by Kim Maialetti
Original posted on Penn Medicine News, May 5, 2022
When Alena Blain, MSN, was growing up in Ukraine, she and her schoolmates volunteered to work in one of the country’s many museums dedicated to the history of World War II.
“Everybody grew up understanding that war is horrifying and should never happen again,” said Blain, who is a nurse case manager at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center (PMC). “You would never think it is possible to be where we are today.”
This spring, as Russia’s war on Ukraine continued, Blain was volunteering again. But this time she was collecting and packaging much needed medical supplies to send to hospitals in Ukraine for treating people injured in the war.
Blain is one of many Penn Medicine employees and students who are stepping up in various ways to support Ukrainians during their time of need. Penn Medicine partnered with Global Response Management, a relief-focused non-governmental organization engaged with the World Health Organization, to help deploy interested staff members to provide medical care. Additionally, more than $300,000 in monetary donations were collected, including more than $200,000 from the Penn community and $100,000 matched by Penn and Penn Medicine.
What’s more, students at the Perelman School of Medicine have been organizing donated medical supplies and raising funds for relief campaigns, and employees at Chester County Hospital organized a drive to collect medical supplies, hygiene products, and necessities for children and babies. Pennsylvania Hospital donated surplus personal protective equipment. And at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, staff donated more than 100 bags and boxes of humanitarian aid to be shipped to Lviv.
“It is amazing how many regular people are reaching out and wanting to help,” said Blain, who was born in 1979 when Ukraine was still a part of the Soviet Union. She was 11 when the country gained independence and 22 when she emigrated to the United States.
Blain’s Volunteer Super-Power
When Blain first learned of Russia’s invasion, she was devasted. She would start crying any time someone asked her about it. Often, she was unable to talk through her tears.
Blain decided the best salve was to do something to help.
She joined a team of volunteers with the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America (UNWLA) Philadelphia Regional Council to sort and package items donated by local communities.
As a nurse case manager at PMC, Blain helps coordinate and manage patient care. She works with multiple specialties to ensure her patient’s needs are being met effectively and efficiently.
She put those skills to work as a volunteer for UNWLA, focusing on organizing and boxing essential medical supplies that are in high demand.
These included suction kits and ventilation bags, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs, along with medications for adults and children.
“Having a medical background was very helpful when I was packing the boxes,” Blain said. “I was thinking ‘what would I need most and what would I need to get to fast.’ You must work in the medical field to understand what needs to get there.”
To date, the UNWLA Philadelphia Regional Council has collected and shipped more than 12,000 boxes of goods to Ukraine, Blain said.
A Family Connection in Dnipro
While Blain has made the United States her home, she said she views Ukraine as you would your parents’ house.
“You may want to leave,” she explained. “But it is still very important that the house is going to be OK.”
Blain, whose mother and father are deceased, still has extended family in Ukraine, including aunts, uncles, cousins, a niece, and her 72-year-old godfather, who owns a business in Dnipro and is working to distribute supplies to support the Ukrainian forces.
“He is very determined and said he is going to stay and fight,” Blain said, her voice catching. “I’m not sure how much he can fight at 72.”
Holding Onto Hope
“Before I started volunteering, I felt defeated,” Blain said. “But going to the UNWLA center and seeing all the people there who were like me and wanted to help, was uplifting.
“It gave me hope,” she continued. “Hope that people have not forgotten the lessons we learned from World War II.”