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Barrington Hills doctor adapts to volcano holdup

John Prunskis of Barrington Hills knows the frustration being felt these days by tens of thousands of business and vacation travelers around the world.

Like them, he saw his foreign travel plans immediately and unexpectedly dashed by the explosion of a volcano in Iceland. He was set to fly to Germany and then to Lithuania to participate in his first hearing of the World Lithuanian Community Commission.

But ash from the erupting volcano canceled his flight, so instead, at 1 a.m. each day this week, Prunskis is logging onto his computer for live coverage and dialing up Skype to attend virtually.

"I set up two computers, side by side, so we could see each other and ask questions," said Prunskis.

Prunskis is among thousands of passengers stranded since April 15 when their Europe-bound flights were canceled after the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted, sending an unprecedented amount of ash several miles into the air.

The ominous clouds brought the ailing airline industry to a standstill over Europe, as thousands of flights were canceled and millions of dollars were lost. Industry authorities were worried about dangerous conditions from the ash clogging plane engines.

On Monday, 38 inbound and outbound European flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport, due to the ash. More than 150 flights from O'Hare to Europe have been canceled since April 15, said Karen Pride, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation.

"But some airlines at O'Hare International Airport anticipate they may initiate departures to European destinations later (Monday)," Pride said.

Prunskis, a physician, founder and co-medical director of Elgin-based Illinois Pain Institute, is of Lithuanian descent. While he was born in Chicago, his parents fled Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1944 when it was Communist controlled. His parents were doctors who first arrived in Boston and later settled in Chicago.

Last fall, Prunskis was elected a member of the Lithuanian parliamentary commission, a government group that focuses on major issues, including health care, energy and the economy, and aims to bring in people of Lithuanian heritage to help replenish talent that had been lost there during Communist rule.

Prunskis' term is three years and he's required to fly to Lithuania once every six months to participate in the hearings.

The meetings take place all week at 1 a.m. Chicago time and end around 10 a.m., so Prunskis shifted his daytime schedule so he could log on. This round of hearings continues through Friday.

His next hearing will be in October.

Despite the cancellation, he didn't lose anything on his tickets. He'd paid for them with frequent flier miles and the airlines reimbursed the mileage and added a small amount of cash to cover taxes he would have to pay.

Still, he said he's missing the interaction with other commission members and an evening reception hosted by the U.S. ambassador at the U.S. Embassy.

"There is absolutely no question it would have been better for me to be there in person," Prunskis said.

John Prunskis, a Barrington Hills doctor, was supposed to participate in Lithuania's Parliament Commision Hearings this week, but the volcano ash canceled his flight there. Courtesy of the Prunskis family