CONGO TOWN, LIBERIA, AUG. 16 -- No one knows for certain how many people have died in Liberia's civil war. This is the story of a nine-month-old baby who did not.
Last week, doctors from the humanitarian relief organization Doctors Without Borders evacuated 300 patients from St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Hospital in this suburb of Liberia's capital, Monrovia.
Heavy shelling was going on next to the hospital, the last clinic functioning near the city. The doctors could not take everyone on the long trip behind rebel lines.
On Tuesday, Steve Smith, a foreign journalist, entered the hospital morgue, which was filled with corpses of those left behind.
A child was lying next to her mother, eyes frozen in a blank stare. Hospital workers said they did not know how long the woman had been dead.
After months of exposure to the brutality of Liberia's eight-month-old conflict, many of the journalists covering the war have developed thick skins. Rebel fighters and government soldiers have at times shot civilians in front of journalists and photographers.
So it was only a fluke that Smith, looking at the body of the rail-thin infant, was moved to close the baby's eyes. As his thumb brushed the baby's eyelash, she blinked and awakened.
The girl was starved, having had no milk or any other food since her mother died. After a Liberian nurse still at the hospital treated the baby for several hours, her condition improved. The next day, Smith, who is Africa editor for the Paris newspaper Liberation, decided to find a safer location for the infant.
Not many people still live in Monrovia's eastern suburbs, but Smith knew someone who might help. The child was taken in by an Italian with the last name of Albertini, a former manager of an Italian construction company who had stayed behind to watch over the Italian Embassy residences.
Smith said because of Albertini's compassion, the child would be named Albertina.