Four Ukrainian children whose critical cancer treatments were disrupted by Russia’s ongoing war in their home country are back to receiving care this week after being flown to a children’s hospital in Tennessee.
The young children and their families arrived at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis on Tuesday after being airlifted from Poland where they had been receiving temporary care amid the violence, said the U.S. State Department, which assisted with their transportation.
Video provided by St. Jude showed some of the children, 9 nine months to 9 years, smiling, waving Ukrainian flags, and one carrying a Minnie Mouse backpack, while entering the nonprofit hospital after their incredible journey. More children are expected to arrive as early as next week, a hospital spokesperson told HuffPost.
“Our promise to children with catastrophic diseases extends around the globe, and we are honored to play a part in helping these families move to safety to continue their children’s treatment,” said St. Jude president and CEO James R. Downing in a statement.
The children are part of St. Jude’s newly launched SAFER Ukraine program which aims to evacuate children with cancer from Ukraine’s war zone and provide them with continuing cancer treatment at hospitals in Europe, the U.K., Canada and now the U.S. Last week 21 Ukrainian cancer patients arrived in the U.K. for treatment as part of the program.
St. Jude said more than 20 countries have offered to take in these patients.
“Organizers have sought to keep patients as close to home as possible to minimize disruption to their lives, but factors such as decreased clinical space availability and advanced patient medical needs can require sending children farther from home,” the hospital said of its geographical decisions.
The international program was launched shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24 and has thus far assisted more than 600 patients, from translating medical records to providing transportation, the hospital said.
In addition to medical care, the children will receive trauma-informed psychosocial therapy to address any psychological, social, emotional and cultural needs. The patients and their siblings will also receive a school curriculum developed by the hospital’s educators, the hospital said.
The children first begin their journey at a triage center in the town of Bocheniec, Poland, where they are medically evaluated and stabilized. Once the patients’ needs are accessed, they are transported to various cancer centers, though those in more dire condition may first receive stabilizing treatment at a local hospital in Poland before they are sent off again, Dr. Marcin Włodarski, a pediatric hematologist at St. Jude who is staffing the triage center, told The Associated Press.
Doctors at the clinic, which is being assisted by multiple cancer and charity organizations, said they have been receiving an influx of patients since the invasion began.
“At times we can have convoys with only 20-something patients but we can have up to 70 patients at a time and even more,” Dr. Marta Salek, another St. Jude pediatric hematologist oncologist at the triage center in Poland, told the AP.
More than 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion nearly four weeks ago, according to United Nations data, though the U.S. government has thus far only taken in several hundred Ukrainian refugees.
The U.S. government has said that it will help bring refugees to the U.S. as a last resort if they are not able to find shelter in Europe, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki stating on March 9 that it’s believed that the “vast majority” of refugees would want to stay in neighboring countries.
The department acknowledged on Tuesday that the four children flown to Memphis for cancer treatment “represent a small proportion” of the thousands of cancer patients whose treatment has been interrupted due to the war.
“That is why, together with our allies and partners, we will continue to support our Ukrainian partners as we seek to save lives and bring this needless war to a close,” it said.