New Orthosis Enables Elmir Džeko to Stroll Around Mostar
Elmir Džeko was wounded in 1992 during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) by three 12.7cm anti-aircraft bullets. In the following three years he underwent 14 surgeries and endured enormous physical as well as psychological trauma. Fortunately, the treatments to one of his legs and his back were efficient; however, he requires an orthosis for one leg that enables him basic movement. Being a very active and sociable person, it is very important for him that he is equipped with an appropriate orthosis, which does not cause him any pain and allows him to move freely without crutches.
Elmir resides in Mostar (BiH) where it can be difficult to acquire correct orthopaedics for his very complicated condition. For that reason, ITF Enhancing Human Security (ITF), the German Federal Foreign Office (main donor on this project), Miracle Centre from Mostar and the University Rehabilitation Institute of the Republic of Slovenia – Soča (URI Soča) joined efforts and enabled Elmir to come to Ljubljana and receive a new, appropriate orthosis as well as training.
How long have you been staying at URI Soča?
I have been here for 15 days and I am beyond pleased. In the time that I have spent here I had absolutely no problems. With the new orthosis, I managed to walk around the entire old city of Ljubljana, around the parks, over the Three bridges and along the river. Before that, I could barely make 50 steps from my house to the car. I have an automatic car at home and can drive around by myself, but I could not make a further distance with the old orthosis. Anything further than that was too tiring and was extremely painful. I cannot believe I am now able to walk around the city without any pain whatsoever. I was truly taken care of by professionals.
How did you get wounded?
During the war in BiH I was hit by a sniper, with three 12.7 mm anti-aircraft gun bullets. I was wounded to both legs and to the spine. There are still two pieces of shrapnel in my spinal cord, which were too risky to operate on since they were too close to the nerve system. Fortunately, they are stabilised now and do not cause me any further problems. My leg, though, poses the biggest problem. In Ljubljana, they were so precise that they adapted the orthosis to the last millimetre. When I put it on for the first time, I could immediately feel the difference. For me, it’s perfection.
How did you feel after the accident happened?
It was very difficult, because my injuries were very serious. At impact, the bullet in my right leg glanced off 7cm of the bone. I was suffering from enormous pain and I was heavily medicated. After the pain had reduced and I already had several surgeries, I thought about it a lot. I knew I could not change anything from the moment I got wounded. I had to accept it, the only alternative would be to take the gun and shoot myself. But that was not an option for me.
I have always been a very active person. I am very communicative and like to be in a good mood. Before the war I worked as a waiter, and I enjoyed working with people and around people. In general, I have great affection for the people. For me there are no bad people, just flawed individuals. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes and that is perfectly normal. If you miss a step, you fall.
Are there any differences between the treatment at URI Soča and your previous treatments?
The difference is mainly in the quality of the materials. I trust the quality of the product I received here. It is made of plastic, whereas my old orthosis was leather. This made it much heavier than the one I have now. During the summer, when the skin sweats, the leather becomes soaked and has an unpleasant smell. It has to be washed very often and if it is not constantly and correctly maintained, the leather decays quickly. If you put that orthosis on a healthy skin, it creates small wounds on the skin and makes it even more uncomfortable. In addition to the leather, the previous orthosis was also made out of steel, which made it extremely heavy. When you stand up, the steel ‘brakes’ stay fixed in the sitting position and sometimes the brakes cause fractions which makes their usefulness much more short term.
In BiH, a patient has the right to a new orthopaedics every five years and if the current one breaks down before that, you are not able to get a replacement. My old orthosis broke down after merely two years and I had to use crutches to move around. I would still be waiting for a new one if I did not get the opportunity to come to Ljubljana. I find this gesture extremely generous. During my previous treatment, there were no corrections possible and if the orthosis pinched, there was no option of adapting it. In Ljubljana, on the other hand, the required correction was done in 15 minutes, immediately after I asked, and it was a very minimal pinch.
The usual approach in BiH is to have prosthesis, however, my case is very specific. The nerve in my knee that would allow me to make a step was damaged. Even though I still have my leg, it completely lost its function. As such, the orthosis is more complicated to make.
Tell us about your family and home.
I just had a daughter, she is three months old. This is the second time I have been here since she was born, so I have not been spending as much time with her as I would like to. I cannot wait to see her and I am excited about going home. My life is great, even though the situation in Mostar is difficult. Employment rates are low and youth employment is even worse. Regardless, it is my home, it is my Mostar.
For three years, during my treatment between 1994 and 1996, I lived in Munich, Germany. Immediately after being wounded I received 14 surgeries. Everything was financed by Germany. I have to single them out as an amazing country which is very close to my heart. I know first-hand how much they have helped those that were wounded during the war in BiH. They dedicated two entire buildings for patients that were brought from BiH for treatment, which was entirely financed by Germany. It is amazing how much solidarity they have for the tragedies happening around the world. They are extremely humanitarian.
Have you ever thought about leaving BiH and living abroad?
It was in Germany, where I was offered to stay, but I declined politely. Mostar is my home and it would make no sense for me trying to deny that. I always like to visit other countries and see friends there, but there is only one Mostar, and only one home.
You seem very well-humoured, how do you adapt to such an event in your life, get back to a normal life?
It depends on the person. When you understand that there is nothing you can do to change your situation, you realise you have to live your life despite everything. There was a war, some had to get wounded, some had to leave the country, and others even had to die. The sooner you accept the reality, the sooner you will be able to modify your life. Some people, who were wounded, do not have any will left to go out of the house or to communicate. There are some things you simply cannot change and it does not matter if you sit at home or if you go out and mingle.
In a war it is ‘normal’ to get wounded, die or end up in a wheelchair. Despite that I believe it should be normal for the people after the war to change the politics or behaviour that caused the war in the first place. We have to move on. We need someone that looks ahead, to rebuild a destroyed country. We need people who would stabilise the economic situation, not to question if payments and pensions will be payed every month. People that worked their entire lives have to wait for their delayed pensions but nobody asks how they will survive in the meantime.
What will be the first thing you will do when you return home?
I will stroll through Mostar, since I was not able to do that before without the previous orthosis causing me pain. For the past 7 days, I felt no pain, neither in the legs nor in the back and I have no words to express my gratitude to everyone that helped me in this process.
Those who helped me should be rewarded for their work done for people like me. Everyone who is sick has only one wish: to get better. And my wish came through. I cannot express how extremely happy I am. I am in a very good mood and pleased with the results.
What would you like to be your message to the readers?
For all the people, not just here, but for people everywhere, I just wish love, peace and good spirit. You cannot go wrong with that.
 Prosthesis is an artificial device replacing a missing limb, while an orthosis is an external device that modifies or supports the structure and function of the limb.