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St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center® and Gift of Life Long Island have once again partnered together to provide life-changing heart surgery to a child in need—most recently, a 9-year-old girl from Ukraine who was unable to receive the proper care at home due to the ongoing war with Russia.

Polina Shchepaniak was brought to Long Island by Gift of Life for a surgery to fix a hole between the two upper chambers of her heart. This is a relatively common defect that was traditionally rectified through open heart surgery. St. Francis Hospital Chair of Pediatric Cardiology, Sean Levchuck, MD, was able to perform a non-invasive procedure by use of a catheter and an umbrella-shaped device, called an Amplatzer ASD Occluder, to grab both sides of the hole and close it. The successful procedure was performed on Wednesday, July 20 and Polina recovered at St. Francis Hospital thanks to the support of the Nicholas Vizza Foundation. 

“It is always a special day when you can give an assist to someone who is struggling through tough times,” said Dr. Levchuck. “It’s especially great given the circumstances that surround this little girl’s case. She comes to St. Francis from a country that is in pieces and going through the worst of times. I know I speak for the whole team when I say how honored, blessed and grateful we are to be given the opportunity to help this beautiful child live a long and healthy life.”

Kateryna Shchepaniak, Polina’s mother, has known about her daughter’s condition since she was just 11 days old. After communicating with Gift of Life and Dr. Levchuck through Zoom, the family made the trip from Ukraine to Long Island for this necessary surgery. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, Ukrainians are forced to flee their homes and are often faced with challenges to find health care.

“I’m so grateful to St. Francis Hospital and Gift of Life,” said Kateryna. “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!” 

St. Francis Hospital has long partnered with Gift of Life Long Island to help children from all over the world who do not have access to lifesaving cardiac procedures. Dr. Levchuck is one of many physicians who donate their time and services to perform these minimally-invasive procedures that treat congenital disorders.

“St. Francis has always been proud of our partnership with Gift of Life and the expert cardiologists who correct heart defects through as many minimally invasive techniques as possible,” said St. Francis Hospital President Charles L. Lucore, MD, MBA. “In light of current events, programs like these are more important than ever to ensure every child has access to the care they need.”

Dr. Levchuck with Polina Shchepaniak

“A little girl from a country facing great adversity will now be able to run and play with her friends, like other children do,” added Catholic Health President & CEO Patrick O’Shaughnessy, DO, MBA. “We’re happy to offer our cardiovascular expertise in support of this amazing program. It’s just part of who we are as a faith-based health care system.” 

For 47 years, the Global Network of Gift of Life has helped more than 43,000 children from 80 countries. Polina’s surgery was the first Gift of Life sponsored procedure on Long Island since 2019 due to the COVID pandemic. 

“When we heard there was a child in need in Ukraine, with everything that’s going on with the war, we knew we had to help,” said Gift of Life Long Island CEO Harry Miller. “Our organization is committed to helping children like Polina and to see the smile on her face today means a lot to our team.” 

Call (866) MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.

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