Blog : Ukraine

Volunteer Story – Erin Serrano

PICU nurse Erin Serrano recently joined our team on her first medical mission trip to Ukraine. Erin shares her unique story about why she began her career as a pediatric cardiac nurse and how volunteering with Novick Cardiac Alliance was a dream her entire life.

My journey to pursue a career in the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit began the day I was born. Just a few days after birth, I was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and underwent multiple cardiac surgeries and procedures to save my life. Volunteering with Novick Cardiac Alliance to help patients and families with similar stories as my own wasn’t a choice, it was something I knew I had to do. It was my destiny. 

Coming to Ukraine and stepping into a healthcare system that I knew nothing about was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. After just a few days, I realized that leaving my comfort zone was more than worth it. From the first day that we arrived at the hospital, I learned just how resourceful the staff members had to be, considering their limited medical supplies, equipment, and medications. Imagine being a parent of a child requiring cardiac surgery and you are responsible for providing part of their medical supplies because the hospital simply cannot obtain enough. I was astounded to see the local nurses using resterilized supplies. These supplies would most certainly be thrown away after one use in the United States. I realize that we take for granted the abundance of simple supplies and they are precious items in developing countries like Ukraine. 

Despite the obvious language barrier that exists, Cardiac Alliance has been successful in educating the Ukrainian medical team in everything from basic ICU care to the most complex cardiac surgeries. To be a part of that education process was the most rewarding part of my trip. 

One out of every 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect and CHD’s are the most common cause of infant death among birth defects. If I have helped just one nurse better their practice while caring for these patients, then I know my time spent was worthwhile. I certainly hope I can volunteer with Cardiac Alliance again and again. Thank you NCA for allowing me to be a part of your incredible mission and to the entire Ukrainian team for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined. 

Perspective from a Perfusion Student

Brooke managing the bypass machine in Kharkiv

Brooke Tracy, a perfusion student from the US, recently joined our team on a trip to Kharkiv, Ukraine. She describes her experience as a student on her first medical mission trip.

“There are no words to describe how amazing and influential my first mission trip with the Novick Cardiac Alliance was, but I can say with absolute certainty I would recommend it to anyone! Not only was the team amazing and so well versed in healthcare skills, but they also were some of the most empathetic and passionate people I have had the opportunity to work alongside. Not to mention the local Ukrainian team. They all were very excited to learn from NCA in ways to improve their practice, and they were incredibly welcoming and appreciative of all that NCA has done for their hospital system.

As a perfusion student, I didn’t really know what to expect as our field is pretty dependent upon technology and supplies. I had done some research on the Ukrainian healthcare system, but was vastly underprepared when it came to fully understanding the difficulties in which the local team has in acquiring, what in our practice, is simple equipment. But the lack of equipment never stumped the local perfusionist. Alex and Olga were some of the most innovative perfusionists I’d ever met. In order to make the most of each piece of equipment, their circuit design and construction was innovative. Both were incredibly knowledgeable, but it was humbling to see how much they each were looking to learn more and grow in their practice.”

NCA Perfusionists John and Brooke working alongside Kharkiv perfusionists Alex and Olga

What she gained as a student: 

“In the end, the most inspiring thing about this trip for me was to see the passion and moral of the local team. The nurses were so compassionate and went out of their way to comfort their patients. They really did an amazing job, especially those that were medical students working night shift to gain experience! You could tell that this hospital served their local community in more than just physical care, as the empathy was overflowing with every patient. The parents were allowed back in the ICU with their children post-op and it made a world of difference in the recovery of our patients.

After returning from this trip, not only had I gained a ton of knowledge and skills from both the NCA team and the local team, but I also had a better appreciation for all of the resources that we have at our disposal in the US. I have developed some new practices and little tricks that make my perfusion practice more resourceful and limit my medical waste since returning from the mission.

Brooke with patient Sofia, who had 60 minutes on bypass during her operation.

I can not only recommend missions to anyone in the field, but especially to students because I feel that it gives you a advantage to being a resourceful, motivated, and passionate perfusionist, which is exactly what this world needs more of.”

-Brooke Tracy, Perfusion Student, South Carolina, USA

Artur from Ukraine: Fighting for His Life

Artur is was born a fighter.

Artur was born on the 1st of September in Luhansk, the easternmost city of Ukraine. Luhansk has been under the control of the separatist rebel group since 2014, and is known as “Luhansk People’s Republic.” This city was nearly destroyed by the war in 2014 and many public services are difficult to obtain, including quality care at hospitals.

When Artur was 5 days old, his mother noticed he was breathing very fast and turning blue. She took him to the hospital in Luhansk but the doctors were unable to give a definite diagnosis and sent him home. Weeks continued and Artur’s mother became more concerned with her baby’s blue color. Again she went to the hospital and after several tests, the doctor thought he noticed something wrong with Artur’s heart. Finally the doctor in Luhansk called the Kharkiv Cardiac Center. This doctor sent a photo of Artur’s chest x-ray to Kharkiv pediatric cardiac surgeon Olga Buchevna and she recommended Artur be transferred immediately to Kharkiv.

 

Upon his arrival at the hospital in Kharkiv, cardiologist Daria Kulikova performed a echocardiogram and diagnosed Artur with Transposition of the Great Arteries, plus a tiny ASD and tiny VSD. This heart defect usually must be repaired within two weeks of age, and Artur’s was very severe. He was not getting enough blood to his body or brain, with oxygen saturation levels barely 50%. His surgery would be complicated. Luckily our team arrived three days later and on October 9th, Artur received his life saving heart surgery. Kharkiv pediatric cardiac surgeon, Olga Buchevna, performed this surgery flawlessly with assistance from Cardiac Alliance surgeon Kathleen Fenton. Artur recovered quickly in the ICU and was drinking milk two days after surgery. His serious facial expressions proved to us that this little boy has a strong will to survive.

There are babies like Artur around the globe, fighting for their lives, waiting for medical assistance to mend their heart defects before it’s too late.

 

3 Days in the Life of Juliana

3 Days in the Life of Juliana

This is Juliana, she is 2 years old and has been sick for all of her life. She was born in Ukraine and her parents have worried about her since they found out she had a heart defect as a baby. Juliana could not play like other children and got tired very easily. She is a very determined little girl though , her parents say she is

‘a real little lady’ and already knows what she wants!

Juliana before surgeryJuliana was born with Aortic Valve Dysplasia (an abnormal aortic valve) and had an Aortic Valvuloplasty (repair of the valve) during the recent Novick Cardiac Alliance trip to Ukraine. Specialists from Cardiac Alliance have been working consistently with the team in Ukraine for 6 years and this operation was performed completely by the Ukrainian surgeon Dr Olga Buchneva with guidance and support from the Cardiac Alliance team surgeon, Dr Marcelo Cardarelli.

After 2 long years of waiting Juliana had her operation on 10th of February this year and just 2 hours after coming to the intensive care unit she began the serious business of coloring and drawing.

Julia colouring

Despite having such a big operation Juliana only had to spend one day in the intensive care unit and was on the ward by the next day. Just two days later she was not only doing well – she was trying to ride a trike! As her parents have said she really knows what she wants and now her heart is as healthy as her spirit! We believe there will be no stopping this little girl – her suffering is in the past and the sky is her limit.

Juliana 2

Help us to ease the suffering of more children like Juliana. Novick Cardiac Alliance are currently supporting the development of quality pediatric cardiac care services in several countries around the world, there are many more children, just like little Juliana, waiting for our help. Click here to Donate or give two weeks of your time and expertise as a Medical Volunteer.

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

Cardiac Alliance has been working in Tobruk, Libya and Kharkiv, Ukraine over the last few weeks and we have operated on 43 children in these 2 cities.

