May 16, 2023

St. Elizabeth’s Team Completes Mission to Ukraine to Deliver Cardiology Equipment

A team from St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center’s Cardiology Division overcame complex travel logistics and some tense moments on a mission to provide life-saving equipment to a hospital in Ukraine in April.

Jon Gardner, executive director of cardiovascular services, braved potentially dangerous conditions to deliver an electrophysiology recording and ablation system to Lviv Regional Clinical Hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, accompanied by his son Josh, an emergency room and ICU nurse in Greenville, North Carolina. The two completed the trip after months of planning with a team that included Michael Orlov, MD, PhD, fellowship program director, St. Elizabeth’s Medical, two non-profit healthcare organizations in the US and Poland, and representatives from Abbott Laboratories. The equipment was donated by St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center.

“I am so proud of our team who worked hard to carefully coordinate the logistics and took a once-in-a-lifetime journey to help improve access to care for those in need,” said Paul Smith, president of St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center. “This was indeed a rare opportunity, but it is also the core of our Steward Health Care mission.”

The device, known as the Ensite Precision Mapping System by Abbott Medical is essential for diagnosing and treating potentially life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias. With many Ukrainians migrating to Lviv for the safety of its anti-missile defense system, medical needs in the area have spiked, but medical and surgical equipment is in short supply. They anticipate at least 600 patients will be treated now that the equipment is in place.

To complete the delivery, Jon, Dr. Orlov, and their team first carefully dismantled and packaged the device for shipping.  The process was painstakingly documented on video to ensure Jon and the team in Lviv could reassemble to pieces successfully. 

“The device won’t function if just one wire is out of place, so this process had to be very precise,” Jon said.

Parts were packed in carry-on luggage, the only way to clear airport security and hand-transport these complex mechanical pieces into Ukraine. Each package included an air-tag so Jon could track their locations in real-time. Documents critical for verification and safe passage were prepared in English, Polish, and Ukrainian.

Eventually, the entire shipment reached Krakow, Poland, where Jon and Josh prepared to travel by road to the Ukraine border.

“Getting across the border into Ukraine was no easy task. We were told it could take an hour or it could take days,” said Jon, who himself wore a satellite tracker monitored in the US throughout the journey for his own safety. After several transfers from truck to truck and driver to driver, Jon and Josh arrived in Lviv, where they worked with local cardiologists to reassemble the equipment. A team from St. Elizabeth’s, including Senior Technologist Theo Eng, and Abbott clinical application representatives, Sarah Chomos and Lindsay Bright, provided troubleshooting along the way through videoconferencing.

With the delivery complete, Jon later met with a local university for continuing medical education and laid the groundwork for several Ukrainian doctors to join St. Elizabeth’s weekly training conferences, and even to visit Boston for in-person training in the future for more extensive medical training and education. Their first virtual training with St. Elizabeth’s took place earlier in May.

“Our colleagues in Ukraine participated in our weekly interventional cardiology conference, and we hope to offer electrophysiology, noninvasive, and other clinical conferences as well,” said Joseph Carrozza, Jr. MD, chief of cardiovascular medicine at St. Elizabeth’s, professor of medicine at Tufts Medical School, and medical VP of cardiovascular, Steward Global.

“The journey was a bit harrowing, but very satisfying,” Jon said. “It took a true village to make this all work. But being able to help people who really needed us made it all worth it. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.”

collage of photos - Ukraine mission