Stories From the Field:


Burn Care in Ukraine

Whitney Knouse, CRNA

There are over 40,000 burn related injuries in Ukraine each year, 10,500 of them are children.  Many of these children lack the access and the means to treat these injuries at a great cost to their quality of life. Doctors Collaborating to Help Children (DCtoHC) organized this trip to bring surgical options and medical treatment to children who have suffered burn injuries and could not otherwise receive care they needed.  In addition, DCtoHC provides education on prevention of burn injuries and collaborates with local and national governments to improve the care in the existing burn care facilities.

This was my second time traveling with this amazing group of people to Ukraine and yet I still felt apprehensive.  Even though I had been on medical outreach before, there is still the fear of the unknown.  But the minute I saw the old crew at the airport preparing for a new journey, I wasn’t nervous anymore.  After approximately 9 hours and 5 minutes of travel time, our team of 10 arrived in Lviv, Ukraine exhausted, but ready to work.  We had a daunting task ahead of us and there were several barriers along the way.  First and foremost was the language barrier.  The director of DCtoHC, being from this region of the world spoke Russian and Ukrainian well enough to translate during preparations and debriefing.  But we were to have three operating room tables running concurrently, so several local translators were enlisted.  It was still a challenge, as often split second decisions must be made, and now we had to account for the time to translate.  The other challenges were equipment and space.  Much of the equipment we used was donated to our organization by several other charitable groups without which we could not have made this trip possible.  These include the Shriners Hospital for Children, The Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, MEEST, and Americare.

The first time meeting the patients was on Monday after a weekend of preparation at the medical clinic.  We saw approximately 100 children over the course of the day and 40 children were chosen for surgery.  The surgeries to be performed were reconstructive procedures for children living with the debilitating scars of previous burns and trauma.  Some of them we had seen before and others were new to us.  But each of them was special, each of them was strong, and each of them showed a resilience that is seldom seen in day to day life.  All challenges aside, it was an incredible experience.  I was so inspired by the children and families we met, and the experience of caring for those most deserving and most in need renewed my love of the profession of medicine.

We performed nearly 40 surgeries over the course of four days.  The local nurses, physicians and medical administrators were invaluable. They worked with us for 12 plus hours voluntarily and without pay. Whatever we needed, they made it happen.  When situations became challenging, they came through every time.  When we were flat out exhausted and near personal implosion, they were there with support and a cup of coffee.  Despite the language barrier and despite barely knowing each other, a trust was formed.  Experiences like this show that people from different countries, different backgrounds and different education can come together and make great things happen.  I take away from this trip amazing memories of the team, the children, and a new faith in that drives us all in medicine, the power of healing.