Boston burn doctors help save suffering Ukrainian children

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Two young children with severe burns, accompanied by a single parent each, fled by car from different regions of war-ravaged Ukraine toward the Polish border.

From Poland, away from Russian bombs, they boarded a flight that is at least 10 hours long no matter if they flew from border cities like Lublin or Rzeszow or from the capital Warsaw, and landed sometime around midnight — late Wednesday or early Thursday — to be treated by burn specialists at Boston’s Shriners Children’s Hospital.

“The easiest part is actually the burn care for us, the surgery, the hard part is the logistics of getting a sick kid halfway around the world. It’s complicated, it’s expensive,” said Dr. Rob Sheridan, the medical director of the hospital’s burn services unit, during a press conference Friday morning. “Especially now, where air ambulances can’t get into Ukraine.”

Outside of the violence and inability to fly in or out of Ukraine, the logistics of helping children there is further complicated by the visa process, said Dr. Gennadiy Fuzaylov, a pediatric anesthetist at the hospital, as the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv was closed in February as Russia began its invasion.

One of the children, a 2-year-old girl from Kyiv, had burns covering roughly 70% of her body, Sheridan said, when boiling water fell on her March 25 as shells rained down on her capital city.

Forty percent of those burns are what the doctors called “deep burns.” Following specialized treatment from the only certified pediatric burn unit in New England, she could see more than two months of inpatient recovery at an estimated day per percent burned.

Another child, a 17-month-old “little guy,” in Sheridan’s words, from Lviv in the western end of the country was also burned by boiling water and suffered burns to 45% of his body.

These are the fourth and fifth children extracted by American hospitals since the start of the war, four of whom have ended up at the Hub’s Shriners hospital. The other arrived at some point at a burn unit at a hospital in Georgia.

It’s the latest in the Ukrainian outreach program managed by Fuzaylov over the last 15 years that has seen a total of 67 children from the country receive treatment from Shriners hospitals upon referral from partners there. Fuzaylov said that he and other doctors were on the ground there late last year. Shriners outreach to Ukraine specifically reaches back at least to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster.

“Shriners Children’s stands ready to care for more children from the region who can benefit from our specialized care,” Jerry Gannt, chairman of the system’s board of trustees, said in a statement.

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