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


ROSLYN, Long Island (WABC) — A 9-year-old Ukrainian woman had surgery on Wednesday that could change her life forever.

St. Francis Hospital and Heart Center and Gift of Life Long Island have teamed up to provide the life-changing heart surgery for 9-year-old Polina Shchepaniak.

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

Doctors say it’s a relatively common defect that was traditionally corrected with open-heart surgery.

However, Shchepaniak was unable to have heart surgery in his native Ukraine due to the war. That was until Wednesday.

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

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

“It’s always a special day when you can help someone who is going through a tough time,” Dr. Levchuck said. “It’s especially great given the circumstances surrounding this little girl’s case.”

Polina’s mother, Kateryna Shchepaniak, said she knew about her daughter’s condition since she was just 11 days old.
After contacting Gift of Life and Dr. Levchuck, the family traveled from Ukraine to Long Island for the operation.

“I am so grateful to St. Francis Hospital and Gift of Life,” said Kateryna Shchepaniak. “It was always a big scare for me whenever she got the flu or a cold from the hole in her heart, but now I don’t have to worry.”

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

Polina Shchepaniak’s operation was the first Gift of Life-sponsored operation on Long Island since 2019 due to the COVID pandemic.

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