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St. Jude doctor speaks on evacuating chronically ill children from Ukraine

Published: Mar. 23, 2022 at 10:39 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - It’s more than 5,000 miles from Memphis to Lviv, Ukraine.

Despite that vast distance, employees at St. Jude are coordinating the evacuation of chronically ill Ukrainian children.

Team members from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are staffing a command center with counterparts in Poland, helping to get children to safety and the care they need.

As the Russians invaded Ukraine, Dr. James Downing, CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, watched his team at St. Jude Global hit their phones in Memphis, connecting with doctors they’d already met at the four Ukrainian hospitals where children with cancer go for treatment in that country.

“We’re coordinating evacuation from Ukraine, staging in Lviv and being transported across the Polish border and then into a new clinic that’s been set up in a hotel in Poland, paid for by the Polish government called ‘Unicorn Clinic’ because it’s a one of a kind clinic, Dr. Downing said.

The St. Jude Global team has coordinated care for more than 600 Ukrainian children needing care.

They’ve sent them to hospitals in Poland, Germany, Moldova, Romania, Israel, Canada and now the U.S. as the first four Ukrainian pediatric patients arrived this week at St. Jude.

”They’ve really been seen in clinics in the last 24 hours, being evaluated, assessed for where they are and laying out a plan so we can provide optimal care as they go through their journey,” Dr. Downing said.

The Ukrainians children ages 18 months to 8-years-old are here with their mothers and one father, staying on the same floor of a St. Jude residential facility.

Although they don’t speak English, Downing says he was moved by a universal language as they came through St. Jude’s open door.

”It was the universal language of a smile. The children arrived happy, safe and knew they were in a place that was going to take care of them,” Dr. Downing said.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will meet the families from Ukraine at St. Jude during her visit to Memphis on Friday.

Dr. Downing says on that tour of the campus, he’ll explain to the First Lady how Memphis based St. Jude Global has working relationships with doctors and over 131 institutions in 61 countries, including those in Ukraine, that allowed St. Jude to respond so decisively where the war came to the people 5,000 from Memphis.

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