The rapidly deteriorating situation in Ukraine has forced the suspension of a life-saving cardiac surgery programme organised by the Irish humanitarian aid agency, Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International (CCI).
For the past 10 years teams of surgeons from the US and Canada have travelled to Ukraine and Belarus six times a year to perform operations on children who have been diagnosed with a condition known as “Chernobyl Heart”.
6,000 children are born with genetic heart diseases and defects in Ukraine each year. Medical experts there say these conditions, some of which they describe as “Chernobyl Heart”, are linked to radiation leaks from the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident in 1986.
The “open heart” surgery programme to save the lives of these children is a joint initiative between Ireland, Ukraine and the US.
The €3 million - the programme cost so far - has been raised entirely in Ireland by CCI donors and volunteer fundraising activities.
The operations are carried out in the Regional Hospital in Kharkiv in the east of Ukraine - by some of the world’s leading heart specialists - under the direction of the renowned US cardiologist Dr William Novick, Founder of the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF).
But riots and a worsening security situation in Kharkiv has meant that the current series of operations which were due to be carried out this month have had to be suspended.
“Because the situation in Kharkiv is so tense and volatile we felt we had no option but to cancel the operations which the children and their parents had been hoping for”, said Clonmel native Adi Roche.
“This is very tragic because there are long waiting lists for these vital life-saving operations”.
“At the moment we have teams of surgeons standing by in the US and Canada waiting to travel to Kharkiv but we have been advised that the situation there is so unstable that their safety cannot be guaranteed and that the programme should be suspended for the time being”.
“The reality is that one in every four children diagnosed with the heart defect know as “Chernobyl Heart” will die before they reach the age of six - so the programmes we organise and fund each year are really a race against time”.
“The extraordinary thing is, that because the teams of cardiac surgeons come as volunteers to Ukraine and because we finance the logistical operation to transport them and their specialised equipment, we are able to carry out each operation - and give each child the gift of life - for just $1,000”.
“It is very distressing that we have had to take the decision to put the Cardiac programme on hold but we hope that the situation in Kharkiv will stabilise in the coming months”, says Roche who is a voluntary CEO.