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Kosovar brother, sister injured in NATO bombing arrive in U.S. for treatment

Besart and Lulietu
Besart, left, and his sister arrive in Santa Barbara

CNN's Jennifer Auther reports on the arrival of the patients
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Windows Media 28K 80K
Rebuilding Kosovo
Focus on Kosovo

July 1, 1999
Web posted at: 11:34 p.m. EDT (0334 GMT)

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.

Contributions for the children can be sent to:
The Besart Ahmetaj Foundation Santa Barbara Bank & Trust P.O. Box 1035 Santa Barbara, California 93102

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.

Correspondent Jennifer Auther contributed to this report.

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  • Federal Republic of Yugoslavia official site
      • Kesovo and Metohija facts
  • Serbia Ministry of Information
  • Serbia Now! News

  • Kosova Crisis Center
  • Kosova Liberation Peace Movement
  • Kosovo - from

  • NATO official site
  • BosniaLINK - U.S. Dept. of Defense
  • U.S. Navy images from Operation Allied Force
  • U.K. Ministry of Defence - Kosovo news
  • U.K. Royal Air Force - Kosovo news
  • Jane's Defence - Kosovo Crisis

Resettlement Agencies Helping Kosovars in U.S.:
  • Church World Service
  • Episcopal Migration Ministries
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
  • Iowa Department of Human Services
  • International Rescue Committee
  • Immigration and Refugee Services of America
  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
  • United States Catholic Conference

  • World Relief
  • Doctors without borders
  • U.S. Agency for International Development (Kosovo aid)
  • Doctors of the World
  • InterAction
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Kosovo Humanitarian Disaster Forces Hundreds of Thousands from their Homes
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Kosovo Relief
  • ReliefWeb: Home page
  • The Jewish Agency for Israel
  • Mercy International

  • Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
  • Independent Yugoslav radio stations B92
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting
  • United States Information Agency - Kosovo Crisis

  • Expanded list of related sites on Kosovo
  • 1997 view of Kosovo from space - Eurimage
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