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SOVIET HOPES TO GET HIMSELF AND HIS PEOPLE BACK ON FEET

Georg Rtveliashvili feels his quadriplegic condition is symbolic of his native Soviet Republic of Georgia.

He says the citizens of this Soviet republic people cannot stand on their own beneath the oppression of the communist government. But with America's help, perhaps both he and Georgia will someday be independent."I have a strong feeling inside that I will someday stand on my feet," he said. "I think I will get the help I need in America."

Rtveliashvili, nicknamed "Giga," spoke through an interpreter during a press conference Monday at the Western Rehabilitation Institute in Sandy. Since arriving in the United States, June 6, the 23-year-old has been receiving a quality of care he wouldn't otherwise be likely to receive.

"It is our understanding that this young man could not receive rehab services in the Soviet Union," said Wes Walker, WRI chief executive officer. "WRI chose to underwrite the costs of Giga's treatment here and to assist in acquiring the necessary medical equipment he will need to take home."

Giga, a five-time middleweight wrestling champion in Georgia and a one-time USSR champion, injured his spinal cord in 1987 during a wrestling match. The accident left him with limited use of his limbs.

His family fed, clothed and bathed him for four years before Sandy resident Doris Platt, president of Amirani Corporation, met Giga while on a trip to connect American and Soviet businesses.

"I immediately fell in love with the Republic of Georgia, the people, and especially Giga's motivation," Platt said. "I promised him that I would get him to the United States and find someone that could help him."

Platt contacted WRI, where Giga will now be staying for six to eight weeks. Walker said WRI plans to send a team of doctors back with Giga to work with medical professionals in carrying out his treatment.

Meanwhile, Giga's mother, Manana, and his 18-year-old brother, Beso, are helping with his treatment and staying at an apartment provided by the Mid-Valley LDS 2nd Ward.

Feelings of devotion to their native land's struggle for independence run strong in the family. As Manana says that although she would do anything for her son, if given the choice, she would choose a free Georgia before choosing Giga's good health.

Giga says he would also make that choice, and sees his trip to the United States as a chance to tell Americans the truth about what the Soviet press reports about his native land. "What they say about Georgia - it is all a lie - I want you to know that," he said. "I want the American people to know the truth about this and would hope they help us to achieve our independence."

He brought an ornately carved silver dagger as a "symbol of strength and friendship" to deliver to President Bush, and hopes Salt Lake City might be interested in establishing a sister city relationship with a city in Georgia.

Giga believes both he and his countrymen will someday overcome their disabilities. "I have a very optimistic feeling that I will conquer this."