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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, Dec 16, 2005, 1:00 am ET

    Press release

    Ukrainian Gift of Life Celebrates Ten-year Milestone: A Fairytale Come True?

    Once upon a time in a faraway land, there were many children born with heart defects and, as they grew, their parents had no hope that they would run or play sports, go to school everyday, or even help with the chores like other children their age. Their families were very sad but many prayed for a miracle and, finally, one day there was hope ~ news that there was help available for their child. Three hundred of these children, ranging in age from one year old to 17 years old, live "more happily after..." having cardiac surgeries because of the dedicated volunteers and generous benefactors of UGOL.

    Ukrainian Gift of Life, Inc. (UGoL) recently celebrated its tenth year of incorporation and these 300 children's lives saved during a reception at the Ukrainian Institute (also celebrating a milestone of 50 years at its headquarters on New York's museum mile). Kathy Kuzma, the organization's treasurer, commented that it has been like a fairy tale for the organization's founders as well as for some of the children and their families. "Ten years ago," she said, "we hoped to save the lives of one or two children a year through relationships we had developed. We are grateful to God that our efforts have blossomed to such an extent."

    Since 1995, in addition to arranging for surgeries for 100 children at hospitals in Chicago, New Jersey and New York and sponsoring 200 children's surgeries (35 in 2005) at the Lviv Surgical Center in Ukraine, UGoL has published textbooks, sourced equipment and consumables for clinics and hospitals in Ukraine, refurbished a PICU and provided observational training for eight medical professionals from Ukraine at US teaching hospitals.

    The formal program of the afternoon began when Marta Kokolskyj, UGoL's Advisor on Global Affairs introduced Nataliya Kostenko, representing the Ukrainian Consulate in New York, and Andryj Nikitov, representing Valerij Kuchinsky, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Nations. They expressed gratitude for the spirit of cooperation and outreach actively pursued not only by members of the Ukrainian Diaspora in the US but also the generosity exhibited by Americans, in general, to advance pediatric cardiology in Ukraine while the country is working to overcome poor technological advancement that existed under Soviet domination. There is evidence in UGoL's programs that Ukrainian surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists and other medical professionals are seeking to successfully meet the challenges of bridging the gap in technology and overcoming limitations imposed by the poor economic condition of families and hospitals and the government's ability to subsidize programs.

    UGoL President, George Kuzma, then highlighted some new initiatives in 2005, including establishment of a partnership with the charitable organizations CARITAS and CARDIO in supporting UGoL's outreach to the villages and of a Mother's Group in Lviv consisting of volunteer parents from the UGoL programs. Dr. Mykola Konyk, the chief of the Lviv Surgical Center's Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Department, will spearhead the outreach effort to bring more children from outlying areas into Lviv for diagnosis and possible assistance from UGoL programs. As is true with cases to date, if the child is diagnosed with a congenital defect of the type for which surgical correction at the center has a high success rate, the parents can opt to have surgery performed at the Center by Dr. Konyk's team. For more complex cases, the child may be scheduled for surgery to coincide with the quarterly visits of surgical teams from Western Europe or the US. Extremely complex cases are diagnosed and prepared by Dr. Yuriy Ivaniv, Director of Diagnostic Radiology at Danylo Halytsky State Medical University for presentation to a US hospital. The volunteer mothers provide shelter and subsistence to parents in need who come with their children to Lviv to obtain a diagnosis of the child's heart defect. This group, one of very few volunteer groups operating in Ukraine, also provides support for the needs of the newly refurbished and equipped PICU at Lviv Regional Surgical Center.

    George Kuzma also announced cooperation with the Odessa Regional Children's Hospital. Upon meeting with the hospital's director and Dr. Roman Lekan, Chief of Cardio-Vascular Surgery, the UGoL Board of Trustees and Directors agreed to sponsor Dr. Lekan for observational training in the US. He was one of three doctors brought to the US for training at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in 2005.

    The keynote speaker was Dr. Oleksandr Bablyak, another of the doctors brought to America to study advanced techniques at CHOP under UGoL's OpCOT program. Dr. Bablyak is a young, aggressive cardiothoracic surgeon who received much of his education in Australia and currently splits his practice between the Amosov Institute in Kyiv and Lviv Surgical Center. He spoke on the dramatic changes in pediatric cardiology and surgery since he entered the profession and discussed the feasibility of self-sufficiency in Ukraine and outreach to surrounding countries during the next ten years, which he said "…is possible, but it is only through ongoing training opportunities and other support provided by benevolent organizations like UGoL that advancements in pediatric cardiology can continue in Ukraine". On behalf of the volunteers and benefactors, the UGoL President accepted the challenge to continue providing such support.

    The group was brought to tears when Lesya Bablyak, the surgeon's spouse and an accomplished Iconographer, presented an original icon to Stephanie Andre, Director of the UGoL program Operation CHILD CARDIo-CARE-UA and the Operation CHILD CARDIo-CARE-US Welcoming Committee. In making the presentation of the beautiful icon of the "Blessed Virgin Mary, Protectress of Children", Lesya noted that Stephanie reflected the image of Mary reaching out over the children. This recognition was well deserved as Stephanie touches almost every child in the program. She manages funding of surgeries in Ukraine and builds a bond between the sponsors and child's family through coordinating an exchange of photos and letters. With other welcome team volunteers, Stephanie visits and brings gifts to each child and parent who comes to America.

    Two UGoL Heart and Spirit Awards were presented this year with heartfelt appreciation for generous support of the OpCCCare program for children from Ukraine requiring heart surgery and OpCOT program for training of pediatric cardiology professionals.

    In a crisis situation last year when another hospital cancelled scheduled surgeries, NYU MEDICAL CENTER DEPARTMENT OF CARDIOTHORACIC SURGERY agreed to perform three surgeries for children who were already in the US. The second Heart and Spirit award was presented to CHOP (THE CARDIAC CENTER at THE CHILDRENS HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA) for providing training to seven pediatric cardiology medical professionals from Ukraine in the past three years. Since key members of the Center were at a conference and could not attend, the award was accepted by Theodore Kurman, the UGoL program director who has coordinated the training effort since its inception.

    The guests were entertained throughout the event by Alla Kutsevych and her bandura. Alla also joined the Sisters Pavlishyn whose stage presence captivated the audience. The two young girls sang a medley of songs in Ukrainian and English as well as selections from their album.

    Ihor Shevchuk, website program director, took this opportunity to remind everyone that there are continuous updates to pictures of children benefiting from the program and other current events. Tenth anniversary activities will be posted on the website, including information about a summer 2006 Tour to Ukraine. Visiting Kyiv, Ivano Frankivsk and Lviv and surrounding areas, the ten days will culminate with a gala celebration at the Youth Palace in Lviv to which all children who have been hosted in the US or sponsored in Ukraine will be invited to attend with their families.

    With the formal program ended, the guests continued celebrating and participating in a silent auction of gifts and hand made artifacts from children's families. One guest offered that it was "…a warm, wonderful feeling to come together with so many people with such generous hearts." She continued, "it is encouraging at this time, when the world is in conflict, to know that love can bridge an ocean to help miracles happen for others in need."

    Also announced at this event was that on-line donations can now be made at To make donations, offer administrative time or translator services or for additional information (i.e. memorials, matching funds), contact: UGoL at 233 Rock Rd., Glen Rock, NJ 07452 or 201-652-4762 or visit its website, All contributions are tax-deductible.

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