NHS doctors reveal tears of relief over warzone rescue as Ukrainian refugee kids begin cancer care

NHS doctors have revealed their tears after rescuing terrified Ukrainian children who are set to receive cancer treatment in the UK.

The 21 children arrived on Sunday night and have have received health assessments from NHS staff.


From there they have been triaged to seven hospitals across England.

Children who need cancer treatment have also been taken to Turin, Italy.

On March 5, 13 Ukrainian children with cancer and their families arrived by ambulance at the Regina Margherita Children's Hospital in Turin after being rescued by a humanitarian mission.

Dr Michael Griksaitis, a children’s intensive care doctor in Southampton, took a team of 14 UK medics for the airlift from Poland.

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Babies, schoolchildren and teenagers were among the priority patients, who had life-saving cancer treatment interrupted when Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday confirmed the kids and their families can stay in the UK for as long as necessary.

Dr Griksaitis said: “Coming onto the plane all the families were quiet, terrified, upset. You could see they were nervous and they didn’t know what was happening.

“I think they were fearful they might not be allowed to take off.

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“By the end of the flight we saw a sense of relief that they’d made it to somewhere safe that would care for them and give their child a chance at curing their cancer.

“On landing, children that initially wouldn’t make eye contact were high-fiving, playing and smiling."

He added that there were 'tears and it was emotional for everyone involved'.

The brave doctors took intensive care kit and medicines on a government-chartered plane.

They could only take 14 staff for all 21 children, compared to the 63 medics who would be used for the same sized move in the UK.

Dr Griksaitis said he had no idea how old the children would be or how much help they would need until he arrived.

He added: “As we were flying out all of our team had varying degrees of anxiety about what we were going to find, but no-one was fearful of flying towards it.

“The children needed urgent chemotherapy otherwise they would die.

“We took enough stuff to provide everything from basic medical care like Calpol and anti-sickness tablets, right through to intensive care life support machines.”

Children were accompanied by devastated mums and brothers and sisters who had spent days escaping their war-torn homeland.

Dr Griksaitis said: “The families were incredibly grateful and the stories they told us were so horrific.

“The medical stuff was actually very straightforward – we knew how to look after these children and that was our comfort blanket.

“What was not was the emotional trauma that some of these families have experienced. 

“It was traumatic for us to hear but not a patch on how traumatic it was for them to talk about. 

“A lot of our flight was spent talking and listening to people who were really struggling.”

Sajid Javid said he was “proud” of the mission, which would bring a total of 49 refugees to the UK once all the children’s families arrive.

He said their visas will be extended to at least three years and they could stay longer.

NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard added that the mission was a lifeline for children in the most vulnerable circumstances imaginable.

"It is hard to overstate how much today will mean for the parents, brothers and sisters of these children, as they start the next phase of a hugely traumatic journey to a healthier and safer future."

She explained that anyone who has experienced cancer knows it is an ordeal for friends and relatives too.

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Dr Griksaitis, whose mission involved NHS staff from Southampton and Birmingham, added: “I’ve not led anything like this before in my life, but the team and I felt compelled to do whatever we could to help.

“I’d do it again in a flash.”


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