Kosovar brother, sister injured in NATO bombing arrive in U.S. for treatment
July 1, 1999
SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- A 13-year-old Kosovo boy and his big sister arrived in California Thursday evening with the hope that doctors can repair the injuries they suffered when NATO bombed their village.
The long journey from Besart and Lulietu Ahmetaj's village in western Kosovo, arranged by the International Organization of Migration, was only the first hurdle for their recovery.
Dr. John Padilla is leading a team in the next challenge: the reconstruction of Besart's badly injured and infected face and surgery on his sister's damaged eye and fractured leg.
"The number one concern is the infection," said Padilla, referring to Besart's wounds. "We're going to try to see if the infection involves the bone at all."
He said the team will spend several days running tests to determine the extent of the injuries.
Only Besart's family knows what he looks like beneath the bandage he wears diagonally across his mutilated face, covering his right eye and stretching to his left cheek.
The misplaced NATO bomb that hit the village of Besart and Lulietu killed dozens of ethnic Albanians May 14, including their mother and two other members of their family.
Besart still asks to see his mother. No one has the courage to tell him she is dead.
"The first thing I'm going to try to do is bond with them a little bit and try to get them to see me as a friend and not as a clinical, cold physician," said Padilla of his young patients.
Padilla, a reconstructive surgeon, is joined by an infectious disease specialist, an orthopedic surgeon and a child psychologist.
The members of the medical team, as well as several interpreters, have offered their skills free of charge. None of them are able to put a price on what it means to help the Besart and Lulietu one day return home, healed in body and soul, Padilla said.
Besart's injuries are so severe that no surgeon in Kosovo could repair them. The hospital where he was treated lacked medicine, and even food, for the patients. Most of the skilled doctors in Kosovo before the war were Serbs, who have since fled.
Like thousands of other wounded Kosovars, Besart would have had to let nature take its course, hoping his face would somehow heal and become a glimmer of its former self. But Besart found a savior -- several saviors, in fact.
Padilla and the other doctors in Santa Barbara, California, were touched by news of Besart's plight and offered to treat him. When they were told of the generous proposal, the family asked the doctors to treat Lulietu as well.
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