SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- As the threat of military strikes against rebel Serbs grew yesterday, doctors in Sarajevo hospitals rushed to prepare critically wounded or ill patients for airlifts to Western hospitals this weekend.
If there are air strikes by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, .. the city's only airport will almost certainly close for an indefinite period.
Forty-one patients will leave Sarajevo because Western nations moved by the plight of a 5-year-old girl responded to international publicity to help other victims.
Officials with the United Nations Children's Fund are outraged it has taken so long to draw attention to the child victims of $H Bosnia's war.
In addition, they say they urgently need $31 million to care for the remaining 60,000 children in Sarajevo, many of them injured, all of them traumatized.
Yesterday, 12 Royal Air Force casualty evacuation specialists left Britain for Italy to prepare to head to Bosnia to pick up patients. From Stockholm, Sweden, a medical team also left for Ancona, Italy, to wait for clearance into Bosnia.
Britain promised care for 20 people, Sweden for 16, Ireland for five, and other governments are working on more treatment offers, U.N. officials said.
It's a dramatic change of pace. Only 89 people have been evacuated in the past four months, and several wounded have died awaiting airlifts. Almost 400 people are awaiting medical evacuation.
"Suddenly, we have open hands and welcoming arms for all these patients," said Zlafan Oruc, a Sarajevo physician. "We want to get them out as quick as possible."
They didn't have an easy job.
Spread about the city, many are refugees, with no fixed addresses.
When doctors climbed 15 flights of stairs and knocked on the door of 24-year-old Mithad Huskovic with the news that he would be airlifted to Britain this weekend, he was speechless. Wounded 11 months ago by shrapnel that wrecked his bladder and left him with a catheter, he looked up from his couch and asked if doctors were teasing.
"I'm too happy to know what to say," he said.
Four children are included. One of them, Edham Dedovic, 11, who has lost an eye and suffered severe facial wounds from a mortar blast several months ago, was overwhelmed at the idea of a plane ride.
"I'm going to eat pizza and ice cream, and ride my bike outside," he said.
Dr. Kathy Wilkinson said Irma Hadzimuratovic, the 5-year-old whose plight prompted offers of help, was in critical but stable condition after a 3 1/2 -hour operation yesterday at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London.
Irma was dying from abdominal shrapnel wounds from a July 30 mortar attack, but U.N. officials said that they couldn't evacuate her unless a hospital promised complete care -- and that none was offering.
Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic made an impassioned televised plea for help. Britain responded.