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“Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!” to Canada Ukraine Foundation’s Rainbow Medical Team

“Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!” to Canada Ukraine Foundation’s Rainbow Medical Team
Article by: Canada Ukraine Foundation
Edited by: Lisa Spencer

Canada Ukraine Foundation Operation Rainbow Medical Mission, a Canadian funded medical team, completes 37 complex surgeries

Toronto, Canada (November 20, 2014) – A specialized team of Canadian health professionals recently returned home after completing a medical mission in Ukraine.

The team worked alongside Ukrainian doctors and nurses in performing reconstructive complex surgical procedures on victims of the Euromaidan movement and Vladimir Putin’s invasion into Eastern Ukraine.

Following is the first-hand account from Adrian Hawaleshk,a their CUF OR Med Mission team member:

My apologies… this will be a long post…

Just returned from Ukraine and many are asking how things were over there… what kind of patients did I see… how is the morale of the people?

I thought I’d share a few general observations and some of what we did via this forum.

We were based at Kyiv’s Central Military Hospital… an institution that is older than the United States!!! (Taras Shevchenko was treated here!) and for the first couple of days, we assess patients re. their injuries and suitability for the OR. I was overwhelmed by the patients I saw. All are young… at my age I would call them children. These children are victims of war; 18 year olds irreversibly physically scarred by the fire of RPG shrapnel and psychologically by the death and destruction around them in the east of the country. Psychologically, they seem stable but the monotone, barely audible quality of their voices… their inability to look you in the eyes… leaves no doubt that PTSD burns underneath.

The scars are both visibly and morally appalling. Within 2 hours I have seen 2 young men whose FACES HAD BEEN COMPLETELY BLOWN OFF by the power of man’s seemingly inexhaustible desire to destroy others. Simply imagine: Their faces had been completely blown off!!!!

The original reconstruction by Ukrainian surgeons (highly qualified surgeons, now more skilled in trauma surgery than we can ever aspire to be… for our sakes I say this hopefully) is impressive. They have taken what must have been a complete mess and constructed, in the heat of battle, at 2 or 3 in the morning, during surgeries lasting 5-10 hours at a time, what looks like a grossly scarred and disfigured face…but the basic elements of a face are there. The patient has been repaired to a functional state, but aesthetically, the surgery leaves the patients looking like they have been run over by a truck.

Other patients have had their eyes enucleated (meaning their eyes have been ripped out by shrapnel)… their hands blown off by mortar blasts… burns to all parts of their body… the list is endless.

My first anesthetic is for Roman who I had assessed on the very first day. Roman’s story is one of the amazing stories I encountered! Seeing his friend shot by a sniper during battle, Roman himself was shot by the same sniper while he was attempting to get his friend to safety. The bullet ripped through the left side of Roman’s face destroying his orbital bone and blowing his left eye out of his socket. His friend did not survive. The one time he looked me in the eyes he said… and this left me humbled by his strength… “don’t worry though… I got the sniper”! After being shot… he circled around and with only one eye… eliminated the sniper!

Another patient I treat is Andrij… he had a bullet rip through his scapula… dissect up his neck and then blast through his left lower jaw and out his mouth. He said he could still taste the metal of the bullet as it exited his mouth, destroying most of his teeth. The man is both unlucky and extremely lucky at the same time. Unlucky that this has happened to him … Lucky that he is alive. To dissect up the neck and NOT damage any major vascular structures (carotid, jugular) or damage the trachea… is simply incredible and a one-in-a-million event!

Andrij’s case is delicate and long. The team is exceptional. Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn (Plastic surgeon, craniofacial, Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto) is extremely skilled. Working with surgeons, you quickly learn who has ‘IT’ and who doesn’t. Dr. Antonyshyn definitely HAS IT! He works decisively… efficiently… with economy of motion. When he does bone grafts (taken from the patients left hip), the bone he acquires is generally perfect for grafting after his first modification of the graft. His team working with him is also excellent: Dr. Kimit Rai (Plastic Surgeon, Surgical director False Creek Medical Centre BC), Dr.Tara Stewart (Plastic surgeon, craniofacial, Markham Stouffville Hospital), Dr. Ulana Kawun (General Surgeon, Rouge Valley Centenary Hospital), Dr. Siba Haykal (Plastic surgery resident, University of Toronto) and Dr. Raisa Hontscharuk (Plastic surgery resident, University of Toronto)are able, efficient and caring physicians. I am proud to have worked with them all.

