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Christmas Comes Early For Young Russian Heart Patients

Modern procedure at St. Francis hospital this week fixes holes in the hearts of Viktoria Orekhova and Maria Zharkova.

Press conference at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, N.Y., Dec. 20, 2013, for young heart patients from Russia. (Credit: Rich Jacques)
Press conference at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, N.Y., Dec. 20, 2013, for young heart patients from Russia. (Credit: Rich Jacques)

By Rich Jacques 

ROSLYN, N.Y. — Calling it their best Christmas ever, two young Russian girls had their broken hearts mended at St. Francis Hospital this week.

Born with holes in their hearts that caused them to tire easily, 5-year old Viktoria Orekhova and 6-year-old Maria Zharkova made the trip to Long Island through Russian Gift of Life USA, a humanitarian organization that brings hundreds of children to the U.S. to receive donated life-saving cardiac procedures.

The condition called patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a heart problem that affects some babies after birth.

Suffering from an abnormal connection of blood between their hearts and the lungs caused by the defects, the girls' hearts were working about two to three times harder than they needed to work causing their lungs to be over-circulated with extra amounts of blood, according to Sean Levchuck, M.D., chairman of pediatric cardiology at St. Francis, who performed the procedures at the hospital two days ago.

The opening in the heart allows oxygen-rich blood from the aorta to mix with oxygen-poor blood from the pulmonary artery. The condition can strain the heart and increase blood pressure in the lung arteries, eventually leading to heart failure if uncorrected.

"It never gets old to be able to do this and the care of these young children," said Dr. Levchuck at a press conference in the lobby of the hospital Friday.

Maria’s PDA was discovered when her pediatrician evaluated her after she was born.

Viktoria’s condition was discovered as a result of medical testing when she had a small cyst removed from her foot.

The girls traveled two and a half weeks to make the 40-minute minimally-invasive procedure which closes and plugs heart holes from both sides. Years, ago, such a procedure to fix heart holes would require major open-heart operation and long recovery.

The heart procedure is not available in Russia, according to Dr. Levchuck. "I feel like we should send a message to Vladimir Putin: We are pretty extraordinary in America, right?"

Each of the girls were presented gifts by Santa who paid them a visit in the lobby of the hospital.

"Thank you," said young, smiling Maria, speaking English.

The new friends, who recently met each other and learned of their shared Barbie doll interest, will be free to enjoy a better quality of life and the ability for childhood play that most kids take for granted, said Levchuck.

Each are looking forward to celebrating the holidays and getting a Christmas tree," said Michael Yurieff, translator for the Russian Gift of Life.

It's a dream come true, say the girl's thankful mothers, Irina Orekhova and Valeria Zharkova, who accompanied them from their hometown of Lipetsk, Russia.
Celine Gallagher December 20, 2013 at 09:51 PM
St Francis is the best and know how to fix a broken Heart.

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