STATEN ISLAND, NY – Sofiia Baturina, 16, had waited months to undergo life-saving heart surgery after fleeing war in Ukraine. Now she is recovering thanks to the efforts of a Staten Island nonprofit that provided free medical care for the teenager from Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.
“We are definitely happy and relieved now to know that the operation went well,” said her sister Anna Burstein. “It was a stressful time for us, because Sofia has had the same surgeon all her life, and going to see a new doctor was not easy, but we had no choice… The whole team was great. Only positive memories.
Sofia was born with a congenital heart condition that required her to undergo surgery earlier this year, according to Burstein, who resides in New York. She was due to have the surgery in January, but it was canceled and postponed to March when she contracted the coronavirus (COVID-19).
But the war started on February 24 and her family was forced to evacuate. Hospitals closed and doctors moved out.
The family found safety in Germany in mid-March and inquired about surgery there. When their inquiries went unanswered, Burstein began exploring options at Manhattan hospitals near her Lincoln Square home.
Her boss introduced her to Annadale pediatrician Dr. Arthur Buonaspina, who connected her with the Staten Island-based nonprofit Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF) and its founder and executive director, Elissa Montanti. – who is no stranger to humanitarian aid.
His non-profit organization Arrochar has helped more than 500 children in 56 war-torn countries over the past 25 years, providing emergency medical care to those who have been physically damaged by the atrocities of war, disasters natural or disease.
It is an organization that has mainly helped children who have lost the use of their limbs or their eyes, or who have been badly burned.
When Montanti heard Sofia’s story, she said she stepped out of her comfort zone to offer help.
“I mainly deal with war and natural disasters, but we help children who have lost limbs and burns and need reconstructive surgery,” she said. “So it was like a tough call, and when I got the email, it was like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to help this family. Like, what am I going to TO DO? ‘”
Montanti called Daniel Messina, president and CEO of Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC), which has supported the nonprofit for years. Messina met with administrators from Mount Sinai, now affiliated with the RUMC, to set the wheels in motion so that Sofia’s surgery is carried out free of charge.
Sofia arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport on June 27.
On August 2, Sofia underwent surgery with Dr. Barry Love, director of the congenital heart catheterization program at the Children’s Heart Center at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital.
The adolescent was born with type 2 pulmonary artery atresia with ventricular septal defect and major collateral aortopulmonary arteries, a complex congenital irregularity characterized by frequently severe abnormalities of pulmonary blood supply.
What this means, Love explained, is that the blood was not coming out to the lungs and she needed a connection placed between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery. In Ukraine, surgeons install a homograph, which is a preserved pulmonary artery from a deceased person, to act as a tube to replace the missing connection.
Sofia underwent her first surgery when she was just 10 months old.
But the tube inserted into the valve narrowed as Sofia grew, making it “very difficult for blood to get from the right side of the pumping chamber to the lungs,” Love said. That’s why Sofia was out of breath.
“Because when she was doing activities, her heart couldn’t increase the amount of blood it pumped because it was pressure-limited and just couldn’t generate enough pressure to push blood out through it. shrinkage,” he said. .
Before war broke out, doctors suggested another surgery to replace this tube.
When Sofia arrived at Mount Sinai, Love ordered her own CT scan and realized she would no longer need open-heart surgery. Doctors could operate using tubes through a small incision instead.
“What we’ve been able to do is shoot balloons to expand that area and then put in stents, which are metal cages mounted on a balloon that when you expand them with the balloon open up and then hold that area . open like a scaffold. It relieved the shrinkage so there was hardly any shrinkage to come out,” Love said.
He then placed a valve on a stent – a transcatheter valve – which was placed inside the scaffold to ensure blood only moved forwards and not backwards.
“FEEL BETTER EVERY DAY”
The operation lasted a few hours and Sofia was discharged from the hospital a day later. She quickly recovered.
“It’s always a big struggle in terms of recovery when you get home,” Love said. “I mean, just from a pain point of view and everything. We considered doing [open heart] surgery for her, but the fact that we were able to do it without surgery, I think, clearly gave a very beneficial recovery advantage to her.
Love saw Sofia on Wednesday for a follow-up exam, and she proudly told him she had taken 19,000 steps.
“She didn’t have to stop and she felt great,” Love said. “Before, after getting on a flight, she had to stop and she was out of breath. Now she can do unlimited activities.
Any valve placed in a patient at Sofia’s age will typically last 10 to 20 years, and Love said he’s optimistic the surgery will see him through to adulthood. With her condition, she will likely need surgery in the future “no matter what”, he said – involving ongoing care and maintenance.
“Sofiia feels better every day, but she stays home most of the time because she’s a little weak,” Burstein said.
Montanti called the successful surgery a “miracle”.
Montanti said GMRF was currently planning its annual fundraiser in September and Sofia was invited with her family.
“They’re going to be there, which I’m really happy about,” Montanti said. “It’s really good because we are also honoring Dan Messina from RUMC, so it will be a special night, because I went to see him and asked him if he could help me. [Sofiia]then he reached out for Mount Sinai.
Montanti is responsible for commissioning hundreds of thousands of dollars for Sofia’s free medical care – changing the trajectory of her life.
Founded in 1997 and short of Montanti’s closet/office for years, GMRF originally housed children receiving medical care in various locations. When 60 Minutes followed Montanti for four months in 2011, chronicling her work with an Iraqi boy, actor Tyler Perry bought her a house on MacFarland Avenue in Arrochar, where she could better facilitate her work. This Dare to Dream house is now home to a rotating shift of children who depend on the generosity of GMRF.
On Wednesday, with the help of Customs and Border Protection at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the non-profit organization welcomed new children with albinism from Zambia. The children will receive surgical prostheses and rehabilitation by the Shriners Hospital of Philadelphia.
Four more children are expected to arrive from Zambia in September. Some had their arms severed with machetes because they had albinism, while others had to recover from serious infections resulting from an amputated limb.
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