CUF’s Medical Mission to Odesa

By New Pathway -May 15, 2019 – Victor Hetmanczuk

From May 18 – 27, 2018, Canada-Ukraine Foundation held its 6th medical mission in Ukraine. The mission worked in Odesa and had as its goal to treat individuals injured in the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine and conduct surgical master classes which would contribute to capacity building within Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense medical system. The mission was located at the Military Hospital Clinic Centre of the Southern Region.

Specifically, this project aimed to:

  1. Provide soldiers and civilians with devastating injuries an opportunity for the most complex surgical reconstructions, to restore function, minimize disfigurement, and enable them to return to assume productive lives.
  2. Save lives and radically reduce the number of casualties succumbing to their injuries due to inadequate primary trauma care.
  3. Provide training to local surgeons, anesthetists, and nurses, and provide them with the requisite resources to achieve and maintain a global standard of primary trauma care and post-traumatic deformity reconstruction.

Thankfully, instability in the country and war in Eastern Ukraine didn’t overwhelm treatment capacity in Odesa, the medical mission was carried out as planned. Instability in the country and ongoing war did not directly threaten the safety of the teams during the mission. All postoperative complications have been minimal.

Emails were exchanged between CUF lead surgeon, Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn and Ukrainian surgeons Dr. Fedirko and Dr. Mazur who have both conducted follow-up procedures and continue to offer their services to all of our patients.

The mission achieved:

  • Rapid intraoperative education of sophisticated health professionals (local Ukrainian plastic, ENT, maxillofacial and neurosurgeons, anesthetists, operating room staff), providing enhanced beneficiary skill to treat complex trauma and post-traumatic deformity.
  • Enhanced beneficiary access to resources required to perform complex trauma and post-trauma reconstruction and in implementing primary trauma life support.

Direct Beneficiaries:

  • Total # of direct beneficiaries (people directly trained, impacted, or influenced by the project): 139
  • Total # of direct beneficiaries who were women and girls: 33
  • Total # of direct beneficiaries who were men and boys: 106
  • Total # of indirect beneficiaries: An estimate of 700 people were indirect beneficiaries.

Indirect beneficiaries:

  • Medical professionals of the MOD of Ukraine and their patients and their families.
  • Families of wounded soldiers and civilians.
  • Medical students who attended lectures given by Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn and Dr. Todd Mainprize.

Gender Equality:

Gender considerations were taken into consideration as much as possible.

  • The surgical team travelling from Canada was comprised of both men and women. All professions were represented by both genders, demonstrating that both genders are capable of being great nurses and doctors. We worked closely with both male and female colleagues based on their specialties. We tried to and believe that we did empower women to take on leadership roles in the hospital and within the medical department in the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. One way this was done was through one-on-one training between our operating room nurses and their Ukrainian counterparts. Jodi Clements mentored a young Ukrainian nurse teaching her the more advanced responsibilities that she has in the O.R. with the permission of the Ukrainian head nurse.
  • Patient recruitment did not differentiate between genders. Soldiers and volunteers injured as a result of the war, requiring the type of medical treatment our team is providing, were considered without preference for one gender over the other. There were very few females.
  • Efforts were made to report how many female and male members were part of the training audience. Reporting has been segregated by gender.

While every effort was made to be as inclusive as possible, the reality remains that there are not as many women as men enlisted in the Ukrainian armed forces. Very few women are serving in active duty on the front lines and therefore are not injured as often. Ukraine still has a male dominated military culture where women are not looked upon as equals in many cases. CUF made every effort to empower the women with whom we did come in contact. By taking male nurses and female surgeons with us on our medical missions we wanted to show our Ukrainian colleagues that the stereotype of women being nurses and men being doctors, which is so prevalent in Ukrainian culture, could be successfully altered.

One of our female patients was a volunteer and the other was in her home when it was bombed in Luhansk. The patient whose home was destroyed lost one of her legs and had severe burns on her body. Her hands were affected to the point where it is very difficult.

This was CUF’s first medical mission to Odesa. A lot of preparation work was done including two advance visits to help prepare the hospital and make them understand CUF’s requirements for the mission. Many supplies were collected and purchased in Canada in advance of the mission. Unfortunately, our shipment of 25 large boxes filled with supplies did not arrive on time. Thankfully the team had enough supplies with them and were able to purchase other necessary supplies to make up for this shortage. We were fortunate that we did not have to turn away any surgery thanks to the flexibility of Dr. Antonyshyn and his team and the willingness of the Ukrainian team to help us find and share whatever we needed.

The mission began on a very positive note with the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine, Mr. Roman Waschuk hosting a kick-off reception along with members of the Operation Unifier team. Over 150 attended the reception. This included various stakeholders in Odesa and many of our counterparts from the Odesa Military Hospital.

Operations took place from Monday to Friday with 3 operating tables running full-out for the 5 days straight. Both teams worked very well together and the mission was deemed a success by both teams. The head of the hospital has invited CUF back again for the same sort of “master class medical mission” whenever we are willing.