July 21, 2017

UMANA conference 2017: “Help Ukrainians help themselves”


John Leshchuk

UMANA members and guests, many in Ukrainian “vyshyvanky” at the Ukrainian Embassy.

CHICAGO – The Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA) held its 44th Scientific Conference and 37th Assembly of Delegates on Wednesday through Saturday, June 14-18, at the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Va. The theme of the biennial convention was “Rehabilitation and Reintegration – Helping Ukrainians Help Themselves.”

The conference was dedicated to familiarizing participants with Ukraine’s health care challenges in the face of ongoing war, economic instability and political reform. This is a time of great anxiety but also one of great promise and opportunity. Continuing hostilities in eastern Ukraine are inflicting debilitating military and civilian casualties, raising the demand for rehabilitation medicine. Survivors are in need of services to reintegrate them back into society as useful and productive citizens.

Bringing individual injured soldiers to Western medical institutions for therapy is an emotional, expensive and labor-intensive undertaking. Only a tiny group of the most severely injured can be treated in institutions like the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. All experts agree that rehabilitative therapy works best when applied sooner and closer to the areas of need, closer to patients’ families and closer to avenues of long-term support. As a Ukrainian medical society, UMANA is closely tied to colleagues in Ukraine as we seek to understand the nature and scope of the problems they face so that we can offer appropriate assistance, while also learning from their now extensive experience in caring for traumatized populations.

This year’s UMANA conference was unique in many ways.

At the Embassy of Ukraine (from left) Ambassador Valeriy Chaly and Verkhovna Rada Chair Andrii Parubiy greet UMANA members and guests.

Maria Hrycelak

At the Embassy of Ukraine (from left) Ambassador Valeriy Chaly and Verkhovna Rada Chair Andrii Parubiy greet UMANA members and guests.

To ensure wide participation, non-profit foundations responded with generous grant support. Donors included the Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation (UCEF), Kyiv Mohyla Foundation of America (KMFA), the Heritage Foundation 1st Security Savings Bank, Selfreliance Foundation, UMANA Foundation and Yuri Deychakiwsky, M.D.

Next, the conference was honored to welcome two distinguished guests from Ukraine, acting Minister of Health Ulana Suprun, M.D., and Vadim Sviridenko, commissioner of the president of Ukraine for rehabilitation of ATO (Anti-terrorist Operation) wounded veterans.

Furthermore, the gathering was truly international in scope, encompassing speakers from the United States, Canada and Ukraine. For three days, a distinguished faculty of nearly 20 presenters experienced in rehabilitation and occupational medicine informed an audience of over 70 confreres on war trauma medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, post-traumatic stress disorder, effects of limb loss on young lives and their reintegration into their new realities.

At the UMANA conference (from left): Dr. Borys Buniak, UMANA past president; keynote speaker Dr. Ulana Suprun, Ukraine’s acting minister of health; and Vadim Sviridenko, commissioner of the president of Ukraine for rehabilitation of ATO veterans.

Maria Hrycelak

At the UMANA conference (from left): Dr. Borys Buniak, UMANA past president; keynote speaker Dr. Ulana Suprun, Ukraine’s acting minister of health; and Vadim Sviridenko, commissioner of the president of Ukraine for rehabilitation of ATO veterans.

Fields represented included physical medicine and rehabilitation (physiatry), neurosurgery, orthopedic trauma surgery, interventional radiology, public health/epidemiology, optometry, psychiatry, psychology, medical anthropology, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Listeners also heard from specialists in humanitarian relief work and researchers in population response to trauma and displacement.

Prior to the opening of the conference, Dr. Deychakiwsky and Andriy Ripecky, M.D., accompanied the visitors from Ukraine to Walter Reed Army Hospital, including the National Intrepid Center of Excellence where new therapies offer “Hope, Healing, Discovery and Learning for Traumatic Brain Injury and Psychological Health.”

The conference began with a welcome reception on Wednesday evening atop the Key Bridge Marriott with a direct view of the Embassy of Ukraine at the opposite end of the bridge.

The conference was opened formally on Thursday morning, with greetings from the president of UMANA, Borys Buniak, M.D., and the course director, Dr. Ripecky.

Befitting the opening of a conference of international scope, the first presenter, Luke Tomycz, M.D., a Ukrainian neurosurgeon from Texas, spoke to the assembly directly from Ukraine via Skype, where he is helping to train young neurosurgeons. The transmission was flawless, and set the tone for the remainder of the conference.

The day included lectures by Chrystyna Rakoczy, O.D., on visual dysfunction in traumatic brain injury, Col. (Ret.) Paul Pasquina, M.D., on rehabilitation of the blast-injured patient, Ukrainian presenter Orest Suvalo, M.D., on the state of mental health care in Ukraine, and Namrita Singh, Ph.D., on global mental health approaches to promoting community recovery and reintegration after conflict, highlighting a randomized controlled trial of a psychotherapy intervention in Ukraine.

On Thursday evening the conference attendees attended a reception graciously hosted by Valeriy Chaly, ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S.A. After crossing the Francis Scott Key Bridge to reach the sovereign territory of Ukraine at the Embassy, confreres were greeted by Ambassador Chaly, Ukrainian Parliament chair Andriy Parubiy, and Dr. Suprun. After the welcome, guests were hosted to a delicious sampling of Ukrainian culinary creations prepared on-site, leading to extended social discussion and networking among Embassy staff, guests and conference attendees.

