British hospitals open doors to Bosnian refugees

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The Independent Online
THE 21 Bosnian refugees airlifted to Britain as part of 'Operation Irma' were selected because of the horrific nature of their injuries. The plight of the seven children, whose ages range from nine months to 11 years, have caused most concern.

Ziba Salaka, 34, whose three-year-old daughter Belma has meningitis, described how she had risked sniper fire to get her child to Kosevo hospital two weeks ago. 'My priority was to ave my daughter's life,' said Mrs Salaka. 'By the time I set off she was already in a coma. I took her across the airfield in my arms.'

British doctors believe Belma, who is being treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, would have died within days if she had not been evacuated from Sarajevo.

Wing Commander Andy Mitchell of the RAF likened Belma's condition to that of Irma Hadzimuratovic, the five-year-old girl who was flown to London for treatment last week.

Dr Patrick Peillod, a member of the UN evacuation committee in the Bosnian capital, said the medical airlift had turned into a public relations show, parading sick and wounded children like 'animals in a zoo'. He said Wing Cdr Mitchell, a paediatrician, had added four extra people to the original evacuation list. 'There are two others who could have waited weeks or months but as (Mitchell) put it he could not evacuate so few children in order to please public opinion,' Dr Peillod told reporters.

Edhem Dedovic, 11, whose left eye was gouged out by shrapnel, is being cared for at University College Hospital London. Shortly before making the journey to Britain he said: 'I hardly slept at all last night.' He spent much of the flight to Italy playing in the co-pilot's chair. His mother Alija, 34, and sister Alisa, 14, have come with him to Britain. His father, Mirsad, is staying behind because he is a soldier in the Bosnian army.

Alen Aganovic, aged 11, suffered a stomach wound and multiple fractures. He was taken to Birmingham Children's Hospital along with nine- year-old Admir Bazdarevic, who has a broken arm and has had one finger amputated.

Wing Cdr Mitchell, the who revealed two days ago that only two children were on the evacuation list, explained how the numbers were boosted to seven.

'I think it was because of the appreciation that we could help these children and we were willing to help these children that they (UN officials in Sarajevo) decided to push through the administrative details for them fairly rapidly,' he said.

Dr Keith Little, the Scottish doctor supervising medical checks at Ancona, where patients were transferred to a chartered plane equipped as an air ambulance, said the evacuees had a variety of injuries. 'Most of them . . . involve amputation, broken bones, infected bones which have compound fractures, shrapnel injuries, and in particular injuries to the eye - there are several severe eye injuries. There is one severe spinal injury.'

The Bosnian patients have been sent to 11 British hospitals for specialist treatment. St James's Hospital, Leeds - made famous by Jimmy's, the television series - which specialises in orthopaedics and reconstructive plastic surgery. Moorfields Eye Hospital, central London, will also receive evacuees.

Other hospitals include: Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire; Queen Mary's University Hospital, Roehampton, London, which has a specialist burns unit and is home to an internationally renowned limb fitting centre; Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford; Guy's Hospital, central London; Midlands Centre for Neurosurgery and Neurology, Smethwick, West Midlands; Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield; Middlesex Hospital and University College Hospital, London; Birmingham Children's Hospital and Kings College Trust and Guy's Hospital, both in London.

A further 18 sick and wounded adults and children from Sarajevo arrived in Sweden yesterday aboard an emergency relief flight. The Swedish Hercules plane touched down at an airport in Linkoping, central Sweden, last night to offload the first of the injured, before flying on to Stockholm and Satenas in western Sweden. Among the passengers bound for Sweden was Slobodan Cikovic, a four- year-old Serbian boy with acute leukaemia, who left with his mother.