Rescuing the wounded from war-ravaged Bosnia

January 30, 1994|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer Staff writer Greg Tasker contributed to this article.

Without warning, the Serbian grenades rained down on Tomislav Tomic in a field near the town of Bihac in Bosnia's northwestern corner.

There was a burst of light, deafening explosions, gunfire. A fiery bolt of pain tore up his legs. He nearly fainted as a fog rolled across his eyes; he went numb below the waist.

"The whole ground was afire," the 21-year-old Croatian recalled of the attack that killed 60 men, including four friends. "It was hell."

His legs badly mangled, Mr. Tomic spent a year in a Zagreb hospital. The treatment helped, but doctors couldn't heal an infected right leg. Antibiotics were expensive and difficult to obtain. Without proper care, the leg would have to be amputated.

Yesterday, the former Croatian army private strode into the auditorium at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. He needed crutches, but he walked on his own two feet. He took a seat beside unlikely companions, a Serbian army lieutenant and a Bosnian woman and her 4-year-old son.

"I want to say thank you, Dr. [John E.] Herzenberg," Mr. Tomic said in halting English. "I want to say thank you to every people who helped."

For the four refugees from war-ravaged Bosnia, the chance to receive medical care in Maryland was like a miracle. Serbian Miodrag Todorovic, 25, suffered a leg injury similar to Mr. Tomic's. The Bosnian child, Admir Hadzic, nearly lost a leg to a congenital ailment that couldn't be cured in Croatia.

"I lost everything in the war," said his mother, Fatima Hadzic, speaking through a translator. "My only hope for the future is for my son to be well."

The International Organization for Migration, a nonprofit relief agency that has placed more than 200 Bosnian war-wounded in the United States, offered Mr. Tomic, Mr. Todorovic, Mrs. Hadzic and her son the chance to come here.

Dr. Herzenberg, an associate professor of orthopedics, answered a medical journal advertisement the organization placed in an effort to find doctors and hospitals willing to donate their services.

"As individual citizens we can't do much about the war, but as health care providers we can help the suffering," Dr. Herzenberg said. "People want to help. It's unfortunate we can't bring over more patients."

Dr. Herzenberg urged other facilities to take up the call. In addition to the University of Maryland, Baltimore's St. Agnes Hospital, Kernan Hospital and Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital have donated services to war victims.

In Allegany County, two Bosnian children are recovering from war-related wounds at two Cumberland hospitals.

Both children -- a 16-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy -- were brought to the hospitals through humanitarian missions arranged Veterans For Peace Inc., a nonprofit humanitarian group based in Portland, Maine, and by British officials and others.

Dino Papic arrived in Cumberland with his mother earlier this month for treatment of shrapnel wounds to his left arm. He and his mother were wounded four months ago when a grenade exploded outside their apartment in Mostar. The mother suffered a damaged ear drum and has had three fingers on her left hand amputated.

"We're very happy because Dino is here for treatment, especially since a lot of children weren't evacuated," Meliha Papic said earlier this week through an interpreter. "The name of the hospital -- Sacred Heart -- applies to the people here who have helped us."

Cumberland's other patient, Maja Kazazic, also from Mostar, arrived in September and has been undergoing rehabilitation at Memorial Hospital.

Her right leg was amputated in a makeshift hospital in Mostar, after shrapnel from artillery fire struck her as she and a dozen other children played outside her home.

She recently received a letter from her family -- her first since her arrival in the United States. Last month she sent her family a package that was delivered by a pair of Cumberland-area men who participated in the rescue mission.

"They're alive," Maja said. "It's sad. It's a very bad situation over there."

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