Ukrainian doctor recounts historic disaster
Ukrainian cardiologist Dr. Marina Pilipenko spoke slowly and deliberately in broken English as she described the tragedies surrounding her hospital near Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster.
She pointed to a picture, an elderly couple in front of their makeshift home. Both are diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Treatment for children is free, but adults must pay $1,000 each, in a country where physicians make just $52 a month. The couple can’t afford the fare to Kiev for their surgeries, Pilipenko said.
“These people have no future,” she said. “They say, ‘We will die in this house, with no treatment and no surgery.’
“This problem is very big in our country,” she said. “We had some vitamins and aspirin and when I gave it to them, they were very grateful. It was a small aid, but they have nothing.”
Thyroid cancer is now eight times more prevalent than before the 1986 Chernobyl tragedy. Patients are also showing increases in lung and stomach cancer, Pilipenko said.
Pilipenko’s hospital, The Regional Centre of Radiation Defence and Health Population, administers to the high incidence of cancers in the region and Pilipenko travels with her co-workers to surrounding villages to conduct screenings.
The schools don’t have examining equipment and they often don’t have heat. Thyroid cancers are diagnosed using palpitation and ultimately, with an aging ultrasound machine.
Pilipenko said the population in Chernobyl has dropped in recent years from 300,000 to 240,000. In addition to the mortalities, young couples either cannot have children due to complications from their exposure or choose not to have them.
“We don’t even know the real numbers, what people are dying from,” she said.
The 120-bed hospital is the main facility in this region but terribly under-equipped, lacking even the basic equipment like computers and there is no money for physicians to attend seminars to help them deal with this crisis, Pilipenko said.
“Israeli doctors are removing Jewish children from Chernobyl, taking them back to Israel,” said Pilipenko’s American host, Tracy Clark. “That’s a story in itself.”
Clark is with CURE, a nonprofit that donates equipment and medical supplies to countries in need around the world and the organization is sending two large containers full of medical supplies and equipment.
Pilipenko was touring Great Basin Imaging in Carson City Tuesday, just one stop in her 10-day trip.
Great Basin Imaging is donating an ultrasound machine to her hospital and Pilipenko will receive hands-on training for the upgraded medical equipment to be shipped to her hospital.
Pilipenko was grateful, but not enough to put a smile on her face.
“It’s very difficult to be a doctor in the Ukraine,” she said. “We want to help all of the patients, but we can’t.