LONG ISLAND - Polina Shchepaniak is grateful for the Gift of Life she was given.
"I am better," she said.
Doctors say she was 9 going on 90 when it came to the health of her heart.
A procedure on Polina to repair a congenital heart defect originally scheduled back home in war-torn Ukraine was postponed indefinitely. But thanks to the nonprofit Gift of Life, she was flown to the U.S.
The minimally invasive surgery that took place on Wednesday at St. Francis Hospital was extra special for Dr. Sean Levchuck, who is of Ukrainian descent. It’s the first once since the COVID-19 pandemic.
"She had a hole between the two upper chambers of the heart," Levchuck said. "It’s a progressive type of lesion. So initially they’re tired, as they approach their teenage years growth becomes an issue and as an adult the arrhythmia and heart failure begin."
Now Polina - who loves to dance and run around can soon do both without having to worry.
Polina has a follow-up appointment here next week. She’s expected to get the green light to resume life like other 9-year-old. She’ll be in New York for the rest of the month before she goes home to Ukraine.
She also offers a special thanks to her host, Annie Caputo, a Ukrainian volunteer who planned trips to the Statue of Liberty, Legoland, and in true American tradition - a surprise visit from the ice cream truck.
"It’s just laughing with them, praying with them, it’s a great feeling," Caputo said.
It’s also a great feeling for Polina and her mom, who both have healthy and full hearts.
"She’s smiling, eating well, laughing, playing games," said her mom Kateryna. "It feels like a dream! I am happy, I’m very happy."