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St. Jude lends a hand to Ukrainian cancer patients in need

"The family’s got a cancer diagnosis. That’s already life-changing. Now they have to deal with evacuating from a war,” said Dr. Asya Agulnik.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A pediatrician at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is answering the call, after four Ukrainian families arrived in Memphis this week for treatment at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. 

“When the war started our partners in Ukraine asked for help initially evacuating a few patients that could no longer be treated in Ukraine,” Dr. Asya Agulnik said. “Because of supply chain limitations and safety concerns.”

Agulnik is the director of Eurasia Regional Program. Global Critical Care Program with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital said the program, Safer Ukraine, has helped hundreds of patients since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Her team is determined to help the littlest patients.

“One of the things I love about being a pediatrician is that children are really resilient,” said Dr. Agulnik. “Medically resilient but also resilient to these stressors in a way that I think adults sometimes aren’t. In the end, they’re just kids, they want to play they want to watch movies.”

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“It’s those individuals people who are doing this work who feel the humanity of each one of these patients,” said Dr. Agulnik. “The family’s got a cancer diagnosis. That’s already life-changing. Now they have to deal with evacuating from a war.”

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In many cases, Ukrainian women and children have fled their homes, leaving male relatives behind who have been ordered to stay. 

Safer Ukraine is working with a network of partner organizations in western Ukraine, with Polish care physicians and medical centers throughout Europe. 

St. Jude is one link in the chain, helping Ukrainian kids with cancer and other blood disorders, reach not only physical safety, but also to receive quality cancer care. 

Dr. Agulnik shared how the program has helped reinforce her mission to save children’s lives.

“To be able to assure that for these really, very, very vulnerable children,” she said. “Vulnerable in any situation, certainly more vulnerable because of the war has been really amazing to be a part of. It’s certainly challenging but extremely rewarding.”

St. Jude is giving children an opportunity to lead a full life.

“It’s been really an honor to be able to provide that hope that possibility of a future that they didn’t have if they had stayed.”