Local News

Victims Of Chernobyl Meltdown Come To Triangle For Treatment

Posted June 19, 2006 6:43 a.m. EDT

— Easy access to medical care is a problem for many families in North Carolina, but the only medical care some children from the country of Belarus receive is in North Carolina.

In 1986, there was a meltdown at the Lenin Nuclear Power plant near Chernobyl in Ukraine. A few miles away in Belarus, Nina Yatsuk said she remembers it was a sunny day.

"We spent the whole day outside and I felt bad, and the next day after that, I threw up several times," she said.

Now, Yatsuk is an interpreter for a group of children from Belarus visiting the Triangle for six weeks. They are staying with host families from Green Pines Baptist Church in Knightdale and getting free medical care from Rex Healthcare pediatricians and nurses.

Even 20 years after the meltdown, lingering radiation problems affect children born years later.

"Practically each child was born with sickness," Yatsuk said.

Yatsuk developed stomach problems, headaches and psoriasis. Dr. Tom Flaherty, a pediatrician at Rex Healthcare, said radiation can cause problems in the thyroid gland.

"We're always closely monitoring thyroid function and making sure there are no unusual masses," he said.

Flaherty has seen several of these children before. Since 1991, large groups have visited the state to get the regular medical, dental and eye care that they cannot get back home.

"They have found that the children who come on a regular basis for the six weeks have increased their life expectancy by up to seven years," said Gale Zechman, who organizes the visits.

Many of the visiting children are orphans, whose parents died as a result of the nuclear disaster.