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Ukrainian Refugee is Grateful for Surgery That Repaired Leaking Heart Valve

Vladyslav (Vlad) Polishuchenko, 19, and his mother, Anzhela, never planned to move from Zhytomyr, Ukraine. But when war broke out in February 2022, they had no choice.

A refugee relief organisation connected them with visa sponsors, Dominic and Tatiana Parmee of Northampton, England.

“During WWII, Ukrainians helped my Polish grandmother, so when the war started I wanted to help in any way I could”, recalls Tatiana.

In May 2022, Vlad and Anzhela joined the Parmees and their dogs, Doris and Peggy, to begin this unexpected chapter in their lives. As they settled into their new home, Anzhela told Tatiana that Vlad had a congenital heart disease and had been on medication in Ukraine.

Vlad was born with a bicuspid aortic valve — his aortic valve has two leaflets instead of the usual three. When Vlad was 10 months old, his father died from the same condition. In March 2021, Vlad, then 16 years old, had open heart surgery in Ukraine to replace one of his valves.

“The surgery in Ukraine was very rough and painful. My rehabilitation took a long time, and I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a kettle for months”, remembers Vlad.

The Parmees sought medical care for Vlad at a local hospital. During a checkup in May 2023, the GP noticed irregularities with Vlad’s bloodwork and sent him to a cardiologist in Oxford for follow up. An MRI scan showed a severe leak around the valve replacement.

Vlad’s cardiologist recommended he see Dr Sam Dawkins, a consultant interventional cardiologist who cares for patients in Oxford and at Cleveland Clinic London. Dr Dawkins diagnosed Vlad with a paravalvular leak — caused by space between the heart tissue and the valve.

“The paravalvular leak was quite severe. This issue isn’t very common and it was particularly surprising that it happened only a few years after it was replaced”, says Dr Dawkins.

“I’m so thankful for the generosity of CCP UK. They helped to lessen our burdens during an already stressful time between an unexpected surgery and having to flee Ukraine.”

Dr Dawkins explained that Vlad could either have another open heart surgery to repair the leaky valve or he could have a paravalvular leak closure procedure.

“A paravalvular leak closure is a less invasive solution than open heart surgery for patients with a paravalvular leak. We are able to use a specially designed mesh device to seal the paravalvular leak. The real advantage of this approach is it is carried out via one of the arteries at the top of the leg without any kind of incision or scar. Most patients who have this procedure go home the same day or the day after the procedure. For patients who have already had open heart surgery, the idea of having redo surgery is quite daunting. The paravalvular leak closure procedure allows us to treat the problem safely and effectively with a very rapid recovery time”, explains Dr Dawkins.

Vlad and his mother decided the paravalvular leak closure was the best option. “I was surprised how bad the leak was and was worried that Vlad would become as sick as he was after his previous surgery”, says Anzhela.

Through Cleveland Clinic Philanthropy UK (CCP UK) — a charitable organisation focused on supporting the advancement of health, medical education and research in the UK to improve the health of individuals and communities — Vlad was able to have his surgery sooner and it was fully funded.

“I’m so thankful for the generosity of CCP UK. They helped to lessen our burdens during an already stressful time between an unexpected surgery and having to flee Ukraine”, says Vlad.

Dr Dawkins performed the paravalvular leak closure in July 2023. While Vlad was under general anesthetic, he inserted a thin catheter into the femoral artery in his groin and guided a wire through the catheter to his heart. He then placed a closure device on the valve to plug the leak using a special catheter.

The procedure took about 90 minutes. Vlad went home the next day and recovered very quickly.

“Vlad and his mother faced considerable challenges in managing his condition, which were made more complex by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Cleveland Clinic London’s cardiology team and I were delighted to provide our medical expertise and support his recovery in his new homeland”, says Dr Dawkins.

Vlad continues to have regular checkups with his cardiologist, but he is not expected to need any further procedures. He’s studying IT software development at Northampton College and enjoys going to the gym, cycling and taking Doris and Peggy for daily walks.

“Dr Dawkins is one of the best doctors I have ever met in my life. He explained serious things in simple language”, says Vlad. “I will always be grateful for the care I received at Cleveland Clinic London; their technology is impressive. The caregivers’ level of professionalism is somewhere in the sky because it’s really high”.

Related Institutes: Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute (Miller Family)
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