The team flew into Krakow, Poland and took a bus (a 12 hour journey which included several hours to cross security at border) into Ukraine. They did have a special “green corridor” arranged for them. The team traveled to the city of Ivano-Frankivsk on the Western border of Ukraine where they worked out of the Regional Hospital. The team had been invited by the Ministry of Health and the Hospital.
The surgeons were able to live stream surgery to a conference room and explain in detail each step they were doing for education and training purposes. 130 + local medical staff were able to attend. The team operated on 34 patients including some very complex cases that took 10 – 12 hours each. Long days began at 5 or 6am and they did not return to their hotel until 10/11pm. Curfew was 11pm and all lights had to be out in buildings across the city.
The Ukrainian colleagues worked beside the surgical team on all of the cases and will continue after care for these patients. At the end of the week there was a farewell ceremony with the hospital heads, regional governor’s office and parliamentarians (similar to congressmen) who were very appreciative. They thanked the team for their efforts.
The value of services for this mission is over 1 million US dollars!
For the team’s security, we did not publicize our teams travel or the trip dates. The team was very secure while there. Sandbags and metal anti-tank barriers were set up at street intersections and around important buildings. There were frequent emergency alerts and air raid sirens, which I was told was a bit unnerving for the first few days, and they were shown where the bomb shelter was, just in case.
The team was able to successfully carry out this mission in partnership with the Ukrainian colleagues, and were able to take care of the patients with severe facial injuries from the war, providing state of the art care which would have otherwise not been available to them. Civilians and soldiers were treated and approximately one third were women. Unlike our usual trips where we operate on children with facial, head, and neck deformities, cleft lip / palate surgery, etc, primarily from birth, this trip was for deformities caused by war crimes where human lives have been changed forever. These injuries were trauma to the face, sinuses, loss of sight, loss of eyes, eye sockets damaged from explosions, eyelids destroyed from burns, shrapnel injuries, gunshot wounds and burns.
The team stated they were incredibly impressed by the resiliency of the Ukranian people, with many of the patients intent on returning to the war effort despite their severe injuries. One woman civilian was driving in a car with her son and were stopped by Russian soldiers. They tried to run and escape, but she was shot in the upper arm and her son was shot in the leg. The mother stopped to help her son and was shot in the face (jaw) and left for dead. Her son was dragged off. She ran into the woods where she spent 6 days hiding until some people found her and brought her to safety. She had no idea if her son was dead or alive or taken as a prisoner to a camp. A remarkable story of her survival.
Heart wrenching stories of this nature for every case. Each had a unique sad story. Everyone was exhausted at the end of the week but said it was an incredibly gratifying experience and hope to continue our collaboration and efforts going forward with Ukraine.
Dr. Abraham hopes to continue this collaboration by perhaps returning
in six months or sending other teams in the meantime.
Susan Ketigian, one of our team members stated: “When I think of the patients we left behind, I feel tears fill my eyes. The bravery and hearts of the wounded are traveling with us”.
(This contribution has come from Dr. Manoj Abraham, MD, F.A.C.S., board member of HTCNE and Chair of FACE to FACE and Susan Ketigian, RN)