A Doctor’s Dedication to Ukraine’s Youth
Dr. Gennadiy Fuzaylov practices a lot of medicine—even for a doctor. In May, he completed his 79th medical mission trip, a 7-day trip to Poland, where he and 11 U.S. doctors and nurses performed reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries on Ukrainian children with burn injuries.
They are Doctors Collaborating to Help Children—literally in what they do but also in what they call themselves. Dr. Fuzaylov, a certified physician, intensivist and anesthesiologist, began the nonprofit organization to fill a void of surgical care for Ukrainian children with severe burn injuries.
Dr. Fuzaylov started traveling to Ukraine to perform reconstructive surgeries in 2011, but when the war started, he opted for the next closest place instead: Łęczna, Poland, a town about an hour away from the Ukrainian border.
It took eight months to put the pieces of the trip together. Dr. Fuzaylov spoke with the U.S. Ambassador in Poland and the Polish and Ukrainian Ministries of Health. He assembled the team of surgeons and made arrangements for them to get their Polish medical licenses. Patients were selected, transportation was scheduled, and the hotel rooms and operating rooms were booked.
Brother’s Brother Foundation was one of four major donors to set the dominoes in motion.
The American medical team gathered with 20 Polish doctors and nurses and a team of Ukrainian physicians at the Independent Public Health Care Center Hospital in Łęczna. Patients would need regular follow up appointments after undergoing surgery; the Ukrainian and Polish medical teams would continue to see patients while Dr. Fuzaylov was in the United States.
In the operating room, the doctors spoke different languages. They split into two or three groups, one working on a patient’s hand while another addressed the neck and another took care of a foot. A translator stood nearby, filling the gaps in communication.
The doctors had selected nineteen patients for surgery in advance. Many were from Ukraine, though a handful came from Poland or the Netherlands. They ranged between the ages of just learning to walk to just starting to leave the house; all of them had been chosen for the same reason: their injuries were complex.
Had Dr. Fuzaylov been standing over an operating table at Shriners Children’s Hospital or Massachusetts General Hospital—where he works full time—he would have scheduled each patient’s surgeries over the course of a year, allowing one limb to heal before another was cut open. But Łęczna is not Boston. Dr. Fuzaylov’s team of doctors were the first Americans to treat Ukrainian children at the hospital since the invasion 15 months prior. There wasn’t any more time to wait.
Treating burn injuries in Ukraine has been difficult since before the war started. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine inherited 33 burn units, but without enough resources or doctors to keep them running, many Ukrainian children have gone without treatment. Some of the implications of this—long-term disfigurement, unbearable pain—are obvious. What’s less obvious, though, is that as children grow, scar tissue does not. Instead, the tissue pulls the skin tighter, restraining muscles and limiting mobility.
The origin of Doctors Collaborating to Help can be traced back to a house fire in Ukraine in 2005. A five-year-old girl saved her one-year-old sister from the fire, but her heroism came at a cost: burn injuries covered 90% of her body. The Ukrainian government arranged for the child to receive medical treatment at Shriner’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. There, she became Dr. Fuzaylov’s patient. The Ukrainian doctor accompanying the girl asked Dr. Fuzaylov for assistance in bringing another child over from Ukraine for treatment. Dr. Fuzaylov said yes.
There was another child. Then, another child. And then, another.
“During the next five years I brought a lot of kids to Shriners,” Dr. Fuzaylov said.
When children are growing, reconstructive surgeries must be performed once—if not twice—each year. In other words, every child Dr. Fuzaylov brought to Shriners Hospital one year, was another child that would need to return to the United States the following year.
When he began performing surgeries in Ukraine in 2011, Dr. Fuzaylov was able to reduce travel costs and also train the local surgeons. But then, the war started. Children had sustained serious injuries from Russian shellings, but Dr. Fuzaylov had no way of getting to them. He returned to the same approach he took years ago by flying wounded children to the United States for treatment.
The first patient arrived in April 2022. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Fuzaylov began to attract national media attention. A photo of him walking down a glowing hospital corridor was published in a story on People magazine’s website; when he went to Poland to operate on patients a year later, he was accompanied by reporters from USA Today.
Dr. Fuzaylov is doing the same work he has always done, addressing more or less the same issue. But now, more people are aware, and they want to help.
“In philanthropy work, it’s not about who’s going to be first. I think running together is much better,” he said. “You’re providing service and providing care, and you’re doing this with other people because everybody will bring some color, some difference, some energy. Something else.”
Dr. Fuzaylov met the president of Brother’s Brother Foundation, Ozzy Samad, at BBF’s Ukraine fundraiser in New York City last year.
“It was very nice that when I called Ozzy [about funding for the trip], it was not a no,” Dr. Fuzaylov said. “It was ”’Of course.’”