The anesthetics themselves are interesting. We do not have anesthesia machines per se… We have Ukrainian made ‘Bryz’ ventilators and provide TIVA via 2 infusion pumps (propofol and fentanyl). There are no amnestic agents used. While effective… it is not the most controllable of anesthetics. However, it does the job and they wake up relatively well narcotized.

The most notable thing about ALL OF OUR PATIENTS: their emergence is like nothing I have experienced before. They wake up grateful that the operation was done and without complaints. Two patients IMMEDIATELY THANK EVERYONE and one, when asked if anything hurts, replied: “only my spirit”. I’m not ashamed to say that it made me choke up.

A final note:

On our last surgical day, the main generals/surgeons hosted us at a thank-you luncheon. At the end, as we were walking out the door… one of the first patients we operated on came in through the door of the building. He had come looking for us. He thanked me profusely… gave me a hug and he wanted to thank the surgeon personally. I went to get Dr. Tara Stewart … the lead surgeon in this case, and told her: “you are about to experience something you will remember for the rest of your life”. I led her by the hand to the patient… he smiled… grabbed her in a strong hug that lasted for at least 30 seconds… and all he repeated was “thank you, thank you, thank you”.

There is no doubt…The physical scars will never disappear. The psychological scars will never completely heal. Perhaps, with what we have accomplished here… we have lessened both just a little bit just by showing that we care! That someone outside of their situation… from a country far, far away… cares!

Thanks to the CUF and Project Rainbow teams for making this happen (Krystina Waler ( Krystina Lauren) … you did a fantastic job!!!!). Thanks to my team members for their professionalism and making this so enjoyable!

Slava Ukraini!  1002531_734358373311211_7360101151001566783_n 10402409_734358333311215_3725315387745510071_n


Video, photos, and more information about the mission:

Video in Ukrainian (This website works intermittently, so you can try direct:

Photo album

The mission was organized by the Canada Ukraine Foundation and Operation Rainbow Canada, under the patronage of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. The medical team of 25 professionals was comprised entirely of volunteers and included surgeons, anesthetists, and nurses. The team was assembled from across Canada including Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto. Over 60 patients from across Ukraine with complex post-traumatic defects and deformities were seen in consultation. A total of 37 reconstructive procedures were performed in 30 patients.
These included:
• 7 skull reconstructions
• 10 bony reconstructions of the facial skeleton
• 9 soft tissue reconstructions of the eyelids, nose, lips
• 5 burn and scar revisions
• 6 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 hrs We hope to return in the near future and continue to work with our Ukrainian counterparts to provide the best possible care to those injured in the current crisis”.

Funding for the mission came from “United for Ukraine”, a gala fundraiser organized by the Canada Ukraine Foundation held 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 Diamond 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.”

“This mission was ground-breaking in terms of the collaboration between medical professionals in Ukraine and Canada,” continued Antonyshyn. “To be welcomed into the surgical theatres 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.”

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.

“From a fundraising perspective, “United for Ukraine” was an incredible success, bringing in more than $200,000,” said Victor Hetmanczuk, President of the Canada Ukraine Foundation. “We are looking at the feasibility of a second mission and it looks very promising.”

The Canada Ukraine Foundation is also grateful to the sponsors of United for Ukraine, who made this mission possible. They include: Eugene Melnyk, Canadian Tire, Molson Coors Canada, the Temerty Family, the Ihnatowycz Family, Bell Canada, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Jacyk Foundation, the Ukrainian Credit Union, Buduchnist Credit Union, Buduchnist Foundation, Caravan Logistics, Yarcia Huculak and Family, CIBC, Manulife, and Community Trust Credit Union.

The Canada Ukraine Foundation was established by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress to coordinate, develop, organize and deliver assistance projects generated by Canadians and directed to Ukraine. It is a registered charitable foundation.


For more information, photos or video, please contact:
Laryssa Waler
Canada Ukraine Foundation
[email protected]

Edited by: Lisa Spencer
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