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From Odessa to Tel Aviv: Open Heart Surgery -10-Year-Old Vera’s Journey to Recovery

Sheba’s Leviev Heart Center Research Unit - A World Center of Excellence
Not long before tensions in the Ukraine escalated, Vera arrived in Israel to undergo life-saving treatment: the first of its kind for a girl her age.

When Vera was born, she “came out into the world and immediately began to turn blue,” recalls her mother, Natalia. She was soon diagnosed with a large hole in the septum between her heart ventricles and a narrowing at the right outlet of her heart.

Vera’s story continued when Vera was four months old, she underwent open heart surgery, during which her septum was surgically repaired and the pulmonary valve removed. While it initially seemed Vera had recovered and developed normally, by age 6, there were clear signs that her development was being impaired, and by the time she reached the age of ten, she weighed only 20 kg.

According to Natalia, “As in Kyiv only open-heart surgery was available, and I was looking for an endovascular alternative that does not involve an incision and which offers fewer risks for Vera, we decided to look for options abroad.”

COVID-19 made this process all the more difficult, but eventually, Vera’s Ukrainian doctors suggested Israel, as they said “it’s an excellent place to have cardiac surgery.” Based on a recommendation by a family whose child underwent a heart valve procedure in Israel, Natalia decided to contact Sheba Medical Center.

“After arriving at Sheba, we immediately had the feeling that everything was coordinated, on time, and ready for us, including all the relevant documents,” says Natalia.

Shortly following Vera and Natalia’s arrival in Israel, Vera underwent a catheter valve replacement, which, happily, went well.

Vera after her open heart surgery at Sheba Medical Center

According to Dr. Sharon Borik Chiger, Head of Pediatric Cardiac Catheterization at Sheba who performed the procedure: “What was special about this case was her low body weight. This is the smallest girl we have ever cared for in the country. This means we can now give similar care to smaller and smaller children.”

For her part, Natalia believes she “made the best choice I could have – it was a stress-free experience for Vera, and everything went smoothly. A special thanks must go to Rimma, our medical coordinator, who is a very kind and sympathetic person. She clearly understood the problems we faced and was eager to help. To anyone who faces a similar problem as ours, I highly recommend Sheba Medical Center.”

Usually, this would have marked the end of Vera and Natalia’s journey to Israel. Unfortunately, war broke out in their native Ukraine hours before they were meant to board a plane back home, and all flights were canceled.

Having no access to their Ukrainian bank accounts and with no way back home, Sheba Medical Center officials recognized Natalia and Vera’s dire situation and were determined to help. After their visas were extended, Vera and Natalia were provided living accommodations on Sheba’s campus, along with food, clothes, and financial aid.

“For now, we still have a home to return to, but the war goes on, and the situation might change. It’s been two weeks since Vera underwent surgery, and at the moment, I’m more concerned about my husband and older daughter in Ukraine.”

Vera and her mother at the hospital joined by the staff.
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