Laryssa Hetmanczuk for NP, Toronto.
According to some reports, the war in Donbass has claimed over 9 000 lives. One of those lives was of a four year old Danylo Nyzhnykovskyi. In late August, 2015, he and his brother Mykola were playing near their home outside of Mariupol city when they came upon an undetonated grenade. Danylo died instantly; 11 year old Mykola sustained extreme trauma: he lost both legs, his right arm, and received massive deformities to his face and skull.
CTV’s documentary called “Helping Hands” recently highlighted Mykola’s story on W5 in January. The journalists from CTV came to Ukraine in October 2015 to film the third medical mission of the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, headed by Dr. Oleh Antonyshyn of Toronto. Mykola did not want to watch it at first. A few days later, he watched portions of the program online. At times he laughed; but mostly, tears ran down his face.
“I thought my mouth was blown off,” Mykola recalled while watching “Helping Hands”. “I didn’t think about my legs and arm, I just tasted blood and thought my mouth had been blown off.”
In fact, he was not far off. Mykola’s teeth indeed were out of his mouth, as well as parts of his chin, lip and forehead.
“I ran out to the street, and we saw flesh and skin and bones everywhere,” Mykola’s mother Alla explained. “I knew Danylo was gone, but I prayed to God that Mykola would survive.”
“His story was horrifying and the injuries he sustained were devastating,” recalled Dr. Antonyshyn. “We were not geared up to treat a pediatric patient, we sort of made a decision right then and there.”
Dr. Antonyshyn and his team performed a frontal craniotomy, repaired some scars on his face, removed shrapnel from his chin and rebuilt his bottom lip.
“He is just a little boy whose life was completely devastated by the war, and we tried to make his life a little better,” said Dr. Adrian Hawaleshka of Winnipeg, Mykola’s anesthetist in Ukraine.
Volunteers from the Canada-Ukraine Foundation set to work, contacted organizations around the world in search for more care for Mykola. Shriners Hospital for Children, based in Florida suggested the Foundation contact their hospital in Montreal. Within three days, Chief of Staff, Dr. Reggie Hamdy said they would not only treat Mykola but also cover all medical expenses associated with his care and rehabilitation.
“(Mykola is) the type of patient we knew we could help a lot; we have a special expertise with the treatment of children like this,” explained Dr. Hamdy. “I can say that with the technologies we have now, he will be able to run and play hockey. He will be almost a normal child.”
Mykola arrived in Montreal at the end of November and started his treatment at Shriners in early December 2015. Mykola was admitted shortly after his arrival and began a battery of tests. After a few days, the developed treatment plan included reamputation of one leg, additional surgeries to remove shrapnel, and removal of a membrane on his eye. He would also have procedures to treat his teeth, ears and scars on his face; in addition to psychological counselling.
Almost immediately after learning Mykola would come to Montreal, the Canada-Ukraine Foundation issued an appeal to the Montreal Ukrainian community for volunteers and donations. “We knew we would need the Montreal Ukrainian Community to step-up to the plate and take on the lion’s share of the day-to-day caring of Mykola and Alla,” explained Victor Hetmanczuk, President of the Canada-Ukraine Foundation. “And they have, indeed, risen to the occasion.”
While Shriners covered all medical costs, other expences such as travel, accommodation, translation and day-to-day expenses were the responsibility of the Foundation. Mykola and Alla received a generous donation of a condo and furniture for the duration of their stay in Montreal. Numerous gifts of food, clothing, games, gift cards etc. poured in almost daily from local volunteers and from concerned people across Canada.
Volunteers were able to check the HelpMykola.com website and sign-up online to translate for Mykola at a medical appointment or to take Alla and Mykola on an outing in the city. Volunteer coordinators in Toronto and Montreal keep track of volunteers and appointments using a shared online Google calendar. Friends of Mykola and Alla back in Ukraine keep track of their progress on the Help Mykola Facebook site, which is updated almost daily with progress reports, videos and pictures.
Since arriving in Montreal, in addition to attending up to 8 medical appointments a week, Mykola and Alla have gone dog-sledding, zip-lining, visited many churches, toured the BioDome, and have been getting to know their adopted city with new friends.
One of the first things Mykola was surprised about was the accessibility of the city: ramps and buttons to open doors. Such things do not exist in Ukraine.“One of the bigger challenges we are having now is trying to reintroduce a sense of normalcy into Mykola’s life,” said Krystina Waler, Director of Humanitarian Initiatives for the Canada-Ukraine Foundation.
Mykola will be starting school at Shriners in the next week or so, in between his twice-daily physio appointments. He hopes to learn English and French.
One of the things Mykola enjoys most is attending Ukrainian school every Saturday morning where he enjoys spending time with children his age. “I really miss being in school and with my friends,” said Mykola.
Shortly after arriving in Montreal, Mykola was visited by Sr. Airman Brian Kolfage, a triple amputee from the United States Armed Forces, who is the most injured US Serviceman to have survived. “I received a message about Mykola and I saw a child with the kinds of wounds that shatter seasoned war veterans,” said Sr. Airman Kolfage. “My heart sank for Mykola, I knew the demons he was facing.” Sr. Airman Kolfage continues to keep in touch with Mykola and offers him advice and a sounding board of someone who knows first hand what he is going through.
“I’m very very grateful because they have done so much for Mykola and I,” said Alla, “I feel very lucky.”
Shriners Hospital has agreed to treat Mykola until he is 21. The Canada-Ukraine Foundation has set up a fund to ensure that Mykola is able to travel back to Canada for treatment and receive needed adjustment of his prosthetics as he grows. The fund will also provide for additional care in Ukraine.
If you are interested in learning more about Mykola’s progress or would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please visit HelpMykola.com.