Yale School of Medicine (YSM) faculty Irina Esterlis, PhD; Alla Vash-Margita, MD, FACOG; and Andrey Zinchuk, MD, MHS; were honored with the Distinguished Service Award from the New Haven County Medical Association at their 2022 annual meeting for their efforts to support Ukraine.
Jillian Wood, executive director of the New Haven County Medical Association, explained why the organization was chosen for the award.
“We like to recognize either members or community members for really outstanding good works that are above and beyond. Our physicians, our members do incredible work every day. We all know that. But this award is for work that is exceptional,” said Wood.
Wood and other organizational leadership heard about Esterlis’ efforts baking poppy seed loaves through the New Haven Register in April 2022. The story stuck with them. They sought to honor the trio’s work, raising money, and visiting Ukraine.
“Vash-Margita and Zinchuk did a wonderful presentation at our annual meeting. They had a slideshow and talked about their connections to their country, and it was heart wrenching.”
Doctors United for Ukraine (DU4U) was founded in March 2022 after Esterlis, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology; Vash-Margita, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences; and Zinchuk, assistant professor of medicine (pulmonary, critical care & sleep medicine); brainstormed a way to help their homeland.
To date, the group has provided over a million dollars in aid. “The largest donor so far makes bioprosthetic replacement heart valves. We started a program with cardiac surgeons in Lviv to implant those valves for vulnerable populations. Thus, older or younger individuals with severe disability who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford or survive without these treatments now have a chance to live,” explained Zinchuk. They have also provided kidney therapy fluids, blood filtration systems, ventilators, defibrillators, limb fixator devices and surgical supplies to hospitals in Kharkiv, Dnipro, Odesa, Kyiv, and Lviv.
In June 2022, Zinchuk and DU4U Treasurer Yaroslav Voloshin travelled to Ukraine to deliver equipment and supplies. They visited military hospitals in Kyiv and Lviv and met with colleagues to determine how DU4U could help further. They also met with their partners from Project Truskavets, named after a city in western Ukraine, where displaced women and children are receiving psychological help, counseling, and social services, in part funded by DU4U.
“Early into the war, we also initiated humanitarian aid services and became aware of the physical and mental horrors women and children in Ukraine are suffering due to war. We collaborate with mental health providers in Ukraine and across Europe to provide training on acute mental trauma treatment, PTSD treatment, and psychosocial support, as well as fund programs to help internally displaced persons have meaningful lives.”
DU4U is also focused on women’s and infant’s health. The organization partnered with the high-risk pregnancy and obstetrics team from Odessa Maternity Hospital, and has been delivering medications to them to prevent early labor, to restore breathing for infants who were born prematurely and prevent postpartum hemorrhage.
“We were able to prolong multiple pregnancies complicated by preterm labor thus saving young lives. A story about one of the successfully prolonged pregnancies of triplets is featured on our Facebook page. We also collaborate with gynecology providers who assist women that are victims of sexual assault,” said Vash-Margita.
Zinchuk has been inspired by the hope, ingenuity, and resilience he’s witnessed among Ukrainians in his homeland. “There's a belief that when this ends, Ukraine will come out stronger and more flexible than ever before with a better sense of identity, so that is a motivating factor to keep going.”
In addition to Esterlis, Vash-Margita, Voloshin, and Zinchuk, other members of the DU4U team include Frederick Altice, MD; Katherine Kosiv, MD; Taras Lysyy, MD; Maksym Minasyan, MD; Lyudmyla Tsapar; and Sten H. Vermund, MD, PhD;