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University Hospitals doc leads medical mission to Ukraine to perform surgeries, teach surgical techniques

Dr. Laura Bukavina, a Ukrainian-born urologic oncologist at University Hospital's Parma Medical Center, is leaving for a week-long medical mission to Ukraine Oct. 13 to perform surgery on 25 people wounded during Ukraine's war with Russia, while teaching new surgical techniques and delivering medical supplies and equipment.

Bukavina, who grew up in Parma after emigrating from Lviv, Ukraine when she was 11 years old, will be joined by two reconstructive urologists, Drs. Shubham Gupta and Kirtishri Mishra, and Urology Resident Andrew Drozd, who is also Ukrainian American, on the trip.

Bukavina told Ideastream Public Media this mission, the fourth she's undertaken, is personal for her.

"You feel for the trouble (Ukrainians face), because a lot of these people, patients that we're going to help... potentially could have been your neighbors, could have been your classmates, and you understand their quality of life and understand that they lived in a country where they felt protected and they had opportunities and all of a sudden everything stripped away from them."

The mission will last through Oct. 22 where she and her colleagues will perform surgeries to remove various draining tubes from victims' bodies and, in some instances, do reconstructive surgery as well to address damage to the bowels, kidneys and urethra from trauma caused by mines and other weapons. These surgeries can last for hours a piece, she said. According to Bukavina, the goal is to improve these individuals' quality of life.

Her team will also be teaching local physicians with urology practices in Lviv and at veterans hospitals in Kiev about new surgical techniques to better address such wounds themselves, Bukavina said.

Teaching such techniques is important as reconstructive urologic surgery is a new specialty and one not well-known in Ukraine, she said. Ukrainian doctors will scrub in and participate in the surgeries to learn techniques first-hand and these will be filmed as well for later viewing and training, Bukavina added.

Bukavina said she anticipates coming back for additional missions to follow up on the more complicated surgeries and to continue training local doctors. She also foresees a long-term training partnership and possible U.S. fellowships for Ukrainian doctors to continue their education in this specialty.

"This likely has the potential and the capability to sort of keep going for more training, for more expertise and more collaboration between the between the two countries," she said.

This is just the latest of a series of medical missions by the medical center's doctors and shipments of medical supplies and equipment to Ukraine, said University Hospitals Parma Medical Center's Chief Medical Officer Christopher Dussel. UH both purchases and donates supplies and equipment and provides paid time off for medical personnel to do these missions, he said.

The center is focused on providing such support because of the large, local Ukrainian community and because such efforts are part of UH's broader goals, Dussel said.

"Parma has a pretty strong population of Ukrainian descent," he said. "A lot of our staff members, a lot of our nurses, physicians are Ukrainian. So it's really important for us to help support them in their efforts. And it's also consistent with the UH mission to help as many people as we can, not only here in Northeast Ohio, but across the globe."

Dussel said UH Parma has worked with members of the local community, including local churches to provide support. The hospital has also partnered with MedWish, a local nonprofit founded by UH Urology Institute Chairman Dr. Lee Ponsky, to obtain medical supplies for Ukraine. This includes the nearly 700 pounds of surgical and wound supplies that are being sent as part of this mission, he said.

Bukavina and her team will also be delivering an ambulance, Dussel said. While the vehicle will start out being used in Lviv, it will soon be transferred to be used on the front lines of the war, he said.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.