Anna Leibenko and her three friends planned their European summer vacation months in advance. Two of the women had travel insurance. Leibenko did not.
The month-long trip started off well. The former Toronto Argonaut Cheerleader celebrated her 24th birthday in Florence at the end of July, toured around Greece, and then hit up Yacht Week in Croatia. Yacht Week is billed as an adventure in which people from all over the world rent yachts, and the regatta takes a week to explore the caves, lagoons and islands of the Adriatic Sea. The Yacht Week website promises a memorable time — partying, night swimming, socializing.
As the sun was beginning to rise on the Adriatic Sea last Friday, Leibenko slipped on a catamaran, turning her summer vacation into a costly tragedy.
It was 6 a.m. and she was with a group of new friends. Everyone started jumping off the boat — a 3-metre drop into the water. Before she had a chance to jump, she slipped and fell, hitting her head on the stairs and landing in the water, her friend Karina Vottchal said from Croatia.
“They were screaming out for help because she was unconscious, and they started to pass on the word they needed a doctor,” says Vottchal, who was asleep three boats away. “There was a doctor from Brazil, ten boats down — she ran out in her pyjamas and saved Anna’s life.”
Leibenko was transported to hospital by a helicopter. She stopped breathing in the hospital and was put on life support, Vottchal said.
Now, Leibenko is in a coma in Split, Croatia, with mounting bills. According to a translated hospital record, she fractured various facial bones and has contusions on her brain and lungs, as well as “shortage of breath.” Her mother flew over to be by her side. Every day, her friends and mom wait until 2 p.m., when they are allowed to visit her for one hour in the ICU.
The foreign affairs department would not release personal details, but in an emailed statement said, “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of a Canadian Citizen who was injured in Croatia. Canadian consular officials in Croatia and in Canada are providing consular assistance to the family as required.”
As soon as her condition is stable, Leibenko will need to be flown to Toronto by air ambulance. Because she had no travel insurance, Leibenko’s friends have started a campaign to raise the tens of thousands of dollars that will be needed for her Croatian medical bills and the medical evacuation.
On Tuesday afternoon, her brother Artem Leibenko, 26, had already raised $23,000 by sharing a website with a Paypal link on Facebook.
“Everybody loves being around her; she’s a fighter, who always tries to help people,” he said. “At the end of day, we just gotta start helping my sister. The longer she stays, the bigger the hospital bill.”
The Leibenko family came to Canada from Russia when Anna was 9. She studied corporate and media production at Seneca College. In 2010, she was a Cheerleader for the Toronto Argonauts.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family. We’re doing everything we can to promote that Anna’s family needs a helping hand,” said a Toronto Argonauts spokesman.
Lisa Wermelin, a product manager with Yacht Week, said the incident happened on an “external boat” but was not able to clarify further details before press time because she was busy helping the family.
“Our priority is to be with Anna and her friends and family,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to help her. It’s tricky when you’re in Croatia, with the language barrier.”
Frank Fotia, the chief operating officer with CAA’s national office, says no Canadian should ever leave the country without travel insurance because of the grave potential consequences. For a few hundred dollars, Fotia says, travelers can be covered for everything, including air ambulance.
“My experience has been young people who perceive themselves to be invincible just don’t think about it,” he said. “I have an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old myself, and insurance is not on their mind. They’re thinking about a trip,” he said.
Vlada Namestnikova, a friend of Leibenko, just got back from a similar vacation in Europe.
“We all decline insurance, thinking that nothing is going to happen to us,” she said.
An account is being set up at TD Bank in trust for Anna Leibenko. For updates on account information, or to donate online through Paypal, visit: help-anna-leibenko.org.
All profits from a fundraiser starting at 9 p.m. Thursday at the TIME nightclub, 81 Peter St., will go to the Anna Leibenko fund. A $20 donation is requested at the door.