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Hospital Reaches Out to Ill Russian Babies : Medicine: St. Vincent Medical Center will train surgeons in Russia to correct heart defects in babies. One girl who came to the U.S. for surgery is expected to live a fuller life.

July 24, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

St. Vincent Medical Center announced last week that it is joining in an effort to train surgeons and nurses in Russia to correct congenital heart defects in infants.

The effort began in May when Russian actor and director Rodion Nahapetov--who suffered a heart problem as a child and has since founded the Nahapetov Friendship Foundation to help children with similar problems in Russia--approached the medical center's pediatric surgeons and staff about visiting Moscow and Kazan in the western part of the country.

"It was amazing to see the number of kids we saw who were inoperable," said Dr. Irving Tessler, director of pediatric cardiology.

The team from St. Vincent, which included Dr. Taro Yokoyama, chief of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery, saw infants in Moscow with various stages of heart disease, some of whom appeared blue because not enough oxygen was getting to their lungs.

Arrangements were made to bring one baby, Anna Gurinova, now 9 months old, to St. Vincent for surgery. She underwent the operation June 29 and was released July 5. Anna and her father, Victor Gurinov, were at the medical center's news conference to help announce the foundation's goals: to train doctors in Russia, raise money for the equipment and bring more Russian children who need emergency heart surgery to the U.S.

Fifteen to 20 doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists and intensive-care technicians from St. Vincent will help train their Russian counterparts. Officials have yet to estimate the project's cost or how many medical personnel they hope to train.

Only 1% of babies worldwide are born with congenital heart defects, and of those, 5% to 8% have the same type of disease as Anna. But because Russian doctors are not well-trained in that field and because of a lack of equipment, many cases are misdiagnosed or neglected until the children turn 6 or 7, Tessler said. At that point it is too late to correct the problem.

"There are no kids here (in the United States) with congenital heart lesions that would not be treated at a hospital, regardless of the cost," he said. "It's not even a question there. It's not a question of money there. It's a question of equipment and skill."

It is estimated that 30,000 Russian children are born with congenital heart disease each year, Nahapetov said, and only half live to their first birthdays.

The foundation, which has identified four more Russian infants who need emergency surgery, will contact other hospitals in the United States to provide medical help and expertise to the Russians. Its goal is to establish neonatal cardiac care clinics in Moscow and Kazan.

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