Stephanie Turenko, Toronto
After completing an intensive medical mission in Ukraine, the specialized team of Canadian health professionals returned home November 20, 2014. The team worked alongside Ukrainian doctors and nurses to perform reconstructive and complex surgeries on victims of the Euromaidan movement and Putin’s Invasion into Eastern Ukraine.
The medical team, comprised of 25 professionals, was organized by the Canada Ukraine Foundation and Operation Rainbow Canada, under the patronage of Ukrainian Canadian Congress. The entire medical team composed of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and a physiotherapist, were all volunteers assembled from across Canada.
In total, the team completed 37 complex reconstructive surgeries which included skull reconstructions, bony reconstructions of the facial skeleton, soft tissue reconstructions of the eyelids, nose and lips, burn and scar revisions and upper extremity reconstructions.
“This mission focused on post-traumatic defects and deformities, many of which were horrific. Most resulted from explosive blast wounds and high-velocity missile wounds. The patients presented major reconstructive challenges,” said Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn, Head of the Adult Craniofacial Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Professor of Plastic Surgery, University of Toronto. “The surgical procedures were complex, technically demanding, and time-consuming, some lasting for as many as 7 hours”.
According to Renata Roman, the sole physiotherapist, the lead of the mission, Dr. Antonyshyn, is prepared to go back on another mission if the opportunity presents itself. There is still very much work to be done, and due to the specialties of the doctors on the mission, the focus of the surgeries was solely cranial-facial (eyes, head, orbit and jaw). Ms. Roman attended to the soldiers pre- and post-surgery, giving them and their families instructions on how to take care of themselves after they left the hospital. Unfortunately, Ms. Roman couldn’t stay the 6 months to a year to see their rehabilitation process through.
Ms. Roman is a physiotherapist from Toronto whose main focus is sports medicine. The soldiers being treated in the Kyiv Medical Hospital had extremely traumatic wounds caused by bombs. This however, did not prove a challenge for Ms. Roman because from a rehabilitation stand-point, sports and war injuries are actually quite similar.
The mission received a lot of coverage on the Ukrainian television channels; the doctors and nurses were asked on a daily basis why they were in Ukraine and what their goal was. “It wasn’t just a mission; that we came, did our surgeries and left. I think we left a lasting impression due to the fact that there are other people from other countries – almost half were Ukrainian background from across Canada, and others had nothing related to Ukraine, yet, they were also willing to give their time and energy and that was very much appreciated by the Ukrainians” explained Ms. Roman to New Pathway.
“Another goal of the mission apart from being able to see the results that the patients were very happy when they came out of the surgery, was the fact that we managed to work very closely with the Ukrainian medical team. The goal was to work in conjunction with them. We did not want to just come in and just say we're here and this is what we’re doing.
At every surgery there were always 1 or 2 Ukrainian surgeons and 1 or 2 Canadian surgeons…with nurses the same thing. We learned how their system runs and what they like to do, and they were learning from us. It was a mutual benefit for both teams”.
Funding for the mission came from “United for Ukraine”, a gala fundraiser organized by the Canada Ukraine Foundation in September in Toronto. “The attendance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper at our gala was vitally important and speaks to his ongoing leadership in supporting Ukraine,” said Eugene Melnyk who served as the gala’s Platinum Sponsor and is also a member of the Advisory Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. “With the support of more than 1,200 people and special guests like the Prime Minister and Wayne Gretzky, we were able to raise the much needed funds to support this very important humanitarian initiative.”
The Canada Ukraine Foundation is thankful for the support of Stryker Canada, who awarded the mission a grant for virtually all surgical hardware and implant materials for the medical procedures; and to Operation Rainbow Canada for providing guidance in terms of planning a mission of this scale.
“This mission was ground-breaking in terms of the collaboration between medical professionals in Ukraine and Canada,” explained Dr. Antonyshyn. “To be welcomed into the surgical theaters and entrusted with the care of patients in another country is truly a privilege. This mission has allowed us to establish critical relations with medical professionals and health administrators in Ukraine, and provides a foundation for future collaborations in health delivery and surgical education.”