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Chernobil childs

March 29, marks the 17th anniversary of the Cuban Program of medical treatment for child victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident and its aftermath. It is a page of love, dedication and humanism.

Estefania Shabila is 8 years old, and Nastia Sachenko is 6. They are two Ukrainian girls who have recently arrived in Cuba to be treated by Cuban doctors at the Tarara Center, 10 miles east of Havana. They were not born at the time of the Chernobyl disaster.

Because of their young age, they still do not fully grasp the humane, scientific and loving treatment that they are receiving in Cuba.

Joining them is Valentina Marchenko, who came to Cuba for the first time on March 8, 1993, "for a very sad reason," since the prognosis given to her in the Ukraine was not very optimistic. She was suffering from a Hodgkin's lymphoma.

And she explains: "We heard that there was a Cuban doctor in Kiev, and that cases were being treated in Cuba. Of course, we were very frightened. It was very far away, it was like another world to us. But we had to make a decision, one of life or death and my mother brought me here, where we were welcomed with a lot of attention and care."

She recalls with tears in her eyes that she had to spend five years in a wheel chair.

On her second visit, in 1999, after undergoing her treatment, she suffered from necrosis of the hips. "I was operated on in the Frank Pais Orthopedic Hospital. I received two prostheses, one after the other. I was told that I was facing great risks, but then I returned to normal life. At that time I came without my mother, and I was told; "Dont you worry, we shall be by your side, we wont leave you alone."

I asked about her subsequent life and she said that her big dream came true: "I majored in Spanish at the Philology University and now I work as a teacher."

The young Ukrainian talks with admiration of the Cubans, and says they have the greatest of all wealth: spiritual wealth, they have great hearts, a lot of humanism, and that is more important than anything."

"Now, on my third trip to Cuba, I am here to share the medical and humanitarian success of the Program in its 17th anniversary. I just celebrated my 26th birthday, and thanks to Cuba I am very happy", said a proud Valentina.


Dr. Luis Medina, director of the Tarara Pediatric Hospital and Coordinator of the Cuban program of medical attention for victims of the Chernobyl disaster, says that he feels a great joy every time the children and their relatives come to greet him and embrace him. I asked him to give me a suggestion for the title of this report.

Without hesitation he said: "A Song of Hope" and he explained why. Over the last 17 years, 23,000 children and adults hailing from the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have come here; the most impressive thing is seeing people who were directly or indirectly affected by that nuclear accident returning to normal life.

He recalls that the first group of 136 children with serious onco-hematological diseases arrived in Cuba on March 29, 1990, welcomed at the airport by Cuban President Fidel Castro.

The Commander-in-Chief visited them in several hospitals in Havana, and he decided to expand the program so that a larger number of children affected by the accident could receive treatment in Cuba.

Medina speaks with admiration and acknowledgement of the organization of Cuban children who made their Tarara beach campground facilities available to the sick children of Chernobyl.

At some point, Tarara hosted 3,000 patients and relatives, and at present some 700 or 800 come each year. All the medical care that Cuba has provided to them has been free of charge, including food, transportation, accommodation, logistics, health services, medications and so forth.

Dr. Medina has been working in the facility since 1990, and he has been heading the hospital since 1998. He has a lot of moving stories to tell: "We once received one boy with a dystonic syndrome diagnosis, a neurovegetative disease. He couldnt walk, and to keep him with the least amount of seizures at some point he would be given 120 doses of medication a day. He would have to be kept on the bed or on the floor all the time, he had constant convulsions. He was brought here without any hope whatsoever."

The Cuban specialists managed a slight improvement whereby he needed less medication, but the results were not the most optimal.

He was then transferred to the International Center for Neurological Restoration (CIREN), at a time when a new surgical technique was being used in the developed world for this type of patient.

The doctors spoke with his mother and she consented to the operation. And she put it in writing, "I am putting my child in the hands of the Cuban doctors so that they treat him as they deem necessary."

It was necessary to wait for over a year while the doctors worked on the new technique and the proper equipment was acquired. "Then several Cuban patients were operated on. I think he was the tenth to be operated on with the minimal access technique, through which the brain was accessed to operate on the thalamus," says Medina.

And he adds. "He later needed a long rehabilitation process, and the kid started to react favorably and was able to communicate better. He is intelligent and he maintains his intellect."

Despite the fact that he suffers from an incurable disease, the boy turned teenager could walk, thanks to operations he underwent in the Frank Pais hospital to correct his limbs and atrophied muscles. At the beginning he resembled an empty shell, and now he walks on the streets. He speaks Spanish and his name is Vladimir Saulasky Chaslac and he is 20, explained Doctor Medina with satisfaction.

What did Vladimirs mother have to say?

While Vladimir was playing sports on a nearby field, his mom, Svieta Saulasky, spoke with Granma: "Until he was seven he was a very healthy kid. He had gone to day care and then started school. Thats when the deformation in his left leg began.

We went to many doctors but none had a solution. Thats when we came to Cuba. We came with 15 different diagnoses in the clinical history, the last one made in Moscow. The conclusion was that there is no cure in any country. It was a kind of death sentence.

No you can see him walk, which makes me incredibly happy," says the Ukrainian mother.

She concluded by saying: "I dont know how to express my gratitude to all the Cubans because my son began to live here. The rebirth of my son is something remarkable... And it happened thanks to Cuba."


Of those traveling to Cuba for treatment, more than 300 have been patients with hematological diseases and of those 124 were leukemia. The majority have had good results. Six had marrow transplants.

This unique program has involved the collaboration of numerous different health institutions in the Cuban capital.

Among them, the William Soler and Juan M. Marques Pediatric Hospitals; the Ameijeiras Surgical Clinic; the Frank Pais Orthopedics Center; the Hematology Institute; the Radiation Protection and Hygiene Center and the Child cardiovascular center, this carried out 14 complex heart operations due to congenital malformations.

In the 17 years of the Chernobyl program hundreds and perhaps thousands of doctors, nurses, technicians and other researchers, assistants, translators, teachers and others have made this 'Song of hope their own.

Source: By Elson Concepción, Granma

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