Local Primary Care Physician Travels to Poland to Aid Ukrainian People

Apr. 28, 2022

What we saw and what we did will remain with us forever.

As the world reacts to the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, people want to help in any way they can. Rochester area health care workers banded together to create, where donations help collect medical supplies to send to Ukrainian hospitals and clinics. The fund was started by two child neurologists: Yuliya Snyder, M.D., who attended medical school at Kharkiv National Medical University in Ukraine before her residency and fellowship here at URMC, and Alex Paciorkowski, M.D., an associate professor with joint appointments in Neurology, Pediatrics, and Biomedical Genetics.  

In late March, Snyder and Paciorkowski began collecting donations, and another local physician wanted to support the cause. Neil Scheier, M.D., a semi-retired/voluntary senior clinical instructor of Medicine was speaking with his daughter, Rachel Kaplan, who serves as executive director of Hillel at the University of Cincinnati. In addition to donating, the pair felt the need to get directly involved.  

Neil Duffel Bags
Neil Scheier, M.D., with donated medical supplies ready to take to Poland

Scheier connected with Snyder and Paciorkowski, and volunteered to hand-deliver several duffel bags of supplies to their contacts in Warsaw, Poland. On April 4, Scheier and his daughter hopped on a plane. This blog post from RocUkraineMedRelief shows Scheier with the duffel bags and lists what medical supplies were delivered. Once the supplies were dropped off in Warsaw, they were transported to hospitals in Ukraine.

Delivering these supplies was on behalf of RocUkraineMedRelief, but Scheier felt compelled to do even more. Scheier and Kaplan didn’t want to “just show up” without a plan, so they did some research on organizations and connected with Sauveteurs Sans Frontieres (Rescuers Without Borders), an Israeli organization dedicated to saving lives. They were providing a medical tent at a Poland/Ukraine border crossing in Medyka, and Scheier asked to join them. Scheier and Kaplan went straight from the supply drop-off to the border crossing camp, a four-hour drive.

Neil Scheier
Scheier at the medical tent in Medyka, Poland

Medyka is a small town of no more than 3,000 people. The camp at Medyka consists of approximately 30 tents with different purposes. Some offer food, some offer dry and clean clothes, others have cots to rest on. The very first tent by the border crossing is a medical tent, the only medical organization present, where Scheier put his skills to use. “I had wondered what medical issues I would see,” he said. “What I did see ran the gamut from patients with diabetes who had gone without insulin for a week, to patients with high blood pressure without their medication, to burns and wounds, to babies crying because their diapers had not been changed in over a day, to painful feet and backs, to stomach ailments, to acute gallbladder issues, the entire gamut of medical ails.”

The medical tent runs 24/7, with one physician and one nurse working eight-hour shifts. The tent is heated by a small wood-burning stove, which Scheier helped keep going. Some people stopped by for a quick check-up, others needed to stay the night before continuing on the next morning. Often, the medical supply donations were exactly what was needed, other times, Scheier had to get creative. “A half-filled water bottle laid on its side with a hole cut in the top for medicine insertion effectively serves as a nebulizer that provides aerosolized medication,” he said. There were volunteer Russian and Ukrainian interpreters roaming the camp to help with language barriers, but in a pinch, if one was not immediately available, Scheier said Google Translate did the trick.

Neil and Nurse from France
Scheier with a volunteer nurse from France

Polish news reported that in one 24-hour period, 27,000 Ukrainians crossed the border, 11,000 of them on foot. To date, more than 5 million refugees have been welcomed into Poland. The initial tent complex offered immediate basic needs: food, dry clothing, and medical care, all provided for free by non-profits, religious organizations, government-affiliated groups, and concerned businesses. After receiving care at the Medyka camp, people walk to a makeshift bus depot, where they travel on to either a local school or indoor shopping plaza that now acts as overnight accommodations.

Of the experience, Scheier says, “What we saw and what we did will remain with us forever. Standing at the entry to the medical tent I could watch refugee families complete their journey. What struck me most was the confidence in their walk; whether carrying a child in their arms or using two canes to walk, they had arrived. What I cannot in any way convey in words is the extraordinary stress of people forced to leave their homes with their lives packed in a single suitcase. Yet, amidst the expected stress reactions of crying and tears and pain and anger, one could also sense a belief that this was all temporary, that ultimately, they would return home. It may be months, it may be years, they may be heading to a country whose language they don't speak, but there exists amongst so many the firm belief that Ukraine is their homeland, and return they will.”

RocUkraineMedRelief continues to accept donations to send supplies as the crisis continues. The blog is updated on occasion, so you can follow along with the good work being done.