Overlooking an 11 year old boy, Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn remarks, “Are you listening or are you watching a movie on your tablet?” The boy smiles. This little boy’s name is Mykola. In August he and his friends found a box full of rocket-propelled grenades (RPG’s) and began to play. When Mykola’s brother fell when a friend tagged him, the RPG he was holding exploded. Mykola’s brother died and Mykola was airlifted to Zaporizhia for medical aid where the doctors were able to save his life. However, both his legs and his right arm had to be amputated, there was a hole left in the middle of his forehead and massive scaring on his cheek and chin.
Mykola is the only child that is being treated by the Canadian and Ukrainian doctors during the third medical mission of the Canada-Ukraine Foundation. Dr. Antonyshyn has repaired Mykola’s craniofacial defects and the Canada-Ukraine Foundation is trying to work with other international partners and hospitals from Poland, the United States, Germany, Toronto, and Montreal to assist him further. Even though the Main Ukrainian Military Hospital in Kyiv only operates on adults, they made an exception for Mykola. Dr. Antonyshyn made time in his busy schedule to help him, built Mykola a custom implant for his forehead, and operated on the scars on his face.
Mykola has also become something of a mascot for this third mission – every doctor and nurse has been affected by his story, his strength, and his endurance. Mary Kobylecky, the mission’s coordinating nurse, hopes that with the media coverage they will get sponsors for his prosthetics. “There’s apparently a picture of an American soldier above his bed who is also a triple amputee but is still in the service. He’s standing with his prosthetics and blades, holding his new-born son and Mykola says, ‘This is my hero, I want to be like him.’ He now has hope,” said Kobylecky. The Canadian staff want to get him to Canada for his initial rehabilitation steps and getting his prosthetics fitted in order for the rehab to be continued in Ukraine.
Kobylecky also indicates that although she’s “a little tired, a little home-sick” she has had a lot of interesting cases and great soldiers with great stories. Some of her previous patients have even come back either as consults or just to say hello. One of her former patients “Akula” came back and she recalls that he was “giving everyone hugs and kisses before, during and after the surgeries.”
One of her former patients that has come back to undergo further operations is Serhiy, a conscript officer whose skull was severely damaged around his right eye socket by a GRAD blast (luckily, it did not damage his eye). Some shrapnel is still left in his head but Dr. Antonyshyn had previously put in an implant to push out his lower eye socket. Serhiy will have other operations during this mission to further reconstruct his face which will have a greater impact on him both physically and mentally. A friend of his noted that she has already seen progress from the first operation as not that many people are staring at him in public any longer. Serhiy would like to thank everyone in Canada who helped bring this mission to Ukraine but also wished that Canada never experience this type of war on Canadian soil.
This mission has been funded by a $1.2 million Global Peace and Security Fund grant through the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, and Stryker Canada has donated all of the medical instruments that this mission is using. Krystina Waler, the Director of Humanitarian Initiatives of the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, explained that about $700,000 worth of equipment will stay at the Military Hospital for the Ukrainian doctors to use and for the future use of medical missions. The reason for this is because the implants needed for the operations are so expensive that the majority of servicemen cannot afford it. The amount of implants being left will last the hospital for about 2 years.
Waler also explains that the first two missions operated on 30 patients while on this one the doctors will operate on 40 – this means about 8-9 cases a day with 12 hour work shifts. The most complicated was a patient that has his brain in his eye socket. Unfortunately, he backed out in the last minute because he thought he would lose his eye sight entirely (although, there is no medical evidence of this happening). As Krystina says, “if a patient isn’t ready or has the right mindset, then the surgery is less likely to succeed and more likely to have complications.”
The government funding will also be used to install tele-medicine between the Military Hospital and Sunnybrook so that the Ukrainian and Canadian doctors can communicate with each other. This communication will be used to further train Ukrainian doctors via internet connection. The plan also includes bringing some Ukrainian doctors to Canada for further training and also a $200,000 donation to Patriot Defence for surgical front line training. Waler insists that this “money will go a long way”.
A future mission is scheduled for February 2016 and as another Canadian veteran of the medical missions, nurse Damien Lyn, adds, “Hopefully I will be back in February but each trip is progressively more fulfilling and busier and we’re now seeing more serious cases.” This is because the soldiers realize that the Canadians will come back for further operations and now more of them want to be part of this medical mission.
This third mission has been a hectic one but all the Canadians involved have had a huge impact on the patients and have also been impacted themselves. Moreover, all of them are volunteers, including Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn, who Waler indicates is “the heart and soul of the mission.” Dr. Antonyshyn, along with giving up his vacation and operations in Toronto, has also donated a lot of medical equipment himself for all three missions and he has given “a lot of himself for this and the people here know this…you can feel how much he cares.”
The medical missions will continue and for everyone involved, they wish it to continue well into the future. Why? Because as Waler indicates, “there’s no way we can start this process and then abandon” their patients. This includes little Mykola. If anyone wishes to donate to his ongoing care, please go to https://www.canadahelps.org/dn/24598 for more information.