'Very sick' Irma struggling for life: Great Ormond Street doctors fight to save five-year-old after Major's intervention frees her from Sarajevo

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The Independent Online
FIVE-YEAR-OLD Irma Hadzimuratovic was in intensive care at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, in London last night after John Major decided to fly her out of Sarajevo, where she was critically ill after being wounded by a Serbian mortar bomb.

The girl arrived in Britain in a government Lear jet air ambulance, to which she was transferred after being flown out of Sarajevo in an RAF Hercules. The RAF braved atrocious weather to fly her on the first leg of the rapidly organised journey, after warnings from her doctor that she might die on the way.

Doctors who treated her on the aircraft said she was unconscious on arrival for the transfer in Italy. One of the first tests she will undergo at Great Ormond Street is a CT scan for brain damage - equipment for which is unavailable in Sarajevo - to establish where in her skull is buried the shrapnel from the attack on 30 July which killed her mother. Other shrapnel is thought to be in her spine.

After arriving in Britain Irma was taken by ambulance to the hospital under police escort. Her father, Ramis, 36, and sister Medina, 3, followed in a second ambulance. They will stay at the hospital.

The child was wheeled into the hospital on a stretcher and attached to a drip and monitoring equipment. After an initial examination Dr Kathleen Wilkinson, consultant paediatric intensivist, said Irma was in a 'stable but very sick condition'.

Dr Wilkinson said since the child had arrived she had been ventilated with a tube. 'The most serious problems are infection, possibly meningitis. She may also have recurrent abdominal problems.'

No further information on her condition was being released last night.

Dr Wilkinson added that Irma may also require an abdominal operation depending on the result of X-rays.

Ian Hopkins, a paramedic who accompanied her from Heathrow, said: 'She's got a chance. Doctors were very impressed with the surgery she had while she was abroad.'

Government sources said the Prime Minister interrupted his holiday yesterday morning to ask the Foreign Office to organise the flights in response to the media coverage of Irma, who has become a symbol of Sarajevo's agony. 'It was very much John Major who personally wanted the red tape cut through,' a source said. 'He had seen the reports in the newspapers and heard the reports on the radio this morning.'

While remaining at his country home in Great Stukeley, Cambridgeshire, Mr Major contacted his private secretary. Downing Street officials raised the matter with the Foreign Office, which contacted representatives of UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Bosnia.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, who is also on holiday, then announced the RAF would make available a plane used for UN relief operations; he gave six television and radio interviews, to be faced with accusations of a deliberate government publicity exercise following the West's earlier failure to help tens of thousands of besieged Bosnians.

Mr Hurd was careful to point out that it had been the Prime Minister's idea. He said it had been necessary to cut through some formalities because of the case's urgency, 'but the Prime Minister was very keen we should do that'.

Mr Hurd went on: 'Everybody's attention has been drawn to this particular tragedy. It's a particularly poignant one. Of course, that doesn't mean that by flying out this little girl we have saved other people or saved Sarajevo. But because you can't help everybody doesn't mean you shouldn't help somebody.'

Speaking as Nato met in Brussels for the second Monday running to consider air strikes against Serbian targets in Bosnia, Mr Hurd did use the case to stress the importance of continued humanitarian action as an argument against military intervention. The RAF was 'flying out a very sick little girl - you have to consider that humanitarian effort when you are considering the usefulness of air strikes'.

(Photograph omitted)

Leading article, letters, page 15

Sarajevo could be saved, page 17

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