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UK medics fly to Ukraine border to evacuate 21 children with cancer

Team leader Dr Michael Griksaitis, from University Hospital Southampton, said he was overwhelmed by the human tragedy on the ground.

14 March 2022

A team of medics from Southampton has flown out to the Poland-Ukraine border to evacuate 21 children suffering from cancer.

The youngsters are being brought to England for treatment after they left Ukraine where they were all being treated in hospitals until the Russian invasion.

A University Hospital Southampton spokeswoman said: “A nine-strong team of doctors, nurses and technicians from Southampton Children’s Hospital paediatric critical care teams travelled to Poland to offer care and medical expertise.

“With bags packed full of equipment and medical supplies, they flew on a specially-chartered plane to Poland, where they took the children into their care.”

Team leader Dr Michael Griksaitis, consultant paediatric intensivist at University Hospital Southampton, said he was overwhelmed by the human tragedy on the ground in Ukraine as well as by the response from NHS colleagues who wanted to help.

He said: “This has been the most amazing and emotional experience the team and I have ever had. The families were so incredibly grateful and the stories they told us were so horrific.

“We were just so pleased to do something to help and delighted it has all gone so well so far.

“But I am acutely aware that there are so many other people who have been left behind to suffer the ongoing trauma this war is causing.

A team of medics from University Hospital Southampton flew out to evacuate the young cancer patients from the Poland-Ukraine (UHS/PA)

“We took over care of the children from a team of cancer specialists from the St Jude’s Charity, who did a fantastic job in looking after them during their harrowing journey out of Ukraine, where they had to spend every night in a bomb shelter.”

Speaking about the decision to travel to Poland, Dr Griksaitis said: “Everyone at UHS was so desperate to help in whatever way they could.

“We had a very quick turnaround preparing bespoke bags of kit and gathering all the spare intensive care unit equipment that we have in Southampton, because we had no real idea of what we might find when we landed.

“I’ve not led anything like this before in my life, but the team and I felt compelled to do whatever we could to help.

“Getting the children and their families back to the UK so they can continue with vital treatment and receive whatever further medical help they might need, was the absolute priority.”

David French, chief executive at University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, said: “It has been heart-rending to hear of the plight of these very sick children, caught up in this conflict.

“I and everyone at UHS is incredibly proud of the team involved in this humanitarian mission and everyone who has supported them to make it a success.”

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