Doctors say Chernobyl children are in good shape

By Sara Brown/Correspondent

SHARON - Editor's note: This is the second part of a series. The Daily News Transcript is reporting on the children of the Chernobyl Children Project during their stay in Massachusetts.

Maxim Shtyrkhunova was waiting for an x-ray. Flanked by a translator, Irina Zinkevich, and his host father, Evan Weststrate, the 9-year-old pulled a Real Madrid cap low over his face and fought back tears that started when he was speaking with the doctor, in Russian, about his family.

Then Weststrate had an idea: "Does he want to play a game?" he asked Zinkevich, pulling out his iPhone. The question was translated, and the answer was affirmative. Homesickness was soon forgotten.

Maxim is one of 67 children who arrived in Massachusetts two weeks ago from parts of Belarus and Russia affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 1986. Children from this region are still exposed to radiation in the air they breathe and the food they eat. The children also face inadequate medical care such as a three-year wait for diagnostic testing, according to the Chernobyl Children Program USA.

This volunteer-run program coordinates medical care, host families, and fun events for the children, who will be exposed to clean food, water and air during their stay. This will greatly improve their physical and psychological health, according to the organization.

Maxim and Nikita Kadochnikon 10, both from Klintsy, Russia, are living with Weststrate and his wife, Patrice, in Norwood for their four-week stay. The boys were settling into their new routine: adjusting to the Weststrates' dog, checking out the automatic doors at Target, and playing with Legos.

Two days after the boys' arrival, they attended a clinic for the children at Saints Medical Center in Lowell, one of three clinics held through the program. The hospitals donate use of their facilities, and local doctors donate their time.

At the clinics, children had their height and weight measured, gave blood and urine samples, had vision tests, and met with doctors. Nikita was prescreened for a hip problem, and Maxim's small size-he weighs less than half what Nikita does-suggested endocrine problems to doctors in Russia.

To bridge the language barrier (both boys speak little English) the Weststrates use a translating program on their iPhones and computer to communicate important information. At the clinic, translators and Russian speaking doctors were on hand to communicate with the children.

Dr. Dina S. Guyetsky, a native of Ukraine who practices at Neighborhood Pediatrics in Billerica, examined Maxim. Afterward, Guyetsky said she did not think Maxim has endocrine problems-he may just be a late bloomer.

To rule out a growth-hormone deficiency, Guyetsky recommended an x-ray to determine Maxim's bone age. She also suggested that the Weststrates get him some Flintstones vitamins.

"Otherwise, he is perfect," she said.

Ten to 15 years ago, there were a lot of kids who were exposed to radiation in a significant amount and thus developed thyroid problems, tumors, and cancers, said Guyetsky, a longtime volunteer for the CCP.

The last five or six years, she added, "the kids are more like regular kids. Maybe some do have effects, but I don't believe Maxim has problems related to radiation."

Meanwhile, Nikita was looked at for hip pain and asthma. Patrice said has Perthes Disease, an orthopedic hip defect. While it did not seem like he needed surgery, she added, he would have an orthopedic x-ray at Floating Hospital to make sure.

The Price family from Sharon took their host children, Anhelina Tsimashenka, 11 and Krystina Tsitova, 8, both from Gomel, Belarus, to the clinic at Canton Family Medical Associates in Canton.

Like many childhood trips to the doctor, there were tears: Anhelina was reluctant to have her blood drawn, and extra translators were called in to help calm her down. Krystina, who was screened for kidney problems, will need an ultrasound.

Susan Price said they have not heard the results from the girls' blood work, though they did receive news that their eyesight is good.

Price said that the girls are fitting right in with the family, which includes her husband Robert and their sons, Jack, Max, and Sam. "[The girls] eat a lot, run around, and seem really healthy. They sleep really well," she said.

They even went with the family to a performance of the Price family's band, "Full Price," where Krystina danced and played the tambourine, and both girls played with the piano.

Up next for all the children will be dental appointments at Tufts Dental School and some fun activities, including a barbeque, a visit to the Canton fire department, and a trip to the zoo. Last weekend, Patrice said, the Weststrates fulfilled one of the boys' wishes and took them to the beach, where they had fun playing in the waves.



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