A Sea Cliff-based charity has adjusted a planned project to help a Ukrainian pediatric cardiac center after the Russian invasion created security problems and shifted its needs.

Russian Gift of Life, which is now using the name RGOL USA, has helped fund surgical training missions to Russia for years, partnering with organizations that sent medical teams on trips to hospitals and clinics to get them up to speed on the latest techniques to address congenital heart problems in children.

The group had been in talks with the Multidisciplinary Clinical Hospital of Emergency and Intensive Care in Lviv, Ukraine, for more than a year, said RGOL executive director Sophie Pompea.

"We are exploring the possibility of sending medical training missions there to develop a sustainable pediatric cardiac center," Pompea said. Due to the war, the Lviv hospital’s current need is "to get some basic medical equipment in order to be able to operate on children," she added.

Dmytro Besh, a cardiac surgeon at the hospital in Lviv, said in a phone interview that they added a pediatric cardiac practice over the past 18 months because none existed in the region, but that medical staff isn’t yet trained to do the most complicated surgeries.

"Now in our hospital we have five kids who need urgent cardiac surgical support … but it's very difficult for us because we know that we have lack of some skills, we have lack of materials and so on," Besh said.

The hospital was meant to serve its region, but the war has driven patients there from other parts of Ukraine, sharply increasing its patient load.

"Now we have a lot of kids who come to us, to our clinic, because they haven't any other option," Besh said.

Basic medicine such as antibiotics and sedatives are in low supply at the hospital because they’ve been taken to frontline hospitals in the East, he said.

"The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on children and families, especially the most vulnerable, including children living with disabilities and children with congenital heart conditions," UNICEF spokesperson Joe English wrote in an email. "Children with conditions such as these often require specific care or interventions that are just not possible when hospitals, medical facilities, doctors are at best running on fumes and at worst coming under attack."

RGOL USA, an affiliate of Gift of Life International, incorporated in 1991 and in its early years focused on bringing children to the United States for cardiac surgeries. That mission later shifted to training and equipping medical centers in the former Soviet Union to create sustainable facilities where they were needed.

One of their completed projects was a series of training missions from 2015 to 2019 to a medical center in Voronezh, Russia, in partnership with the Memphis-based Novick Cardiac Alliance.

William Novick, surgeon and chief executive of Novick Cardiac Alliance, said the Soviet Union and successor countries didn’t produce the surgical skill sets or number of centers needed to handle the cases in those countries.

"There are about 1.5 million children born every year with surgically correctable heart disease," Novick said. About a third of those get the surgeries they need in upper-income and some middle-income countries, he noted. "There are a lot of kids that die every year that don’t get operated on, not just the … children that were born and survived their first year."

Novick said that at the beginning of the Voronezh project, his medical teams did most of the surgeries during two-week trips while Russian doctors assisted. By the end, it had reversed, with local doctors performing most surgeries as his team assisted, Novick said.

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