London-based writer and broadcaster Jonathan Margolis often investigates the more peculiar facets of life in the U.K. A TIME contributor for the past 10 years, Margolis recently wrote for TIME about how the British obsession with privacy has led hundreds of thousands of people to grow 20-m-high conifer hedges around their back gardens. The subject of this week's cover story is somewhat off Margolis' garden path, but the tip for it came from another of his long-standing interests: high-tech gadgetry. It tells the striking story of how an Albanian Kosovar, Besim Kadriu, had half his face shot away in a Serb attack last April, survived three months without treatment and finally received reconstructive surgery in Manchester.
Margolis ran across the Kadriu case in October while researching a story on digital still photography. A British army doctor, Lieut. Colonel David Vassallo, was using digital cameras in the Balkans to e-mail images of patients to colleagues around the world for instant help with diagnosis. Margolis wanted to know more, "but prising the story out of such famously reticent institutions as the British military and the National Health Service took a few months of patience," he recalls. "Once the Defense Ministry had been persuaded, I met Lieut. Colonel Vassallo and found a gentle, most unmilitary physician who was passionate about letting the world know how the makeshift telemedicine system he and his team had developed was helping get world-class treatment for people injured in Kosovo and Bosnia." The whole enterprise was nearly scuppered, though, when an official at a local hospital objected for a variety of reasons, including breach of patient confidentiality, to the story being told. Persistence won out, however, helped by the fact that Kadriu himself and the doctors who operated on him wanted to go public.
Besim Kadriu is one of the most badly wounded patients Vassallo met, and the army medic is clearly proud of his part in the case. Margolis pieced together the dramatic story of Kadriu's ordeal in extensive interviews with the surgeons involved and a climactic meeting with Kadriu himself. "One of the most inspiring things about this whole wonderful story was realizing how seriously the British armed forces take humanitarian work," says Margolis. We trust our readers will also be inspired by Kadriu's courage--and by the dedication of Lieut. Colonel Vassallo and his colleagues.
, Editor, TIME Atlantic