Cork charity sends surgeons to save over 30 children near Chernobyl

Chernobyl Children International sent nearly 20 surgeons to carry out urgent heart operations for children living near Chernobyl in time for Christmas
Cork charity sends surgeons to save over 30 children near Chernobyl

Dr William Novick dressed up as Santa with a patient, his father, and a volunteer nurse post-surgery.

A TEAM of surgeons performed a Christmas miracle this week, after they were flown to an area near Chernobyl by a Cork charity to carry out urgent heart operations on young children.

The surgeons were sent by Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International (CCI), which has led the humanitarian response to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster for 35 years.

Due to the radiation in the area, thousands of children in Ukraine and Belarus are born with a life-threatening heart condition known as ‘Chernobyl Heart’ every year.

Through CCI’s Cardiac Programme, over 4,000 children with such heart defects have been saved.

However, the pandemic put a pause on the life-saving programme - until this year.

“It’s been so hard not being able to fly in our teams. Everything ground to a halt when Covid hit but we found a tiny window and we got the cardiac team in and we are so proud,” Ms Roche said.

“Children’s lives were being lost. It was a race against time but the lads just went hell for leather and performed one surgery after another.

“Now we can focus on the lives that have been saved and that has all been made possible by the generosity of the people of Ireland.” 

Leading cardiac surgeon Dr William Novick led the team in Ukraine.
Leading cardiac surgeon Dr William Novick led the team in Ukraine.

Nearly 20 surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses were flown to Ukraine to carry out the mission, which is finishing up this week. In total, over 30 children have been saved.

Ms Roche, who lives in Cork, told The Echo that she has been on cloud nine since hearing about the team’s success.

“I haven’t felt this kind of an uplift since the last group of Chernobyl kids came over here this time two years ago,” she said.

“It’s heartbreaking that we couldn’t fly children to Ireland this Christmas but we actually managed, three weeks ago, to get a massive container over there in time for Christmas.

Adi Roche in Vesnova, Belarus in 2016.
Adi Roche in Vesnova, Belarus in 2016.

“It was full of everything from medical supplies and PPE to clothing, shoes, nappies, and wheelchairs and we left a little corner free for Santa to fill with presents. All of that will be distributed on Christmas day.” 

The programme will continue to be carried out by local Ukrainian medics who have been trained by CCI’s experts to complete surgeries in between the group’s missions.

“In a world of such vast uncertainty, it’s lovely to be able to say something solid happened and we made it happen from Ireland,” Ms Roche said.

“These children wouldn’t be alive for Christmas otherwise and to me, this is what Christmas is all about."

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