Bosnia's 'Oxygen Man' brings cheer, and supplies, to COVID-19 patients

Miralem Sabic carries oxygen bottles from his private van to an improvised coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hospital in Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, November 27, 2020. Picture taken November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

KONJIC, Bosnia (Reuters) - Miralem Sabic Mika, known as the "Oxygen Man" in his native town of Konjic, has become a local hero for helping coronavirus patients breathe easier and comforting them with warm words and laughter.

Sabic, a 57-year-old war veteran, drives his old van to the capital Sarajevo around 38 miles (61 km) to the northeast almost every day to refill oxygen tanks for patients in need.

When he returns to Konjic, he carries them to the upper floors of an improvised COVID-19 clinic which does not have an elevator.

"Mika is a hero. He comes each time we call him, though it's not his job," said Mirza Gacanin, a leading physician in the isolation facility set up in an old motel on the edge of the picturesque southern town.

Sabic, who works as a heating engineer in a local hospital, said he felt compelled to help because "Konjic is a small town and the patients are our neighbours and friends."

His involvement began when COVID-19 infections in Konjic started to rise but there was not enough oxygen for patients.

"Our supplier in Sarajevo was not able to transport the tanks as often as needed, so I started to go and collect them with my own van," said Sabic.

Despite shrapnel lodged in his lungs from a grenade explosion during the Balkans wars in which he fought, he happily carries patients on his back up and down the stairs for X-rays, and jokes about their weight.

Patients appreciate his light-hearted manner, a welcome relief from isolation and sickness.

"Meeting Mika is more healing than the oxygen he carries - because you see a human, he smiles at you and asks if you are okay, and makes jokes," said Dina Alic, a patient who recovered from COVID-19 after spending weeks in the centre.

"There is no word to describe the love he gives - it's a miracle," said Alic, a women's rights activist who posted comments about him and the medical staff on Facebook during her stay in the hospital, turning him into a local celebrity.

Bosnia on Monday reported that its total number of coronavirus cases had reached 87,901, with 2,681 deaths and 32,451 active cases.

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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