CZECH EXCHANGE STUDENT FIGHTING ODDS WITH INJURY.
Robert Kratky's dream to study in America came true when he was selected to come to California as part of a 10-1/2-month student exchange program.
But the Prague youth's stay with an Oak Park host family took a tragic turn on Memorial Day, when he broke his neck diving into the waves during a group outing on Oahu.
The accident left Kratky paralyzed from the chest down and his host mom, Judie Carroll, scrambling to arrange medical treatment.
``They told us in Hawaii if any kind of movement or feelings return in the first few days after the accident, there's a good chance,'' said Carroll, a single parent with two teen-age children of her own. ``If there is movement in two weeks, there's a chance. It has now been 2-1/2 or three weeks and we have not seen anything.''
Carroll helped arrange to have the youth flown Thursday from Honolulu's Queens Medical Center to Northridge Hospital Medical Center for treatment, but the teen's insurer will pay only $25,000 for his rehabilitation, which is expected to cost $1,000 a day.
Kratky's parents in the Czech Republic raised $20,000. But the money, combined with insurance coverage, is expected to pay for only about 45 days of care, said his mother, Hana Kratky.
``We couldn't get more,'' she said in a telephone interview from Prague. Initially, the insurer wanted to send the teen back to Prague for treatment, but the family pushed for treatment in California.
``In Prague, there is no spinal-cord rehab center,'' his mother said.
Kratky is insured through the Laguna Beach-based American Scandinavian Student Exchange program, which brought him to the United States. Program officials did not return phone calls Thursday.
It is too soon to know if Kratky will ever regain full use of his body.
Officials at the Northridge hospital said it will take doctors 72 hours to do a complete evaluation of the youth. The average length of stay for patients with similar injuries is 60 days, said Toshia Johnson, a hospital representative.
Kratky can move his shoulders and thumbs, and can talk. He could move his head if it were not for a halo frame bolted to his skull, Carroll said.
Kratky was excelling academically at Oak Park High School in Ventura County, winning honors for his straight A's and for being the best student in economics.
``He's a bright young man who, if given the opportunity and equipment, can probably contribute a great deal,'' Carroll said.
Hana Kratky, who returned to Prague on Monday after flying to Hawaii to be with her son, said she is grateful to Carroll for everything she has done.
``She loves Robert,'' his mother said. ``She was his mom No. 2. I think Robert was quite lucky to be in such a family.''
In a phone interview from the hospital, Kratky said he hopes others learn from his experience, especially parents with small children.
``Watch out for your kids when jumping in the lakes,'' he said.
To help raise additional money, a special rehabilitation fund has been established at a local bank. Donations can be made out to the Robert Kratky Fund, Attention Pat Acquah, c/o California Federal Bank, 6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park, CA 91304. Donations also will be accepted at any California Federal Bank branch office.