New Global Neurosurgery Initiative launched by Razom in Ukraine
By: Tamara Lashchyk
On Sunday, March 5th at the Ukrainian Institute of America, I had the privilege of attending the launch of the Co-Pilot Project (CPP), an initiative of Razom that seeks to raise the quality of neurosurgical training in Ukraine through surgeon-to-surgeon mentoring. There I listened to Dr. Luke Tomycz, the lead physician on the project, describe in detail the complex surgeries that he performed last year in Ukraine to remove deadly brain and spine tumors from otherwise young and healthy patients who in many cases were refused from neurosurgical centers throughout the country. Much like a co-pilot helps land a plane safely, Tomycz and his colleagues hope to serve a similar function, guiding Ukrainian surgeons safely through complex neurosurgical operations.
Dr. Tomycz and his fiancée Mariya Soroka are now gearing up to do it again this summer, as they prepare to embark on a three-month journey to Ukraine. This time, Tomycz has assembled a team of American doctors who, inspired by his story, have also volunteered to partake in this remarkable humanitarian effort. The pair has also forged partnerships with numerous Ukrainian colleagues in Kyiv, Lviv, and throughout Ukraine. In the course of multiple “master-class” programs, American surgeons will work side by side with their Ukrainian counterparts, imparting modern techniques in brain and spine surgery.
The healthcare system in Ukraine is among the worst in Europe, and in the current climate of fiscal devastation – caused by years of institutional corruption and worsened by the cost of the smoldering conflict with separatists near the Russian border – healthcare remains profoundly under-funded. Ukraine however, has no shortage of people who are hungry for positive change, have a passion for their fellow man, and a deep love for their country. Doctors in Ukraine have welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with American and Canadian professionals, and appreciate the unique chance they have, to upgrade their skills and get exposed to cutting-edge techniques. A Ukrainian-American radiologist, Ulana Suprun MD, was recently appointed minister of health in Ukraine and is bravely battling corruption and championing important reforms to improve access and quality of care. There are many reasons to be optimistic about Ukraine’s future.
Dr. Luke Tomycz is part of the pediatric neurosurgical team at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas where he specializes in all aspects of pediatric and adult neurosurgery. He was born in the United States and grew up in Flint, Michigan. He later moved to Cambridge, MA where he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and double-majored in biology and chemical engineering. After completion of his undergraduate degree, he accepted the prestigious Dean’s Full-Tuition Scholarship to attend the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. This is where Dr. Tomycz first developed an interest in neurosurgery.
Dr. Tomycz is of Ukrainian descent and grew up listening to the stories of his grandparents as they spoke about life in their homeland. Both of his parents were born in refugee camps following World War II and came to this country in the early 1950s with virtually nothing. His father (Nestor B. Tomycz, MD) excelled in academics and went into medicine; he still practices endocrinology in Flint. Luke and his older brother Nestor D. Tomycz followed suit, both pursuing careers in neurosurgery. During a long period of study and training that lasted more than 15 years, Luke resolved to return to the homeland of his grandparents, to provide the kind of high-quality care that children receive in the United States. His brother is an academic functional neurosurgeon in Pittsburgh who himself will be hosting a neurosurgeon from Dnipro, Ukraine for several months and providing fellowship-training in deep brain stimulation surgery.
Mariya Soroka is a Ukrainian native who moved to the US when she was just 14 years old. She is one of the co-founders of Razom for Ukraine, a non-for profit organization that maintains a relentless focus on the needs of Ukrainians and manages myriad projects to help fulfill those needs.The organization “Razom” which means “together” in Ukrainian can be credited, at least partially, as the driving force that brought Dr.Tomycz and Mariya together in NYC over 3 years ago. Inspired by the accomplishments of Razom, Dr. Tomycz felt compelled to reach out to Mariya and inquire about other work in which the organization was involved. The two agreed to meet for coffee which led to several hours of discussion, sparking a romantic relationship. Mariya has deepened Luke’s connection to his own heritage and together they will set forth on this incredibly noble journey. Luke and Mariya are now engaged and will be married this spring, before they depart for Ukraine.
Mariya has been a driving force behind the Razom Co-Pilot Project and has been instrumental in obtaining the support needed for Dr. Tomycz to execute this endeavor. Through Razom’s extensive contacts, the two were able to meet with Ukraine’s Minister of Health while in Kyiv, and the CPP team hopes to work with the ministry to whatever extent possible. Dr. Tomycz has gathered a team of experts in the medical field to join him on this mission, which will undoubtedly raise the caliber of neurosurgical expertise in Ukraine. We would like to thank all the surgical mentors that will be volunteering their time and effort to this program: Jefferson Miley, MD – neurointerventionalist; Jonathan Forbes, MD – skull base neurosurgeon; Matthew Geck, MD – orthopedic spine surgeon.
In order to contribute to the fundraising efforts of this project, many Ukrainian artists have donated their works of art in a silent auction. A special thanks to the artists listed below who have contributed their artwork to this very worthy cause: Sashko Danylenko, Adriana Farmiga, Roman Hrab, Kalyna Jewels, Ira Lysa, Olya Z. Powzaniuk, Jennifer Rowe, Daniel Santiago Salguero, Angela Shen, Marko Shuhan, Irka Tkachenko, Tetyana Komar.
The overall 2017 fundraising goal for this initiative is $85,000 USD with about $34,000 USD raised to date. We are confident and optimistic that “together” (razom) we will achieve our fundraising goal and would like to take this opportunity to ask for further monetary support from the Ukrainian community. In the words of Okean Elzy lead singer and Ukrainian activist Slava Vakarchuk, who made an appearance and addressed those at the Co-Pilot launch event: “… [we must] see ourselves as those individuals [ultimately] responsible for the future of our country…” A supporter of the initiative, Vakarchuk is planning a CPP benefit concert in the coming year.
The moneys raised will go to support the three tiers of the project: 1) training Ukrainian neurosurgeons, 2) establishing a compassionate care fund to pay for operations for indigent patients, and 3) to supply equipment and instruments required to provide modern neurosurgical care.
Donations can be made through the Razom website at www.razomforukraine.org/cpp or by check made out to Razom Inc (indicate CPP in the note of the check) and mailed to: 140 2nd Avenue, Suite 305, New York, NY, 10003.
Razom is a 501(c)(3) organization. Donations and gifts are deductible to the full extent allowable under IRS regulations.