Ukrainian soldier arrives in New York for surgery on leg injured in war
Retired businessman Gary Wasserson has never worked in the nonprofit world, but today he calls himself a humanitarian.
The 67-year-old former telecommunications industry executive from Philadelphia is in the midst of a full second term that begins in 2022. Russia launched an all-out attack on Ukraine. When Waserson’s wife alerted him to their relatives in Ukraine, he didn’t miss a beat. In March 2022, he flew to Poland, where in true grassroots fashion he assembled a network to help evacuate his relatives and other Ukrainians from their war-torn homeland.
Since then he has relied on what he calls a “team of angels,” made up of professionals and volunteers, to evacuate hundreds of other Ukrainians. His efforts extended beyond bringing relatives and strangers to safety, helping injured Ukrainians get prosthetics and more.
In Ukraine, documenting the war through a videographer friend of his daughter’s, She was also associated with Vladislav OrlovA special operation Ukrainian soldiers who were seriously injured by a Russian explosive device in October.
“My experience was a very bad experience. I was blown up by the Russians — something exploded in my car,” Orlov, 27, told CBS News. “I got stuck in the car and my teammates helped me. I lost a small piece of my left leg and broke both of my legs,” he explained.
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Orlov was on the front lines and received immediate care at two different hospitals in Ukraine that he credits with saving his life. But it quickly became clear that he would need extensive surgery and reconstructive work, and skin grafts, to finally regain full use of his limbs. That’s when Waserson stepped in.
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Wasserson Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, called the ranking A top orthopedic hospital in the United States and a leader in trauma care, where his wife previously had back surgery. He asked if it would accept Orlov’s case.
“They didn’t even say, ‘Let me see.’ They said, ‘Sure, if he has something we can treat, we want him here as soon as possible,'” Wasserson told CBS MoneyWatch.
Courtesy of Gary Wasserson
A team of surgeons at HSS, including orthopedic trauma surgeon Dr. Duretti Fufa, remotely reviewed Orlov’s X-rays and other medical records to assess the scope of his complex bone and soft tissue injuries as well as open skin wounds.
“They approached me because of soft tissue injuries and I agreed that we would be able to help in this case,” Dr. Fufa told CBS MoneyWatch.
He emphasized that Orlov’s early care in Ukraine, including surgery on the tibia and fibula bones of both his legs, was critical in saving his life and limb. “He had limb-sparing surgery in Ukraine, and if it wasn’t for their skilled surgeons there, he wouldn’t have been able to walk.”
Orlov’s girlfriend, Ashley Matkowski, an American documentary filmmaker he met in Ukraine during the war, helped make sure he also got the care he needed.
“He compiled his records from doctors who treated him in both a government and private hospital and we contacted him,” said Dr Fufa.
Wasserson also contacted a United Airlines board member, who arranged for the airline to pay for Orlov’s flight to the United States.
100% funding of care
At HSS, Orlov has already undergone several proceduresFrom where he is currently recovering. In Ukraine, it was unclear whether he would be able to set foot. Today, thanks to the HSS, according to Fufa, it increasingly looks like they will be fully operational again. He is currently recovering from his surgery; His medical team is monitoring him and will assess his condition once his bones heal.
HSS is covering all of Orlov’s medical expenses, while Waserson is sponsoring him under the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ukraine program. It allows Ukrainians to come to the United States for two years, provided they have a sponsor in the states to claim financial responsibility for them.
“I agreed to take full responsibility for any financial issues related to his housing, health care, all of that,” Wasserson said of Orlov, who currently lives in an HSS-owned living unit in New York City.
According to Laura Robbins, head of global partnerships for the hospital, her medical care and housing are being paid for through HSS’s Charity Care program.
“When these cases come to us, we evaluate them to see if we can treat them,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. “And we’re committed to funding 100% of their care.”
“A key part of why people would seek out HSS is because of the clinical expertise to do what they did with Orlov, which was to take a shot to try to save his leg,” Robbins said. “We’re known in the trauma world for having the expertise and experience to really say, ‘Wait a minute, maybe we can save this gentleman’s leg, which is what they’re trying to do.'”
“You can do almost anything”
As Orlov recovers, Wasserson’s efforts to help Ukrainians fleeing the war continue. U.S. Representative Susan Wild, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, recently honored Wasserson in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“He helped build an entire support network that came to the aid of Ukrainians in need, successfully evacuating thousands of Ukrainians to safe havens in Poland, Slovakia, Moldova and across Western Europe,” he said.
Wasserson said he is doing more now as a retiree than when he was employed.
“I’m busier now than when I was working full-time because then it wasn’t life – it was profit and loss, it was balance sheet. It’s a whole different ball game,” he said. “In business, there’s always an urgency to get the best outcome for your shareholders. But this is a stakeholder issue unlike anything I’ve done in my life.”
Ultimately, he downplays his ability to make a difference in the network he’s been building over the past 12 months.
“It’s like any other business. People ultimately make the difference, and if you know how to network properly, you can do almost anything in the world,” Wasserson said. “You need a lot of common sense. If you don’t have an understanding of what buttons to push to make things happen, you’re going to go around in circles.”