Heart patients reunite after 20 years

February 13, 2009 5:50:23 PM PST
It's not exactly a homecoming, but for a Russian woman who returned to the Bay Area on Friday, it feels that way. Twenty-years-ago she came to Oakland for a life-saving heart operation. It was a procedure that has opened the door for so many others.

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Masha Senotova was seven when she left Children's Hospital Oakland. She had undergone a complicated heart operation in was 1989. Twenty years later, Masha and her mom, Elena, returned to the place that gave her a new life.

"Before I could walk for 10 meters or maybe 20 and then I just got too tired. After the surgery I was running all over the place," said Masha

The Soviet press followed her story. Within days, Elena Senatova and the doctors here began receiving letters from desperate Soviet mothers whose children were also sick. Very few Soviet doctors knew how to perform pediatric heart surgery at that time.

You can read Lyanne Melendez's Back Story on how Heart to Heart began its mission to save small hearts in the USSR. click here

"In the Soviet Union there was no way to fight, to be persistent, there was no way out. You were told, 'No' and that was it," said Elena.

"They were isolated from the West and the advances in pediatric heart surgery, a lot were from the states," said Josie Everett, the executive director of Heart to Heart.

That's when Dr. Nilas Young and a group of volunteers traveled to the Soviet Union to save lives and to train doctors there. The organization now had a name -- Heart to Heart.

Masha and Elena are here to help celebrate Heart to Heart's 20th anniversary. It's a chance for them to reunite with doctors and nurses and to remember the time they spent at the hospital.

Heart to Heart has helped open three cardiac surgical centers, performing 1,000 operations a year. In the past 20 years more than 10,000 children and adults have been saved.

"They do magic. They always do the best they can," said Masha.

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