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A Report From the First Medical Mission to Voronezh, Russia

Michael Yurieff  | Published on 11/20/2013

Late in the evening on November 16th, a Babyheart team comprising of 15 members from six different countries arrived in Voronezh, Russia to heal the hearts of their children with congenital heart defects. With the support from our longtime collaborating charities, Russian Gift of Life USA and Gift of Life, Inc., our team was introduced to our future companions, the local pediatric cardiac team at Voronezh Regional Hospital.

Once introductions were made, both teams broke off to become closer acquainted in their designated areas, the operating room and the immediate care unit. Longtime volunteer, Babyheart cardiologist, Dr. Robert Arnold, began performing echocardiograms and evaluating patients, explaining his findings to the local cardiologists. Once our patients’ defects were revealed, a tentative surgical schedule was comprised and the heart healing began!

Babyheart Founder & Medical Director, Dr. William Novick, operating with local surgeon, Dr. Bykov.

In the past year, the local pediatric cardiac team has performed close to 38 pediatric heart surgeries utilizing heart-lung bypass, with nearly twice as many closed heart surgeries. On the first day, in order to further assess their skill sets, the local team performed two successful open-heart operations. The Babyheart team oversaw the operations, assisting in times of need and evaluating the local team’s skills and procedures. The first, a local boy by the name of Ignat, suffered from a common, yet severe CHD known as an atrial septal defect where the atrial septum failed to form a complete partition between his heart’s two upper chambers. Without a corrective operation, Ignat’s heart would struggle as his red and blue blood mixes. The opening in his atrial septum would need to be closed to prevent any future damage to his heart. The risk is that Ignat is already over a year old and his heart has wreaked the damage from his defect. Although this procedure is common, the team will have to tread carefully.

Babyheart PICU Nurse, Sarah, helping Ignat recover in the ICU.

Fortunately, Ignat’s surgery was a success! He arrived in the ICU from the OR with a beautiful cross from his mother, a piece of hope to watch over him. When his mother arrived to see him for the first time since his operation, she broke into tears of relief. He was sleeping with a small smile on his face. After reciting several prayers, she stroked his tiny hand while he slept on peacefully. As in all cases with children, our patients never fail to amaze us in their ability to resiliently spring back into life. Ignat is no exception. Just one day post open-heart surgery, he was up and walking. He left the ICU the next morning to be reunited with his mother in the ward. Afterwards, his mother thanked the team and said, “He must have a lucky star over him to have you here at the same time of his surgery.”

Ignat with his mother two days post operation!

While Ignat leaves the ICU, our team preps for another case, one that has not been performed before by the local team, a defect called cor triatriatum, where one of the heart’s atriums is subdivided by a thin membrane, resulting in 3 atrial chambers. After a long hug and kiss from his mother, one and a half year old Timothy, is off to be prepped for surgery. He is rightfully, anxious and scared, but quickly drifts off into sleep from the anesthesia. Under the watchful eyes of the eager local team, Babyheart Founder and Medical Director, Dr. William Novick, scrubs in and begins the operation. Afterwards, with steady hands, the procedure is completed and Timothy is carefully returned to the ICU.

Timothy and his mother, reunited!

His mother watches him while he sleeps, but afraid that he will cry and strain himself if he sees her, she hides while he is awake. This is no easy task though, as she stands by, with a door dividing her from her son. Each time a team member walks by, she asks if he is sleeping so she can peek in. The following morning, Timothy is up and walking, out of the ICU and onto the ward with his mother. The moment they make eye contact, both are in tears. She steadily holds him, with obvious relief on her face. Later, she advises the team that has been nervously waiting for him to receive this operation for several months and the relief she feels now, to have her son back and healthy, is irreplaceable.

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