On a few occasions I was asked to stay in Kyiv and actually see appointments and walk-in patients for an Ukranian colleague at her veterinary hospital. At first I thought this curious – “I should be places without veterinary care!” Soon I realized why I served a role here … I would soon become good friends with and will forever be in awe of Dr. Galyna Chernichko. She is one of the thousands of unsung heroes of Ukraine. During the early days of the war she would be driving back and forth between Poland for donations, food, supplies and hundreds of pounds of pet food each trip to distribute into the small villages surrounding Kyiv.
As one of the hundreds of “James Herriotts” across this war-torn nation, Gaylyna has spent hours of each day for months at her own expense and at great peril to distribute food and supplies for pets and often their owners. These small villages weren’t hillbilly backwoods either – they were thriving small towns, with city halls, shopping centers, churches, butchers, bakers, grocery stores, and thousands of people exactly like you and me until February 24 would end life figuratively, and literally. Places like Bucha, Borodyanka Kyjevo, Svyatoshyns’kyi rayon, etc. I realize from a distance, these are just hard to pronounce words, the names of places on the other side of the world. Its really hard to imagine – Bucha had 37,000 people and Borodyanka 13,000. In the wink of an eye they now look like this:
Anyway, today was one of the days I saw patients at her wonderful office, allowing her to make another humanitarian run. I’d be working with her incredible staff and my new friend, time planner and translator, the local Elanco Animal Health representative Marharyta (Meg). All my patients of these days were memorable for their stories of survival. One of the last patients of the day will alway be most memorable to me because of the incredible odds.
On that day when the tanks were rolling in and the missiles were exploding everywhere and literally destroying everyone and everything in sight, Yana was doing her best to protect her furry family, the most beautiful Bernese Mountain Dogs I’ve ever seen. They should be – they’re double championed, literally Westminster quality, and they wouldn’t have a thing to eat for the next four days. Through the rubble and enemy soldiers someone was able to get some meat to her for them, then the next day they got to some kibble. Whether the meat was bad, they ate too much at once, or the kibble too rapidly expanded, her beautiful boy was soon in excruciating pain and trying desperately to vomit. His abdomen was rapidly expanding with trapped gasses forming in the flipped stomach and he would soon die of gastric dilitation/volvulus, or “bloat.” Imagine the stomach as a swinging hammock which, in this instance flips over, twisting each end, flipping the spleen with it, with nowhere now for the forming gases to go. Somehow they managed to sneak him through enemy lines to the nearest vet, who had “hunkered down” in his basement. The odds are horrible for any bloat in the best of circumstances, but here they were without electricity, a sterile surgical suite, or any instruments. By now her dog was in excruciating pain and they had to act fast – believe it or not using a nail that they found in the rubble to pierce through the abdominal wall and into the stomach – “Whoosh!” out would rush the noxious putrid pressure; the hole had to be retained open, but what could they use for an indwelling catheter to keep the gas from immediately building back up? The insulation surrounding the broken window was a hollow strip, or tubular. A strip was cut and placed into the hole, replacing the nail. Massive doses of antibiotics were given and prayerful days would follow.
Long story made short, the fantastic story of the day, one of the most incredible survival stories of my career would see that this dog had, in fact, lived. The stomach had unflipped after it deflated, and here the dog was, six weeks later, standing right in front of me. In the interim, he’d seen another vet who treated both of these dogs for their horrible chronic dehydrating diarrhea caused by a parasite from infected water, called Giardia with a different antibiotic. At first they were better, but now, a month later the diarhea was back. I checked with a giardia antibody instant test that they had, and discovered no evidence of giardia, and yet the diarrhea had persisted. I suspected that the two antibiotics had not only killed all of the bad bacteria, but also all of the good guys – the normal flora. And so I prescribed a course of probiotic for two weeks, with strict instructions to return immediately if it didn’t improve, for further diagnostics. Later communication informed that they are now fine and thriving.
Dr. Gaylyna would join us before Yana left and teary hugs between the two could only be appreciated from afar. These two had survived a hell I can’t even imagine and returned with life. I’m here and seeing the aftermath, but enduring and surviving through the first, bloodiest battles of this senseless war is something I have no real sense of. These are the heroic survivors.