by John Ost

Surgery In Buried Tractor-Trailers

For almost a year, Dr. Hasim Resic performed surgery in an underground hospital. Actually, his surgical ward was a maze of interconnected truck containers, eighteen-wheelers, buried underground. Since they were underground, Resic and his staff were able to work through mortar attacks, although they could hear the shelling above them in East Mostar. The electricity generally lasted only an hour or two. Resic often resorted to meatball surgery which saved time, conserved supplies. Once, he did a hernia operation in ten minutes, using only a local anesthetic so he could save the general anesthetics for more serious injuries. He treated too many young people with bleeding ulcers, removed far too many limbs. This is life for a surgeon in Bosnia.

"You can't believe what I've seen," he said in an interview during a recent trip to the United States. "In Prijedor before the war, I operated on every people--Bosnians, Serbs, Muslims, Croats. I have been a doctor thirty-five years--saw everything--but nothing like this. Many times I dream I am in Prijedor during the massacres. Seven thousand young men killed. They are idiots. Many of my friends were killed. Seven good doctors."

After the Serbs overran his hospital in Prijedor, Resic worked twenty straight days with a gun literally held to his head. "If you made a mistake, you were done," he said. He survived largely because he had treated many Serbs before the war. But he was never sure how long his grace period would last. "I saved many of my friends' sons and daughters. But when the war came, they said to my wife, 'Don't ask us for help. The Serb soldiers will know and kill us.'"

Resic came to the U.S. last summer, accompanying a fourteen-year-old boy named Aldin, who had a congenital abnormality of the blood vessels in his left leg. Resic feared that without sophisticated treatment, Aldin would lose his leg. Resic knew the boy's best friend had lost both of his legs and now spends all his time sitting in his basement. He couldn't let that happen to Aldin, too. So, with funding from a New England-based, children's relief group called Nobody's Children, Resic brought Aldin to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was treated successfully.

Aldin was eight when the war started. His mother was killed by a Croatian sniper in 1992. She was bringing water back to the house. He lives in a one-room flat with his father, his grandmother, one uncle, and two cousins whose parents were killed by shelling. "Can you imagine that you are thirsty," says Resic, "that water is only twenty meters from your house and boom, a little bullet hits you and it's all over?"

Since this story first went online in October, Dr. Resic has been moved to yet another hospital, one without phone contact. His wife has not heard from him for several months. Aldin, meanwhile, is recovering well from his surgery. And Massachusetts General and several other Boston-area hospitals are making arrangements to treat at least another dozen badly-injured Bosnian children, including several amputees and a ten-month-old with shrapnel in his brain.

Copyright © 1995 Discovery Communications, Inc
Photos: Jon Jones / Sygma