By Greg Glasgow
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Dave Young, MD, from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, joined hundreds of medical professionals from around the world looking for ways to help displaced Ukrainians.
“I feel like I'm a pretty well-trained and capable emergency medicine provider, and I’ve been entrusted with a lot of the skills that I’ve been taught,” says Young, assistant professor of emergency medicine. “This felt like a way to pay it forward for people who had believed in me and pushed me along this path. It felt right to use the skills that I've been given to be able to help.”
Young connected with Team Rubicon, an American organization that arranges disaster-relief efforts, and in April he flew to Krakow, Poland, as part of a medical team with another doctor, three nurses, and four paramedics. Days later they were in Ukraine, providing medical care to people who had fled their homes and were living in shelters.
“We had backpacks and bins full of medicine and medical equipment, and we were delivering care on the spot,” Young says. “Anybody who was more complicated, we would work with local hospitals and other resources to coordinate or care for them.”
The team treated viral illnesses, sprains and bruises, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertension.
“We saw some people with very recent surgical procedures who had no follow-up because the surgeries were not related to trauma; they were related to underlying medical conditions,” Young says. “They needed drains taken out of them or they had sutures in their abdomen, but they were unfortunately 1,000 miles away from their hometown or their medical providers and didn’t know how to access medical care.”
As they treated patients in Lviv and nearby towns, Young and the team encountered many grateful Ukrainians. To his surprise, he also talked to many who were concerned about his safety.
“A question that I got all the time from patients was, ‘Why are you here? Don’t you know that it's not safe?’ That speaks a lot to the character of people of Ukraine,” he says. “They were very surprised that the medical team that I served on would come so far to help, despite the risk.”
Another surprise was that Young spent nearly as much time teaching as practicing medicine. His experience was in demand with local medical universities, hospitals, and paramedic training schools. Students he trained were preparing to go directly to the battlefield. In addition to trauma and resuscitation care, he addressed chemical warfare and blast injuries.
“I’m an educator at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, so I feel comfortable talking and presenting, but these were not topics I would say that I'm an expert in,” Young says. “I did a lot of work while I was there — tons of reading, lots of research — but it was a little nerve-racking to talk about a subject matter I don’t feel terribly expert in, and also to speak about it in Ukrainian. I had an interpreter with me, and I would say a few lines, and then he would interpret what I was saying.”
Young spent three weeks in Ukraine, and he says that when he returned to Colorado, he had a new perspective on his role.
“A lot of times when you work in the same place, and you have your nose to the ground as you work shift after shift after shift, you can lose a little compassion,” he says. “This experience really reminded me what I love about medicine and what a gift it is to be able to treat people and help them through a medical issue. You could really see the gratitude of some of the Ukrainians that we treated, and I came back feeling reenergized and grateful for the skills I have.