Injured Russian Child May Return to Valley For More Surgery

By Jim Collar for The Northwestern

OSHKOSH – A young Russian girl who seemingly received a miracle eight years ago could soon receive another.

Angelina Volkova, 10, and her grandmother, Helen Volkova, await word on whether they’ll be granted visas for a return to Wisconsin where the girl would receive a second stage of reconstructive surgery.

She sustained severe facial injuries as a toddler. Her first round of surgeries would never have happened without help from Oshkosh and neighboring communities.

Katya Fulwiler of Oshkosh, a grade school friend of Angel’s grandmother, said the Volkovas couldn’t begin to express their gratitude at the offer of yet more free surgery for the child.

“When I told Helen, she couldn’t say even one word,” Fulwiler said. “She was just crying and crying.”

At 2 years old, the child fell face-first onto a broken mirror, which cut away much of her lip and cheek. Scar tissue left her without ability to close her mouth. Russian doctors saved the girl’s life, though initial procedures did little more for the toddler or her impoverished family.

Generosity soon poured in from a far away place for a little girl the Fox Valley soon came to know as Angel.

Local plastic surgeon David Janssen repaired the young girl’s face for free in 1999. He offered to donate his service for a second time. The Mercy Medical Foundation covered the cost of her medical stays and would again do the same.

A number of fundraisers and contributions helped cover travel and other expenses eight years ago. Should the Volkovas get their visas, those daunting costs would require yet another round of charity from the community.

Fulwiler and her husband, Mert, already started a fund and plan to begin more extensive fundraising efforts once the Volkovas are granted permission to come to the United States. Katya Fulwiler is hopeful they’ll gain visas based on letters confirming the purpose of the visit.

The younger Volkova received several surgeries during her last stay. While they resulted in tremendous improvements, they didn’t erase the damage caused by those broken shards of glass.

Fulwiler said the child can’t fully open her mouth and it’s led to problems with her teeth. The family can’t afford the necessary care, she said.

Janssen reviewed photographs of the child and said he’s reasonably pleased with the progress she’s made. Still, he can’t know what to expect until Angel receives an exam.

“It’s hard to practice medicine by looking at a picture a half a world away,” he said. Procedures could be as simple as extending the corner of their mouth. It could be far more complex, he said.

Janssen said aid to Angel couldn’t happen without the generosity of Affinity Health System.

Vicky Schorse, executive director of the Mercy Health Foundation, called Angel’s case a special one.

Affinity Health System would fund Volkova’s hospital stay through its Affinity Cares program, which generally assists uninsured people in the area. An exception was made for the child based on efforts and dedication of the Fulwilers.

The severity of Angel’s injuries, coupled with her family’s poverty, place her case well within the mission of the foundation, Schorse said.

“Angel’s case is certainly one that got our attention, and her injury was one that we saw would impact her life,” she said. “We saw it as a critical need.”

Jim Collar writes for the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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