transportation costs of shipping containers to Kosovo. Kosovo is landlocked, so a ship would unload a container at the closest port and the supplies, equipment and furnishings would have to be transported overland to their destination. Andi has contacts at the nine Kosovar hospitals, introductions facilitated by his father.

He explained, “While expanding my network of the healthcare scene in Kosovo I was able to acquire and compile the medical supply needs for the nine major hospitals that serve about 75 percent of the population. The healthcare needs in Kosovo are extensive and currently this project does not have the resources to meet those needs. I realize that true change takes time, and I am hoping to grow this project throughout my education at KCUMB and Rockhurst University.” His current enrollment in the DO/MBA dual degree program is “helping me tremendously to link the anticipated healthcare needs of a unique population with business analytics that are required to organize” it. He added that he is currently very far away from his goal but he doesn’t let that “deter him from moving forward.”

Andi is busy, a dedicated young man working toward his dream of being a doctor and his goal of serving those in need.

To learn more about the Franciscan Mission Warehouse, visit www.franciscanmissionwarehouse.org.


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October 28, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph