During the week of November 10-17th, the International Children’s Heart Foundation program in Kharkiv, Ukraine received some very distinguished guests. US TV actress, Stephanie March of Law and Order fame, and a strong child health advocate, visited the Kharkiv Center of Cardiac Surgery, where ICHF volunteer medical missions average 5 trips a year, operating on 280 children in the past 4 years. She arrived with World of Children co-founders, Harry and Kay Leibowitz, who support Chernobyl Children International, represented by founder Adi Roche, who in turn, supports ICHF’s Babyheart medical missions to Kharkiv. As an actor, Stephanie makes a living pretending to be a lawyer on TV, although she is very aware of real world problems, such as congenital heart defects and is doing something to alleviate the issue. The Center’s director, Dr. Igor Polivenok and ICHF’s biomedical engineer, David Weiduwilt, took a day to provide a tour of the facility they worked so hard over the years to build.
One unique aspect of the Center is the observation dome directly above the operating room for visitors and students to obtain a rare bird’s eye view of a surgery. David and Igor took Stephanie and the group here first to view a surgery from the eyes of a surgeon. Then they guided them through rounds in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the newly renovated ward rooms. Kay became very emotional here while visiting with the children. She experienced firsthand the children’s helplessness as they fight and cling to life following such an arduous experience for their tiny bodies. Stephanie and Kay visited every bedside to spend time with the kids. They left many gifts here for the children and left the remainder in a newly renovated play room. The gifts are a thankful diversion for children fighting through discomfort, pain and boredom as they recuperate. Then they shared lunch and Dr. Polivenok gave a presentation on the work of ICHF and its dedicated staff, illustrating the great sacrifices made by those who volunteer to provide medical care for patients and training for the local staffs. Afterwards Igor arranged for the visitors to enter the OR for a surgery and conduct a question and answer session to learn more about congenital heart defects. Sadly, many children here are affected by the “Chernobyl Heart,” from which the Oscar winning 2004 documentary featuring ICHF’s Founder and Medical Director, Dr. Novick, took its name. This is a condition of heart defects caused by the radiation fallout from the disastrous explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986. This event and the suffering it wrought upon the children inspired Adi Roche’s creation of Chernobyl Children International. The explosion happened 26 years ago, but much like the scar on a child’s chest from surgery, the effects are still being felt like a great scar across Ukraine’s landscape. The child’s scar will heal and go away, but we will never know if the radiation damage on these helpless children will ever go away. That is why this land is blessed by the medical teams of the International Children’s Heart Foundation.
Afterwards, David escorted the group to view the cath lab and then they viewed a video presentation. The representatives confirmed their continued support for this wonderful program and recognized the need to keep it going. Before finishing the day, the guests were able to see the transfer of a patient from the healing hands of the operating room ICHF staff to the caring hands of PICU ICHF staff. After some coffee, ICHF bid farewell to their special guests and they were on their planes back home to spread the word about the wonderful work being done around the globe.
The ICHF was delighted and honored to have World of Children representatives Stephanie March, and co-founders Harry and Kay Leibowitz, to travel so far to see firsthand the impact of their donations. The ICHF surgeons, doctors, perfusionists, and nurses all perform the work, day in and day out with one goal in mind: save kids’ lives who, without ICHF, would not have a fighting chance at life. While ICHF is very busy performing this great work, it is good, during this season of thanks, to give gratitude to the various caring organizations that offer monetary assistance to keep the teams on the planes, the operating rooms filled, the PICU staffed, and the new hearts beating, full of life, inside tiny chests.Bryan Artiles