From heart to heart

[b]Gomel’s Central City Polyclinic’s Early Intervention Department awarded with Presidential ‘For Spiritual Revival’ award — recognised for many years of supporting disabled children[/b] The low level building is almost silent, feeling rather like a children’s sanatorium. Soft furniture, comfy chairs, toys and flowers make it quite inviting to the children who come to visit the doctors here. Specialists in a range of illnesses, they are rarely found at other children’s polyclinics.
Gomel’s Central City Polyclinic’s Early Intervention Department awarded with Presidential ‘For Spiritual Revival’ award — recognised for many years of supporting disabled children
The low level building is almost silent, feeling rather like a children’s sanatorium. Soft furniture, comfy chairs, toys and flowers make it quite inviting to the children who come to visit the doctors here. Specialists in a range of illnesses, they are rarely found at other children’s polyclinics: neurologists, psychologists, cardiologists, speech therapists, audiologists and ultrasound diagnosticians.
Galina Shevko, who heads the Early Intervention Department, is a neurologist herself. She’s examining three children as I enter her office and, afterwards, tells me, “Vanechka and Vitalik need to see a speech therapist, while Olenka needs some physiotherapy.” At first, I don’t realise that all three belong to young Nadezhda Tarasenko, being triplets; with her husband and mother, she often visits the polyclinic. “The children have been seen by the department since they were four months old and are soon to celebrate their first birthday. We’re offered consultations and help here, which is yielding wonderful results,” Nadezhda smiles. Dr. Shevko adds, “They’re super children. They’ve had some health problems but are gradually recovering.”
While the mother and grandmother take the boys to the speech therapist, the father accompanies Olya to the pool: a large rubber tank filled with a hundred multi-coloured balls which she tries to bite. Her parents work hardest with her at the special clinic gym, where physiotherapist Irina Polyakova guides Olya’s exercise plan. Physiotherapy can work ‘miracles’.
Inna and her eight month old daughter Dana, from Mozyr District, have also benefitted. Soon after Dana’s birth, she was taken to Gomel for consultation and the results are evident. “We were taught how to help our child develop correctly: how to hold, feed and play with her, which exercises to do and, even, which music to listen to,” Inna explains.
The Early Intervention Department was set up a decade ago, initiated by Belarus’ Health Ministry; similar departments are planned countrywide for low birth-weight babies, those born by Caesarean and those suffering from nervous system failures. Naturally, the earlier a problem is discovered and treatment begun, the greater chance of full recovery is.
Creating an action plan was the first step and the department now annually treats 30,000 children from Gomel and the region. Among them are 4,500 early intervention patients, who are brought in from the age of two months, as this ensures better results. All are born one to two months early. Other babies are supervised by local paediatricians — low-risk children seen occasionally and high-risk more regularly. There are over 300 of the latter.
Dr. Shevko admits that problems exist, “Success has taken time, as traditional methods failed to yield expected results. We began searching for new approaches and, three years ago, discovered what we’d been looking for. We now try to diagnose at an early stage, co-ordinating the work of a range of specialists: neurologists, speech therapists, psychologists and physiotherapists. Importantly, we involve parents, as such children require attention day and night; the results aren’t as effective otherwise.”
However, the results are evident and are really inspiring. Over the past two years, these ‘premature’ children have managed to avoid ICP (infantile cerebral paralysis) and other serious diseases where were common in the past. Of course, doctors well remember their successes. One small girl suffering from mental problems was brought in and Dr. Shevko recollects, “We’d have failed if we’d sent her for traditional massage and physiotherapy. Rather, we sent her to a neurologist, psychologist and speech therapist. Her mother followed all our recommendations and the result is inspiring, as her level of development currently rivals her peers. Of course, only time will tell how effective our work has been.”
Time and effort are vital, working closely with leading foreign specialists. Dr. Shevko already liaises regularly with scientists from the USA, the UK and Germany on early intervention matters and ways of correcting children’s development.
Now the prestigious award has been granted, local authorities are keen to introduce two shifts for doctors, so that even more children can receive the help they so greatly need. Nobody doubts that the parents of these young patients will be delighted.

By Violetta Daniliuk
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