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Direct Relief, SCCM Provide Mobile Ultrasound Devices and Training to Save Ukrainian Lives

A March training provided equipment and education for first responders providing lifesaving care.


Ukraine Relief

First responders learn how to use a mobile ultrasound device for fast medical interventions. (Photo: Society of Critical Care Medicine)

For a Ukrainian soldier in a front-line trench struck by a Russian mortar round or a civilian gravely injured in an apartment building torn apart by a Russian missile, mere minutes can be the difference between life and death.

When medics first encounter the victim, they may struggle to find the veins or arteries they need to stanch heavy bleeding; they must determine whether the patent’s internal organs have been damaged and require immediate surgery; and they may need to locate nerves to block with anesthesia before an amputation.

“This is one of the most important devices to help patients in Ukraine”

-Dr. Natalia Matolinets, Chief Anesthesiologist at Lviv First Territorial Medical Union

In these situations, mobile ultrasound devices can be a lifesaver. These handheld versions of the stationary machines found in hospitals allow clinicians to see what is happening deep inside a patient’s body so they can take the quick action often crucial for the patient’s survival.

Physicians and other providers across Ukraine have just received 80 new mobile ultrasound devices, funded by a $750,000 grant from Direct Relief. In addition to providing the units, Direct Relief funded an ambitious series of trainings on using the devices, conducted by the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) and led by a team of top critical care clinicians, with specialties in emergency medicine, anesthesiology and internal medicine, from the United States and several other countries.

“This is one of the most important devices to help patients in Ukraine,” said Dr. Natalia Matolinets, Chief Anesthesiologist at Lviv First Territorial Medical Union, the hospital where the ultrasound course was taught. “It is a fast and effective device that will give physicians the possibility to help immediately. Especially because of the war right now, a couple of minutes could save someone’s life.”

In an underground bunker below Dr. Matolinet’s hospital last month, interrupted by air raid sirens and flickering power, the SCCM team trained more than 145 Ukrainian physicians and military medics to use mobile ultrasound across the wide variety of emergency situations they may encounter.

With Direct Relief funding, SCCM selected and purchased 80 mobile ultrasound devices made by Butterfly Network Inc., which can display images on an iPhone or Android device. Butterfly offered the devices and services at a discounted rate. SCCM also loaded 150 donated iPads with its ultrasound training materials, which had been translated into Ukrainian. Students received the iPads for free, as well as a two-year membership to SCCM that includes access to medical journals, educational materials, and more.

In addition to three sessions for direct training that instructed a total of 135 clinicians, SCCM held an advanced “train the trainers” course for 12 people who will now go on to train many more Ukrainian clinicians on using mobile ultrasound in emergency situations.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Health supported the initiative, selecting the clinicians receiving the “train the trainers” course and allocating the ultrasound devices across the country.

“This is a very important event for the medical community,” said Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Health Sergii Dubrov, who participated in the training, in a Ministry of Health news release. “The acquired knowledge will help our specialists save lives more effectively on the battlefield and in intensive care units.”

The SCCM training mission was led by Dr. José L. Díaz-Gómez of the Texas Heart Institute at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, where he serves as section chief of cardiothoracic, mechanical circulatory support, and transplant critical care. Dr. Díaz-Gómez also serves on SCCM’s council.

The program has had an immediate impact. Within three days of being trained, one of the military medics shared with his trainers a video of himself assessing a wounded soldier with a mobile ultrasound device.

“The mission was only feasible because of Direct Relief’s role,” said Dr. Díaz-Gómez. “It’s a nice and unique symbiosis between Direct Relief having the funds and resources, and SCCM providing the expertise on the specific skillset people need.”

First responders learn how to use a mobile ultrasound device for fast medical interventions that can save lives. (Photo: Society of Critical Care Medicine)

The work on mobile ultrasound is the latest in a series of collaborations between Direct Relief and SCCM. With advice from SCCM, Direct Relief developed an ICU kit containing enough ICU medications and supplies for at least 100 hospitalized patients. During the early months of the Covid-19 crisis, when hospitals across the country were running out of crucial supplies, Direct Relief donated dozens of ICU kits to hospitals in states including Florida, Texas and New York; hundreds of oxygen concentrators; and more than 2,350 Powered Air-Purifying Respirators.

SCCM and Direct Relief are now working on an extensive plan to increase medical oxygen capacity in key hospitals internationally, starting with pilot programs in The Gambia, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Direct Relief recently approved a grant of $5.5 million to fund this project.

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