Friday morning sessions included presentations by Seth Messinger, Ph.D., on the long-term effects of rehabilitative care on social reintegration and life in the community, and two presenters from Ukraine, Viktoria Gorbunova, Ph.D., on the state of clinical psychology in Ukraine and Vitaly Klymchuk, Ph.D., on the Institute of Mental Health at the Ukrainian Catholic University. After lunch, Maj. (Ret.) Stuart Campbell, M.P.T., spoke on EACE global health engagement; Daniel Hryhorczuk, M.D., M.P.H., explored health, work and environment in conflict zones; Natalie Zaraska, B.Sc. (OT) M.Sc. (Rehab), discussed bringing occupational therapy skills to Ukraine; and Steven Yevich, M.D., presented practical interventional radiological solutions to sequelae of traumatic injuries.

New officers of UMANA (from left): Dr. Andriy Ripecky, president; Dr. Peter Lenchur, president-elect; Dr. Leo Wolansky, vice-president; and Dr. Liza Pilch, treasurer.

Maria Hrycelak

New officers of UMANA (from left): Dr. Andriy Ripecky, president; Dr. Peter Lenchur, president-elect; Dr. Leo Wolansky, vice-president; and Dr. Liza Pilch, treasurer.

After a busy and full day of educational endeavors, confreres were able to spend a quiet evening at the traditional UMANA reunion dinner. Mr. Sviridenko spoke movingly of his personal struggle to recover from grievous injuries suffered in battle at Debaltsevo in the winter and of his work now in leading Ukraine’s efforts to develop a system of care for injured veterans of the ATO.

While enjoying a wonderful dinner, members were able to revive old friendships, discuss the past two days of lectures, and network among young and senior members of the association. The group broke out in spontaneous sessions of Ukrainian songs, and had to be gently urged to leave late in the evening to make room for the next day set-up crew.

Saturday, the final day of scientific sessions, began with George Jaskiw, M.D., reviewing post-traumatic stress disorder, from neurobiology to rehabilitation; followed by Oksana Buniak, P.T., D.P.T., LSVT, on assisting a change in the regulation of physical therapy practice in Ukraine; Vassyl Lonchyna, M.D., on the ripple effect on rehabilitation medicine in Ukraine; and Roman Hayda, M.D., discussing the complex extremity war injury and the lessons shared in the care of US combatants; and concluding with an overview by Laryssa Kyj, Ph.D., of projects supporting health care in Ukraine as executed by the non-profit United Ukrainian American Relief Committee.

Saturday afternoon was dedicated to a bus tour of “Ukrainian” Washington, with stops at the usual landmarks, including the Taras Shevchenko statue and the recently installed Holodomor Memorial.

The conference concluded on Saturday evening with the keynote address and awards banquet. Dr. Suprun spoke with great passion of her commitment to fundamentally transform Ukraine’s health care system, focusing on all aspects, including training, clinical care, research and financing.

Dr. Suprun received a recognition award for her exemplary work in helping Ukraine’s evolving health system, and Dr. Buniak was awarded recognition for his two years of service to UMANA as the president of the association.

During the cocktail hour preceding the awards banquet, numerous U.S.-based humanitarian organizations that target health care in Ukraine were able to showcase their projects for all attendees. Participating were: United Ukrainian American Relief Committee (uuarc.org; 215-728-1630); United Help Ukraine (unitedhelpukraine.org); Revived Soldiers Ukraine (rsukraine.org); Razom, sponsor of the Co-Pilot Project, focusing on neurosurgery practice in Ukraine (razomforukraine.org);  Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation, supporting Kyiv-Mohyla University and its rehabilitation program (kmfoundation.org); Ukrainian Catholic Educational Foundation, supporting the rehabilitation and mental health program at the Ukrainian Catholic University (ucef.org); Fulbright Program in Ukraine (fulbright.org.ua/en/); Andrey Sheptytsky Hospital Charities (www.ua-region.com/22348948); UMANA Foundation (umana.org/foundation.php); and World Federation of Ukrainian Medical Associations.

All these groups and organizations welcome the active, hands on participation of volunteers and donations. (UMANA advises that groups not listed above are invited to let the association know of their activity so their work also can be highlighted.)

The 37th Assembly of Delegates was held concurrently on Saturday afternoon, conducting the biennial business meeting of UMANA. The association’s financial affairs and budget were reviewed and confirmed, and reports of all committees were presented. Elections of new officers for the upcoming two years were held with the following results: Dr. Ripecky, president; Dr. Leo Wolansky, vice-president; Dr. Peter Lenchur, president-elect; Dr. Buniak, immediate past-president; Ms. Lida Wozny, secretary; Dr. Liza Pilch, treasurer; and Dr. Andrew Dzul, chapter representative.

Despite the range of disciplines and topics, several points and themes emerged across speakers’ presentations during the UMANA conference.

•  While the problems faced are numerous, all conveyed a notable sense of optimism for the future.

•  Assistance is very much valued and appreciated when offered as a collegial, collaborative effort.

•  Training across many disciplines is needed and welcomed.

•  Collaboration among disciplines was repeatedly emphasized as key by presenters, whether speaking of neurosurgery or psychotherapy.

•  Technology is good but less vital than the systematic application of effective but less costly and more available treatments or devices, such as simple, well-designed and locally produced prostheses.

•  For psychological trauma affecting large numbers of people, treatment by trained, low-level providers such as counselors or bachelor’s level staff has shown great promise.

•  In dealing with disability, resetting expectations across society will be vital. Whether referring to physical or psychological disability, an emphasis on recovery and restoration of function will need to be introduced to elevate Ukraine’s health care practice to world standards.

Further information about the conference can be found at www.umana.org.