Dr. Serguei Melnitchouk (middle) of Massachusetts Basic Hospital is coaching Ukrainian surgeons Volodymyr Voitko (left) and Vitalii Sokolov (proper) on carry out coronary heart and lung transplants to allow them to do them of their dwelling nation. Picture taken Nov. 17, 2022, at MGH.

Daniel Ackerman/Daniel Ackerman


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Daniel Ackerman/Daniel Ackerman


Dr. Serguei Melnitchouk (middle) of Massachusetts Basic Hospital is coaching Ukrainian surgeons Volodymyr Voitko (left) and Vitalii Sokolov (proper) on carry out coronary heart and lung transplants to allow them to do them of their dwelling nation. Picture taken Nov. 17, 2022, at MGH.

Daniel Ackerman/Daniel Ackerman

BOSTON — There is a rhythm to most surgical procedures at Massachusetts Basic Hospital in Boston: the beep of a coronary heart monitor, the surgeon’s requires “scalpel … scissors … clamp.” However in the present day, that rhythm sounds completely different. It is blended with quiet chatter in Ukrainian.

The surgeon, Dr. Serguei Melnitchouk, is repairing a affected person’s leaky coronary heart valve. He explains his approach to 2 observing medical doctors, each thoracic surgeons visiting from Feofaniya Scientific Hospital in Kyiv. They’ve traveled to Boston for a crash course in a number of the most complicated procedures in medication: coronary heart and lung transplants.

Ukraine has lengthy lacked a full-service organ transplant middle. Beforehand, sufferers who wanted a brand new set of lungs would journey overseas for the process, funded by the nation’s common healthcare system. However that funding has been drained by Ukraine’s warfare effort, and different nations have restricted foreigners’ entry to transplant companies. So some Ukrainian sufferers are left with out the possibility for a life-saving transplant. The crash course at Massachusetts Basic Hospital (MGH) goals to vary that. It should enable the Ukrainian medical doctors to open their very own lung transplant middle — giving sufferers hope for a greater future, even amid the shadows of warfare.

An opportunity to assist

Melnitchouk has spent his decade-long profession as a cardiothoracic surgeon at MGH in Boston. However he was born in western Ukraine. His dad and mom nonetheless dwell within the agricultural city the place he grew up.

In April, in the course of the chaotic early days of Russia’s invasion, Melnitchouk traveled again to Ukraine to lend his experience to the warfare effort. He taught trauma care to medical doctors at three native hospitals the place beds have been filling up with the wounded. Exterior the hospitals, roadsides have been affected by burnt-out tanks and tree trunks whose canopies had been blown off by missiles. The sights have been laborious to course of.

“It was painful,” mentioned Melnitchouk. “That is your nation the place you grew up, and you’ll’t acknowledge it. It was hurting my coronary heart.”

He wished to do extra to assist.

Alternative arose when he spoke with medical doctors on the hospitals he was visiting. They saved inquiring a few process seemingly unrelated to the urgent wartime issues.

“In all three hospitals they have been asking about [organ] transplants,” mentioned Melnitchouk. “I used to be like, ‘Why are you asking about transplants? You’re in a time of warfare.’ “

Melnitchouk discovered that Ukraine had solely lately opened transplant facilities for organs like kidneys and livers, however the nation nonetheless lacked capability to transplant lungs, partly resulting from technical challenges.

“Lungs are one of many hardest transplants,” mentioned Melnitchouk, who has accomplished dozens of profitable lung transplants.

He says the problem arises from the organs’ complicated vascular construction and a excessive danger of immune system rejection after the process. Plus, lungs are available in pairs.

“When you end one lung, it’s a must to do it once more,” he mentioned. “So it is a longer operation.”

Sufferers in want of that operation are unable to obtain it now, in line with Vasyl Strilka, who leads the event of an organ transplant system for Ukraine’s Ministry of Well being. The cash-strapped authorities can now not foot the $150,000 invoice for every affected person despatched overseas. (Many medical doctors in Ukraine have labored with out pay for months.)

Strilka provides that India and Belarus, the place Ukrainians beforehand traveled for transplants, each lately handed legal guidelines proscribing foreigners’ skill to obtain the process there.

Strilka knew Ukraine needed to open its personal lung transplant middle. The process might be the one choice for sufferers with end-stage lung illness, typically attributable to superior COPD or cystic fibrosis. So when Strilka met Melnitchouk throughout his April journey to Ukraine, they hatched a plan with the assistance of Oksana Dmitrieva, a member of Ukraine’s parliament who has led the push for an area transplant middle.

Ukraine would ship a crew of 13 medical doctors to Melnitchouk’s follow at MGH, the place they’d spend three months studying methods for lung and coronary heart transplant. This system’s first hurdle was funding.

“Our unique plan was that they’d simply lease Airbnbs, and they might dwell in flats near the hospital,” mentioned Melnitchouk. “However the Ministry of Well being is fairly broke proper now.”

A house away from dwelling

By reaching out via church networks in Boston, they discovered volunteer households to host the medical doctors, who arrived in early October.

The association has allowed the guests to expertise New England at its fall most interesting. Dr. Vitalii Sokolov, a thoracic surgeon from Feofaniya Hospital, mentioned his Boston host household took him leaf-peeping in New Hampshire one weekend. Plus, he sampled a bowl of New England clam chowder. His evaluation of the soup: “not impressed.” Sokolov is impressed by his host household’s openness and generosity.

“I might say that I’ve one other mom and father within the States,” he joked.

However Sokolov’s ideas by no means stray removed from his circle of relatives again in Kyiv. He wakes at 5 a.m. every day to name them, checking that they’ve electrical energy and warmth amid Russian assaults on power infrastructure. Then, Sokolov heads into the hospital for coaching.

He and the opposite visiting medical doctors have noticed three lung transplant operations since they arrived.

“I’ve bought the impression that lung transplantation, and transplantation on the whole, is a crew recreation,” Sokolov mentioned, referring to the crew of medical doctors and nurses who support the affected person via the prolonged post-operative remedy.

Sokolov is observing that crew in motion at MGH. In December, he’ll return to Kyiv to steer his personal crew at Ukraine’s new transplant middle. Melnitchouk plans to be there for the primary few transplants, to make sure the Ukrainian crew’s easy transition from coaching to follow.

For now, Melnitchouk is grateful for the possibility to talk his native language within the working room with the visiting medical doctors.

“That is my first time in my life — in my final 9 years attending — to talk Ukrainian. I am really very, very blissful,” mentioned Melnitchouk, choking up. “I am very grateful that I had this opportunity to someway give again one thing to my nation.”