Rachel Gribben, a four-year-old girl from the village of Killyleagh in Northern Ireland who suffered from a rare form of epilepsy, successfully underwent a complex brain surgery procedure carried out by a team of neurosurgeons in Lviv, western Ukraine.

“When we were sitting in the shelter of the hospital with other mothers and children, my heart just broke,” the child’s mother Katie recalled her experience hearing the first air siren after arriving in Lviv, where her child was to undergo brain surgery in a country at war.

According to The First Medical Association of Lviv, the child’s family decided to bring Rachel to the Children’s Hospital of St. Nicholas under the association for treatment following advice from US neurosurgeon Luke Tomycz, becoming the first foreign patient of the establishment.

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In November 2023, Northern Irish media Belfast Live reported the Gribben family's plea for help, where doctors in the UK were reportedly unwilling to perform the complex surgery. Recommendations from good Samaritans eventually led them to Tomycz, who has family ties with Ukraine and said he could carry out the surgery for free if the family could cover the £20,000 ($25,000) travel and hospital fees.

“Rachel has something called Focal Cortical Dysplasia and a severe form of epilepsy,” Rachel’s mother Katie told Belfast Live, adding that she’s been told by UK doctors that seizures were coming from multiple places and there was nothing they could do.

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The Russian missile destroyed an administrative building. A fire broke out but was quickly extinguished.

“[Tomycz] and his team got in touch straight away, but it would have been £100,000 ($125,000) for us to take Rachel to the US for the surgery and it just wasn’t feasible for us.

“But the doctor has family ties in Ukraine and goes there once a year to a children’s hospital where he can perform these surgeries for a lot less,” said Katie.

According to the association’s announcement, Tomycz also recommended Mykhailo Lovga, a neurosurgeon at the St. Nicholas Children’s Hospital, to the family for the surgery; Both Lovga and Tomycz were seen in the photos released by the association following the successful surgery.

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The association said the surgery aimed to “get rid of severe convulsive attacks that threatened life and restrained the child’s development.”

“When the girl was one and a half years old, her parents noticed that the little girl was somehow lagging in development. The baby also had minor body twitches. A few months later, she had her first severe seizure.

“Doctors diagnosed epilepsy with epileptic spasms. This is a type of seizure in which discharges occur throughout the brain. Doctors also discovered focal cortical dysplasia, that is, poorly developed convolutions of the brain, which provoked convulsions,” read the association’s Facebook announcement.

The surgery lasted seven hours and was a success, where a team of Ukrainian specialists managed to pinpoint the brain areas affected and remove them accordingly.

“We chose an interesting, combined approach. The skull cavity was opened step by step, the changed area was found, it was separated and disconnected step by step. And then removed completely.

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“It was extremely important to be as far as possible from the area responsible for limb movements,” said Lovga, adding that the team worked together with neurophysiologists using state-of-the-art intraoperative monitoring and a “navigation system” to help them avoid damage to healthy areas of the brain.

The association said Rachel has returned to Northern Ireland following the successful surgery with no more seizures.

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