'It really shook me': Calgary surgeon spearheads drive to send supplies to Ukraine

CALGARY — A cardiac surgeon in Calgary has spearheaded a move to send medical and surgical supplies to Ukraine after seeing a doctor there treat open-heart surgery patients in a bomb shelter.

Dr. Paul Fedak, who is Ukrainian-Canadian, said he was watching a social media post months ago of a Ukrainian cardiac surgeon, Dr. Igor Mokryk, taking patients down into a bunker as bombs were going off overhead.

"I can only think about how difficult it is in our own health-care system and in my own practice to look after these patients," said Fedak, the director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute at Foothills Medical Centre. "I can't even imagine what it would be like trying to care for these patients during a war."

Fedak, his team and Alberta Health Services have put together a cardiac care package that includes about 30 boxes of personal protective equipment, dressings, catheters, syringes, surgical gowns and defibrillator electrodes.

"To defibrillate and shock somebody you need the special pads. If they don't have those, their equipment essentially is useless," Fedak said at a news conference Thursday.

Fedak said the supplies are either surplus or past their recommended shelf-life but are safe to use. He said the boxes will be sent to a source that Ukraine is using in Poland, who will make sure the medical gear arrives safely.

He said the Heart Institute in Kyiv supplied a long list of items that are difficult to come by.

Fedak hopes to send more supplies and hopes other medical facilities will send surplus items as well.

"By providing some of these things, we're going to be able to enable them to keep delivering care. With the latest attacks they're suffering from electricity issues and it's not safe to move," Fedak said.

"All they need to do is open the boxes and right away they're going to be able to use the materials."

Fedak said he initially reached out to Mokryk out of compassion and wanted to make sure he was OK. It was after hearing back from him that he realized there was more that could be done.

"It really shook me because I'm a heart surgeon and because I'm a director of a cardiovascular institute, I know the challenges," Fedak said.

"I'm also a Ukrainian-Canadian and grew up understanding the oppression of Communism and heard lots of stories growing up and the atrocities, so it just broke my heart to think what was happening there and reached out."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2022.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press