August 10, 2022

A vital aid effort from 5,000 miles away

Dr. Nataliya Uboha leads an aid effort to help the citizens of her home country, Ukraine.
Dr. Nataliya Uboha leads an aid effort to help the citizens of her home country, Ukraine.

Dr. Nataliya Uboha was relieved that her family safely evacuated Ukraine when Russian forces invaded her home country.

But she and her family have been heartbroken to see the destruction and casualties from the war. Uboha, a gastrointestinal oncologist at UW Carbone Cancer Center, and her husband Dr. Douglas Davis, began researching ways to provide meaningful aid from 5,000 miles away.

“We wanted to find a way support the people who stayed behind,” she said.

Over the past several months, Davis and Uboha have helped fundraise, source and organize medical supply donations as part of the Illinois Chapter of Ukrainian Medical Association of North America.

“We have now shipped four cargo planes of supplies to Ukraine,” she said.

Uboha grew up in Lviv, Ukraine, and came to the U.S. in 1995 for university study. In addition to being a faculty member in the Division of Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care, she leads UW Carbone’s Cancer Therapy Discovery and Development program, which oversees first-in-human clinical trials and offers novel treatment options for cancer patients.

Uboha and Davis chose to join medical-focused aid efforts because they could draw on their own networking and expertise to recruit volunteers and source donations.

UMANA-Illinois has been in contact with fellow medical professionals in Ukraine to identify the most critical medication and supply needs. The collected supplies have been warehoused in Germantown, Wis., where Uboha and Davis help coordinate dozens of volunteers to organize materials into specific categories and prepare them for shipping to Ukraine.

Uboha has been grateful for what UMANA-Illinois has accomplished so far. The group has now shipped about 350 tons of medical supplies, with more still being collected.

“When we started out, we had no idea if we would get just a few boxes of supplies, or if it was going to really take off, and it’s been amazing,” she said.

Their efforts were recognized recently with a Humanitarian Global Health Award by the Institute of Medicine of Chicago.

Uboha has appreciated the support from UW colleagues and her patients who have helped raise awareness of the aid efforts and volunteered their time to help.

“Many cancer center physicians, staff and members have dedicated their weekend days to spend hours helping us sort all of these supplies,” she said.

Drs. Noelle LoConte and Sam Lubner are among those who have helped with aid efforts. They wanted to do something tangible to support Uboha as well as other Ukrainian colleagues. Both said the outpouring of support and donations has been incredible to see, and they’re glad to do their part.

“It’s humbling,” LoConte said.

Lubner said the aid effort is comparable to their duty as physicians to help save lives.

“We’re helping innocent people stuck in a situation that is not of their making,” Lubner said. “It’s a lot like clinical care, how the universe chooses to give someone cancer. We do what we can to make things better.”

He and LoConte also praised the resilience of Uboha and Davis, who both continue their full-time work in addition to coordinating aid efforts.

“Nataliya and Doug are just such wonderful human beings,” LoConte said.