Polina Shchepaniak needed an operation to repair a hole between the two upper chambers of her heart, but the war in Ukraine prevented her from having it there. Through the Gift of Life Foundation, Polina and her mother were able to travel to Long Island, where she underwent the procedure at St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center.  Credit: Newsday/John Conrad Williams Jr.

A nine-year-old Ukrainian girl who arrived in the United States last month can dance a little longer after getting a patch surgically installed to seal a hole in her heart in Flower Hill.

While waiting for surgery for the past six weeks, Polina Shchepaniak made short mobile phone videos for her YouTube channel where she danced to pop music and waved an American flag. On Wednesday, she uploaded a video of herself laying in a hospital bed at St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center, waving to the camera with wires attached to her fingers.

“I’m feeling good,” she said Friday. “But now after surgery, I’m feeling better.”

Shchepaniak’s parents had scheduled the surgery for March in her hometown of Lviv to repair a congenital heart defect, diagnosed in her first weeks of life. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February threw those plans into disarray as the country’s medical sector shifted toward treating war wounded.

Long Island Gift of Life, an organization affiliated with Rotary International, stepped in to bring Polina here to get life-changing surgery. The organization for decades has brought children to the United States for surgery, though these days their emphasis is on missions to hospitals overseas where volunteer doctors train local surgeons. With war raging in Ukraine, the organization looked to bring a patient here and contacted Shchepaniak’s surgeon in Lviv, Dmytro Besh, who they have worked with in the past. He recommended Polina for surgery in the United States.

Sean Levchuck, chair of pediatric cardiology at St. Francis, performed the surgery Wednesday. Using a catheter inserted in a vein in Polina's leg, he  put a patch on an approximately 1-centimeter hole in her heart, a condition called an atrial septal defect.

“She was born with it and what happens is it makes the heart work doubly, twice as hard as it needs to,” Levchuck told Newsday.

Left untreated, the condition can lead to serious heart problems and other illnesses in adulthood. Though the surgery is typically performed years earlier in a child’s life in the United States, getting the surgery at 9 “is really good,” especially because “she's in a country now where there's really not a lot of medical care,” he said, referring to war-torn Ukraine.

The patch will stay on Polina's heart for life, he said.

Polina arrived here with her mother Kateryna Shchepaniak and they have been staying with a host family in East Meadow.

“I am blessed and I am very grateful for all the people who help us,” Kateryna said. Her husband, Polina’s father remained in Ukraine during their time here but stayed connected throughout.

“He was with us all time on the video call,” Kateryna said. “For one minute before surgery to when she eventually opened eyes.”

Polina, who was discharged from the hospital Thursday, said she hopes to now have a normal life.

“I want to run, ride a bike,” Polina said. “I want to do like my friends.”

They hope to get to Long Island’s beaches before returning to Ukraine on Aug. 1, going back to a country at war.

“It's very dangerous … but it's our country and we must be there because we are young, strong and brave,” Kateryna said. “I feel like [as a] Ukrainian woman, I must come back and I must help my country to survive.”

The first thing on Polina’s agenda when she returns? “I want to hug my whole family,” she said.

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