Ukrainian Children Get Gift Of Sight In NY

LONG ISLAND, USA -- When Elizaveta Tugay's flight landed in New York on Wednesday, the teen was legally blind.

These three teenage girls all (all 15yrs) hail from the same region of Ukraine. They are here staying with host volunteer families through Operation Hearts and Home for the next few weeks in order to undergo donated-eye surgeries. From left to right are Anastasia Ezmat, Liza Dugay and Alina Berdina.

When Tugay, 15, returns to the Ukraine in two weeks, part of her vision should be restored.

She will be able to walk without assistance.

One day, she might even be able to drive.

"I'm very happy," she said Saturday in Huntington. "I want to be able to see."

Her two-week medical trip is being coordinated by a Long Island nonprofit called Operation Hearts and Home.

Along with seven other Ukrainian children with vision problems, Tugay will receive donated eye care and glasses, even free dental work.

Travel costs are also covered by the organization, with its members hosting the five boys and three girls in their homes.

"There's a joy to seeing a first with these kids," said Susan Bies, 50, of Massapequa, who has hosted a Ukrainian girl, Alina Berdina, 15, every year since 2007.

Initially, Alina came for medical care, but she's since become an extension of the family, Bies said.

Operation Hearts and Home has been bringing Ukrainians to the United States for about a decade.

Of this year's visitors, five attend a school for visually impaired youth in Kharkov.

They're chaperoned by Olga Mackevych, an exuberant, gold-toothed math teacher who said the children's families can't afford medical treatment at home.

"These people in New York helped us; helped my children," said Mackevych, 59.

The children are evaluated when they arrive, and those in need of new glasses receive them courtesy of Moss Opticians in Huntington.

Tugay and one other child will be treated by Dr. Brian Campolattaro, a pediatric ophthalmologist at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in Manhattan.

Campolattaro will operate on one of Tugay's eyes during this visit.

She will have the second procedure on a subsequent trip, with total costs -- covered by the hospital -- estimated at $10,000.

Campolattaro donates his time but figures he's coming out ahead.

"I can't believe I get to do this for free -- taking that patch off the next morning," he said.

"Because I'd pay for that privilege."

Source: Newsday