It all began in 1993… Rodion and Natasha’s lives took an unexpected turn when late one evening, Rodion received a call from a desperate father in Russia.
His eight-month-old daughter (Anna) was suffering from a life-threatening congenital heart defect. This phone call was a desperate attempt to try and save his daughter. The father had seen Rodion portraying heroic roles in his films. He was hoping Rodion would be a hero in real life and help save his child.
Ironically, Rodion had suffered with a congenital heart disease as a child. When he heard this man’s plea for help, he instinctively responded.
Natasha contacted Dr. Taro Yokoyama at St. Vincent’s Medical Center and explained the child needed immediate help but this type of surgery was not available in Russia. Dr. Yokoyama, with the help of his wife Rita and his cardiac team, agreed to help Anna. The little girl was saved while triggering a miraculous chain of events that changed Anna and Rodion’s lives forever.
The news of Anna's surgery began a wave of calls from Russian parents whose children were dying from congenital heart disease.
Anna’s new life resulted in the birth of the nonprofit Nahapetov Friendship Foundation (NFF). The NFF is a cooperative effort between Americans and Russians working toward saving the lives of children who could not receive the medical care in the former Soviet Union. The majority of these children would have died before reaching their first birthday.
Rodion and Natasha dedicated themselves to this catastrophic medical problem. They took several leading American cardiac specialists to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kazan. They organized several seminars and lectures enabling the American and Russian doctors to communicate on vital medical information.
Natasha and Rodion spent many hours with the parents and their children trying to gain a more in depth understanding of their situations and how they could be of assistance.
In 1995, Rodion and Natasha organized a top cardiac team of specialists from Stanford University Medical Center. Heart surgeon Bruce Reitz headed this 25-person, fully integrated medical team. Their mission took them to Kazan where they performed 32 open-heart surgeries and diagnosed more than 200 additional children for future treatments
Approximately 10 tons of essential medical equipment and supplies were airlifted to Russia through the efforts of Stanford and The Nahapetov Friendship Foundation. The Russian and American doctors worked side-by-side giving a second chance to children with life-threatening heart conditions. They formed professional friendships that have lasted to this day.
Three years later the Nahapetov Friendship Foundation took another team of cardiac specialists from UCLA Medical Center to Russia. Notable heart surgeon, Hillel Laks, headed this team. They traveled to the Bakulev Heart Institute in Moscow where they performed surgeries on neonates (newborns). This collaborative effort resulted in saving precious new lives while aiding the training of Russian doctors.
The surgeries performed by Dr. Laks were shown to all Russian hospital staff specializing in heart surgeries. Dr. Leo Bokeria of the Bakulev Center praised the high quality and expertise of the American team from UCLA.
Additionally, the foundation brought many children to the United States for open heart surgeries. Cedars Sinai, and various other hospitals generously opened their doors to the children.
The work of the Nahapetov Friendship Foundation continues.
Cardiologist Takes Children to Heart
October 14, 1999| DIANE WEDNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
His friends and colleagues call him a miracle worker. But Dr. Alvaro Galindo, a UCLA pediatric cardiologist who returned Saturday from a humanitarian mission to Russia, said his involvement stems from his love of children.
"If you can help a child overcome a difficulty, they have a future," said Galindo, who lives in Encino. "I can't say no to an offer to help kids. It's hard not to get drawn into it."
On a lecture tour in Moscow last December, Galindo was asked by doctors from the prestigious Bakulev Heart Institute to take a group of UCLA heart specialists to the Russian medical facility this fall to demonstrate how the American team approached pediatric cardiac care.
Galindo, 42, and nine other heart specialists arrived in Moscow on Oct. 2, equipped with boxes of medicines, sutures, heart valves, oxygenators for bypass machines, plus years of experience in saving the lives of babies born with heart defects.
The group, which Galindo refers to as the "Noah's Ark Team," was composed of two surgeons, two anesthesiologists, two cardiologists, nurses and a bypass-machine specialist. They performed five complex surgeries during their seven-day stay.
Their first patient was a tiny 3-month-old boy with a severe heart defect. Despite a late diagnosis and lack of drugs to maintain him until surgery, the baby pulled through and is expected to fully recover.
"Dr. Galindo is like a miracle worker," said Russian actor Rodion Nahapetov, co-founder of the Nahapetov Friendship Foundation, a nonprofit group that organizes medical trips between the United States and the former Soviet Union. "He is very quiet and modest, and he knows how to teach without hurting one's ego. That is his greatest quality."
The two met several years ago when Nahapetov took an ailing Russian child to the UCLA Medical Center. Galindo and colleague Dr. Hillel Laks treated the child at no cost. Through the Nahapetov Friendship Foundation and the Heart of a Child Foundation, Galindo has made three trips to Russia.
"This man has an extremely big heart," said Kathleen Hunt, the UCLA director of cardiodiagnostics who accompanied Galindo to Russia last week. "I know some of those kids wouldn't have made it without his efforts."
Galindo, the married father of three sons, was exposed to medicine from an early age. His father, an anesthesiologist, pursued a career that took the family to several North American cities.
Galindo joined the UCLA pediatric cardiology department in 1987, after earning his medical degree from the University of Miami. He is in charge of UCLA's catheterization laboratory. He also treats young heart transplant patients and is an intensive-care physician.
"I feel good about the work I've done in Russia," Galindo said. "We took on challenging cases and all worked well together under conditions where we had to compromise a lot. We got to show each other how we work. You can't ask for much more in one week."
А MATTER OF HEART
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