The war interrupted the cancer treatment of these young patients, but more than 400 were able to find help at a clinic in Poland.
BOCHENIEC, Poland – Twenty-two-month-old Eva Vakulenko underwent four rounds of chemotherapy for leukemia at a Ukrainian hospital and then suffered a relapse. When she started coming back again for extra treatment, Russia invadeddisrupting doctors ’efforts to cure her.
Air raids forced the baby to hide for hours in the basement of a hospital in Lviv in the west of the country, which made her feel even worse. She cried a lot and sought solace from her grandmother, who is caring for her after her parents were involved in an accident that left her mother disabled with brain and leg injuries.
Therefore, when doctors told Eva’s grandmother that they could be evacuated to Poland, she took the chance.
“It’s very difficult for children to go somewhere in the middle of the night and sit in the basement for a long time,” said Nadia Kryminets, holding her granddaughter, whose kind smiles did not give a hint of the ordeal she went through. .
“We were told that she was in stable condition and should try to go. Otherwise, she is simply sentenced to death, ”the grandmother said.
The little girl, who, according to her grandmother, understands everything, is one of more than 400 Ukrainian cancer children who were evacuated to a clinic in Poland. Doctors then place them in one of about 200 hospitals in 28 countries.
“We sort patients when they arrive at our center,” said Dr. Martin Wlodarski, a pediatric hematologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, who staffs Marian Wilemsky’s Unicorn Clinic in Baczanka in central Poland.
Stable patients from there are quickly transferred to hospitals in other countries, and those in the worst condition are first stabilized in Polish hospitals, he said.
“Then they return to us and can be sent for further travel,” said Vlodarsky.
Decisions need to be made quickly because time is important for young cancer patients.
The evacuation began immediately after Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24 and is a joint effort of St. Jude, the Polish Society of Pediatric Oncology and Hematology, the Polish Fundacja Herosi (Heroes’ Foundation) and the Ukrainian charity Tabletochki, which advocates for child protection. with cancer.
Dr. Martha Salek, another pediatric hematologist-oncologist from St. Jude, who staffs the Polish clinic, said the center accepts large numbers of patients and convoys arriving from Lviv through humanitarian corridors.
“Sometimes we can have convoys with only 20 patients, but we can have up to 70 patients at a time and even more,” she said.
In the clinic in the room is a large container with white stuffed unicorns, as well as a wooden set of trains, bright balloons and other toys that children enjoy playing with.
More than 3 million people – about half of them children – have fled Ukraine as the country faces a brutal military offensive by Russian civilians. Of these, more than 2 million people arrived in Poland, Ukraine’s largest neighbor in the west. A spokesman for Poland’s health ministry said on Friday that the country was treating 1,500 refugees in hospitals, many of whom were suffering from hypothermia after the trip, and 840 of them children.
The World Health Organization said Friday that cancer is a major health problem as a result of the war. It says it supports the efforts of organizations that are “working against the clock to resume treatment for children with cancer.”
“Cancer itself is a problem, but treatment disruptions, stress and the risk of infection mean that hundreds of children can die prematurely,” said Dr. Roman Kizima, head of the Western Ukrainian Specialized Children’s Medical Center in Lviv, where children’s cancer patients are. first stabilized before they were sent across the border to Poland.
“We believe that these are indirect victims of this war,” Kizima said in a statement from the WHO.
Among those in the clinic this week was Anna Rabika from Poltava, Ukraine, who was visiting her daughter Lyubov, who has neuroblastoma.
“Currently, treatment is impossible in Ukraine. Fighting is going on, there are no doctors, surgery and chemotherapy are impossible. And even maintenance therapy is also impossible to get, ”she said. “So we had to look for salvation somewhere.”
This is not a step that all parents have been able to take for their sick children, she said.
“There are a lot of sick children left there,” she said. “Because the parents were worried and didn’t want to go into obscurity.”