Both Serguei Melnitchouk and his wife, Nelya, are surgeons, he at Massachusetts General Hospital and she at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Both are Harvard Medical School assistant professors, and both have families who are safe for now in small towns in Ukraine.
“We are constantly checking the news and trying to find ways to help,” said Nelya, who directs the Brigham’s colorectal surgery fellowship and is working with her husband on a series of medical aid projects for Ukraine. “Obviously, this whole war is very close to my heart.”
The Melnitchouks shared their story and experiences on Tuesday during an online gathering of medical personnel from HMS and its affiliated hospitals, which drew more than 140 to the noontime session.
Since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, the pair have been marshaling resources here to help over there. They had created a nonprofit, the Global Medical Knowledge Alliance, which provided practical physician-education materials that were translated into Ukrainian and Russian. The war kicked their efforts into high gear, and their team of 15 volunteers is pressing to translate the American College of Surgeons’ Advanced Trauma Life Support Manual, which would provide help dealing with the kinds of wounds local physicians might see on a battlefield or the streets of a city under siege.
They’ve also recorded instructional videos, some aimed at physicians and others at laypeople, about how to stop bleeding, do a chest tube insertion, and keep safe in the event of chemical, biological, or nuclear attack. They’ve gathered and sent trauma packs with tourniquets, surgical staples, needles, nasopharyngeal tubes, endotracheal tubes, and other supplies. The packs are carried by people traveling to Poland, picked up there, and transported into Ukraine, where they are brought to health care facilities.
Mark Poznansky, a professor of medicine at HMS and director of the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at MGH, helped organize the event, and said in introductory remarks that it may be the first of a series of regular gatherings intended to share knowledge and update community members about each other’s efforts. Poznansky said his own family left Poland before World War II, and that nation’s experiences made him recognize the horrible, far-reaching costs of war. Some 65,000 Poles lost their lives in the initial invasion by then-allied Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. By the conflict’s end, more than 5 million were dead, including 3 million Jews.
Poznansky said the event is intended as a first step, and that the larger challenge is not to wait until the fighting stops, but to support restoring and rebuilding Ukraine’s health care system even as it is being severely damaged, so that it continues to serve people in need.
“This is about restoring health care while it is under attack,” Poznansky said.