Both Libya and Ukraine are experiencing uncertainty and conflict that many of us will struggle to imagine. However, it is not so hard to imagine the heartache that a parent feels when they have a sick child. These mothers and many like them in developing nations all have a child with a congenital heart defect and are faced with the real possibility that their child will never receive surgery.

Sad baby Libya

The Novick Cardiac Alliance strives to help these parents and so, despite the conflicts, we have been working in these countries to provide much needed surgery and care to children.Though we feel a sense of satisfaction in being able to help these children we also feel a sense of urgency and disappointment-  Because for every child that receives surgery there are many many more that will not.

Small baby and nurse

The sad truth is that some children will die waiting. We all have the power to change a life together and give a family a brighter future.

Donate your time and expertise by volunteering with us  or give today and save a life.

 

Mission: Complete! Read the Latest from Libya

Mission: Complete! Read the Latest from Libya

Our first mission to the city of Tobruk, Libya was a huge success!

As Dr. Novick put it: “It wasn’t a particularly difficult or eventful trip…but the locals REALLY appreciated us being there.”

After 16 successful cases, closing ceremonies involved a lot of hugs, cake, selfies, and hand shakes. Thanks to all of our donors, volunteers, staff, and supporters who helped make it possible—we’re grateful for all of you!

Here’s a quick update from Dr. Novick and the team, now en route home:

We’re leaving Libya today after providing the final two operations on Thursday, both extubated by 8 p.m., The Benghazi Medical Center team is staying behind for a few days to get all the children discharged from the hospital. We all flew to Al Bayda, then from there we spread out across the globe to our homes on Saturday. We spent a few hours with the Libyan Minister of Health discussing the needs at Tobruk Hospital so it is better prepared for our next trip. The Kharkiv team finishes up today as well and will head home tomorrow. Next up, Honduras and Macedonia starting end of next week. I will be traveling to Tehran, Iran and Tashkent, Uzbekistan over the next month to review sites for future assistance, wish me luck. —Dr No

A few more photos from the trip:

Sergey looking out the helicopter window
Nurse Christine with local Libyans in the ICU
A baby being prepped in the OR
Cute baby in the children's ward
Dr. Novick standing next to a patient in the step down unit
Dr. Naima from Benghazi Medical Center kissing one of the patients
Karen, an ICU nurse, with the first case of the trip
The first case of the mission in the ICU, sleeping

Patient Story – Liza from Ukraine

Patient Story – Liza from Ukraine

Baby Liza after surgeryAmid the crisis in Ukraine, our team continues to save little hearts.

Meet Liza Yaroshenco. She is a lucky 3-month-old baby girl who is from Kharkiv, Ukraine.

When Liza was 6 weeks old, a doctor told her mother, Tonya, that Liza had a heart murmur. This doctor said the murmur would go away by the time Liza was 3 years old, but her mother knew something wasn’t right and began the search for a new doctor for a second opinion.

Because of her mother’s dedication, Liza found herself at the Kharkiv Center for Cardiac Surgery. Here she had a Catheterization procedure by Dr. Igor Polivenok and was told her baby desperately needed heart surgery to survive.

Baby Liza and mother after surgeryTonya took Liza home to wait for the Cardiac Alliance team to arrive in February. On February 4th, Liza received heart surgery performed by Kharkiv pediatric cardiac surgeon Dr. Olga Buchneva, alongside Cardiac Alliance surgeon Dr. Marcelo Cardarelli.

Thanks to this collaboration and her mother’s love, Liza is now home with a happy heart.

Baby Liza after her operation

At Novick Cardiac Alliance we want to be able to care for more children like baby Liza and to make sure that all mothers know that no matter where they live their children can get the specialist care they need to live a happy and healthy life.

Help us to make this possible by Donating today or Volunteer your time and expertise to look after these children the way they deserve.