Georgy: Long Journey to Healing
Despite the fact they were years and continents apart, Mercy Medical Center’s Dr. Vadim Gushchin and 13-year old Georgy were somehow meant to meet.
On the surface, the two were an unlikely pair. Dr. Gushchin is Mercy’s Medical Center’s Director of Gastrointestinal Oncology. He’s a skilled and respected cancer surgeon, a physician who has worked years to gain an international reputation and to share his expertise in treating complex cancers using cutting edge technologies.
On the other side there’s Georgy, a teenager living his life half a world away.
But fate works in strange ways, and in time it would bring together the doctor and the teenager, because in some ways they were the perfect match for one another. One a healer, the other, a young man in need of healing.
On Opposite Sides of the World
The journey began on opposite sides of the world. Dr. Gushchin in Baltimore, and Georgy in the Russian town of Tula, where he and his parents live. In 2013, Georgy was diagnosed with Desmoplastic Small-Round-Cell Tumor, or DRSCT - an aggressive and extremely rare soft-tissue sarcoma that occurs primarily as masses in the abdomen.
And like that, the wheels began to turn. Despite the many miles between them, Georgy and Dr. Gushchin began moving toward one another.
A native of Moscow, Dr. Gushchin knows of journeys. He received his degree from the Russian State Medical University, served his Residency in Moscow, then came to the U.S., working in hospitals in Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Buffalo, New York before coming to Mercy.
Through his career he had earned a reputation for his knowledge and experience in treating complex cancers using cytoreductive surgery and HIPEC, (Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy). A relatively recent cancer treatment development, cytoreductive surgery and HIPEC involve surgically removing cancerous tumors from the abdominal cavity, then bathing the cavity with heated chemotherapy to eliminate the cancer cells that are left.
Having participated in over 150 HIPEC surgeries, Dr. Gushchin knows not only the medical intricacies of the treatment, but its potential healing power. He also knows that such treatment is not available or accepted, everywhere in the world. “In some cases it’s not affordable,” he noted. In others, he added, the problem sometimes is not equipment, but education. “Not everyone is willing to embrace change,” Dr. Gushchin said.
Because of those circumstances and his background Dr. Gushchin has been some somewhat of a missionary for new cancer treatments. For a number of years he’s taught courses and helped establish centers for the treatment of peritoneal surface malignancies (complex abdominal cancers that can be treated with HIPEC) across the world, including Lithuania, Siberia and the Ukraine. He is a doctor with a broad vision of the healing world. A vision that eventually connected him to Georgy.
Dr. Gushchin, Meet Georgy
The journey began thanks to the Internet. Through his travels and teachings overseas, Dr. Gushchin became familiar with an online international support website called PMP Pals. The website is a worldwide resource and referral service for patients, their families and healthcare providers affected by cancers of the digestive system - cancers such as the one Georgy was battling.
In late 2013, Dr. Gushchin received an email from the founder of PMP Pals. Knowing Dr. Gushchin was a native Russian, the founder was forwarding a question she'd received from a mother in Moscow whose son was hospitalized and very ill. The mother wanted to know if there was anyone who knew of a Russian doctor who possibly could treat her son who was battling DRSCT. He was 13. His name was Georgy.
Call it fate, kismet, or coincidence, but when he received the e-mail, Dr. Gushchin happened to be packing to leave for a medical conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia, a short flight from Moscow. He emailed back. He would stop by the hospital in Moscow, he said, on his way to the conference.
Two weeks later, what had begun years and miles before as the commitment of a caring surgeon to share his knowledge, came full circle. What was meant to be had come to pass.
Now the cancer surgeon was standing beside a hospital bed in Moscow.
Dr. Gushchin, meet Georgy.
When they finally did meet in person, Georgy was being treated with chemotherapy at a pediatric clinic in Moscow, and was reacting badly to the drugs. "I offered my services to the hospital there, but I met resistance," Dr. Gushchin said. "My offer fell flat."
But it was not a wasted trip. In fact now that they had finally come together, doctor and patient, they understood each other. Neither would give up that easily.
Fate Intervenes - Again
After meeting Dr. Gushchin, Georgy's parents made the decision to move their son from the Moscow hospital back to a hospital closer to home in Tula, one that was more open to newer medical techniques. With the help of a colleague who is a pediatric oncologist, Dr. Gushchin helped direct Georgy's treatment from Baltimore, using email, phone calls and Skype to interact with physicians in Russia.
But what Georgy really needed was something he couldn't get in Tula, despite the best of intentions. He needed the kind of treatment and procedures he could get in other places far away, places like the U.S., and from surgeons like Dr. Gushchin.
"I felt he could get the best treatment here at Mercy, and his family wanted to come to Baltimore for Georgy's treatment, but it was prohibitively expensive," Dr. Gushchin said. "We were doing the best we could under the circumstances."
Then, again, fate intervened. After several months of long-distance treatment, Georgy's parents were able to procure funding from an independent medical charity based in London. The charity provided the money the family needed for Georgy to be treated in Baltimore, at Mercy Medical Center.
In January 2014 Georgy and Dr. Gushchin were reunited again, this time at Dr. Gushchin's home base – The Institute for Cancer Care at Mercy.
"It all took some coordinating to get Georgy here and to provide him the right treatment,” Dr. Gushchin said. “Everyone at Mercy was supportive, from the anesthesiologist to the Intensive Care Unit to the hospital administrators. It's not every day we bring in a 13-year old from a foreign country for a surgery like this. But it was absolutely worth the effort."
Dr. Gushchin performed cytoreductive surgery and the HIPEC procedure on Georgy, using the latest equipment and knowledge available. The surgery took 12 hours. In all, Georgy would stay at Mercy for eight days, and in the U.S. for a total of six weeks for his check-ups.
Georgy then returned to Tula where he is receiving additonal treatments. Dr. Gushchin continues to coordinate the treatment from Baltimore, and to stay in contact with Georgy’s parents and doctors, and the boy he was meant to meet.
“The important thing is that with the treatment Georgy was able to receive here we were able to help extend his life," Dr. Gushchin concluded. “New medications and treatments are being developed so quickly these days that a few more years can make a huge difference."
A Bridge of Caring and Compassion
Looking back, Dr. Gushchin has high praise for the teamwork and cooperation by so many that helped bring Georgy to Mercy for treatment.
"Mercy’s nurses helped me immensely," Dr. Gushchin noted. "I’m not that accustomed to speaking to a 13-year old, and they told me what to say and how to say it and helped out with games and ways to make Georgy feel comfortable,” he said. “Everyone here at the hospital was top-notch - the nurses, the technicians, the administrators, everyone. I know Georgy's parents were grateful for their professionalism and the way they cared about the little things. They made him feel at home."
And even though Georgy’s time at Mercy was brief, the Russian teen that fate had brought to Baltimore, left a lasting impression. "He was great; the darling of every floor he was on," Dr. Gushchin said. "The nurses and even the cafeteria workers still ask about him."
Overall, Dr. Gushchin felt that by bringing Georgy to Baltimore, he was able to share the best care and knowledge available.
In short, it was meant to be. From Russia to Mercy in Baltimore…a bridge of caring and compassion in the spirit of the Sisters of Mercy.
"I'm glad I was able to make the connection, and that Georgy was able to come here for treatment,” he concluded. “That’s wonderful. I knew that we could provide superior medical service. That's what we always strive to do here at Mercy.”
Georgy's Treatment Team