9-year-old girl travels from war-torn Ukraine to Long Island for life-saving heart surgery

Kristin Thorne Image
Friday, July 22, 2022
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Polina Shchepaniak, 9, traveled from Ukraine to Long Island to receive life-saving heart surgery at St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center. Kristin Thorne has the story.

ROSLYN, Long Island (WABC) -- A 9-year-old girl from Ukraine got surgery Wednesday that could change her life forever.

St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center and Gift of Life Long Island partnered together to provide the life-changing heart surgery to 9-year-old Polina Shchepaniak.

She needed surgery to fix a hole between the two upper chambers of her heart.

Doctors say it's a relatively common defect that was traditionally fixed through open heart surgery.

However, Shchepaniak couldn't get the heart operation in her homeland of Ukraine because of the war. That was until Wednesday.

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Sean Leychuck, the chair of pediatric cardiology at St. Francis Hospital, was able to perform a non-invasive procedure by using a catheter and an umbrella-shaped devide, called an Amplatzer ASD Occluder. With the device, it was able to grab both sides of the hole and close it.

Thanks to the doctors, the procedure was successful and Shchepaniak recovered at the hospital.

"It is always a special day when you can give an assist to someone who is struggling through tough times," Dr. Levchuck said. "It's especially great given the circumstances that surround this little girl's case."

Polina's mother Kateryna Shchepaniak said she has known about her daughter's condition since she was just 11 days old.

After communicating with Gift of Life and Dr. Levchuck, the family made the trip from Ukraine to Long Island for the surgery.

"I'm so grateful to St. Francis Hospital and Gift of Life," Kateryna Shchepaniak said. "It was always a big scare for me every time she got the flu or a cold because of the hole in her heart, but now I don't have to worry."

The Global Network of Gift of Life has helped more than 43,000 children from 80 countries.

Polina Shchepaniak's surgery was the first Gift of Life sponsored procedure on Long Island since 2019 due to the COVID pandemic.

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