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Karolina's Story: A Journey of Hope

Karolina received prosthetic legs at Shriners Children's after being injured during an artillery strike in Ukraine.

Shriners Children’s Boston patient Karolina arrived in Massachusetts from Ukraine in January.

Karolina, a 7-year-old who sustained amputations to both legs, was injured during an artillery strike. With her godmother, Daria, and her care team by her side, Karolina took her first steps on new prosthetic legs in early February.

Since the war in their country began, five Ukrainian children have been treated at Shriners Children’s Boston. Two sustained injuries as a direct result of the war and three suffered burn injuries. The children in need of urgent burn care were transported to the hospital via air ambulance, including two who arrived in April of 2022. Overall, Shriners Children’s has cared for 11 Ukrainian children since the war began. Our healthcare system’s unique model of comprehensive specialty care has well positioned us to provide the best outcomes for each child.

Speaking through an interpreter, Daria described Karolina as a very smart and sensitive child. “She is sensitive to situations, including with me. She knows when I need help, and she helps me with the language here,” Daria said.

Led by physical therapist Hilary Smith-Chong, the Shriners Children’s Boston rehabilitation team evaluated Karolina and began working on strength and balance twice a week in preparation for receiving her prosthetics. Brock McConkey, manager of the pediatric orthotic and prosthetic (POPS) department at Shriners Children’s New England in Springfield, Massachusetts, casted Karolina for temporary prosthetic legs shortly after her arrival.

The Shriners Children’s healthcare system has worked in partnership with the Ukraine House, the foundation established by President and First Lady Zelensky to provide care for Karolina. Relationships with additional humanitarian and government agencies were also integral to helping Karolina and other Ukrainian patients at Shriners Children’s Boston, including the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, Embassy of Ukraine, the Ukraine House, in Washington, D.C., and the Consulate General of Ukraine in New York, along with assistance from the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security.

“Ukraine’s medical infrastructure is understandably challenged at this time,” said Kenneth G. “Kenny” Craven, Imperial Potentate of Shriners International and CEO of Shriners Children’s. “As our healthcare system continues to expand its global care network, our partnerships with organizations all over the world are growing. This helps increase access to our specialized care so our clinicians can help treat more children like Karolina.”

Karolina’s temporary prosthetics were fabricated at the POPS lab at Shriners Children’s New England. On the day of the initial fitting, her ability to instantly navigate astonished everyone in the room. “She got right up and took off walking. It surprised me how fearless she was,” said Brock. “She was giggling and laughing and wanted to keep going. Her smile said it all.”

A huge part of building trust with children is helping them to understand that your only goal is to help them achieve what they want to do, and that you’re going to support them through each step.
Hilary Smith Chong, physical therapist, Shriners Children's Boston

Karolina was able to leave the hospital feeling confident in the use of her prosthetics, getting additional practice using them in her apartment and out in the community. “It was a pretty quick turnaround,” said Brock. “She didn’t miss a beat.” He assessed the fit of her prosthetics weekly to identify adjustments that optimized their comfort and function.

Watching Karolina walk for the first time on her prosthetics was an almost indescribable feeling for Daria, who said she felt overwhelming happiness. Describing the staff at Shriners Children’s as “wizards,” she expressed her deepest thanks for the “remarkable care” that Karolina is receiving. “We are required to wear masks in the hospital but I can still see smiles on faces,” she said.

Hilary’s work with Karolina became more frequent as she continued to acclimate to her prosthetics. Her ability to adapt so quickly also amazed Hilary. “Children who use bilateral prosthetics need to have even more balance and strength than those who don’t,” she explained. “I began seeing Karolina five times a week to work on her gait, balance, strength and alignment. She picked up the use of her prosthetics possibly faster than any other child I have worked with.”

Brock and Hilary collaborated with the rest of Karolina’s care management team, including a remote translator, to help ensure that both she and Daria felt comfortable and supported. Karolina received her permanent prosthetics before leaving Shriners Children’s Boston.

“A huge part of building trust with children is helping them to understand that your only goal is to help them achieve what they want to do, and that you’re going to support them through each step,” said Hilary. “Karolina also has a great sense of humor, so by just being silly and playing we built trust in each other.”

Karolina brought positivity and a bright smile to every appointment, and her perseverance continued to inspire her care team. “Giving patients the opportunity to be kids again is incredibly rewarding, especially when it’s taken away from them so quickly,” said Brock. “Karolina is truly a hero for everything she has been through.”

Daria noted that all clinicians have their own approach to caring for and communicating with their pediatric patients, and the staff at Shriners Children’s Boston has made a lasting impression on Karolina. Daria said that ever since Karolina first came to the hospital for an appointment, she has looked forward to the next one. “We are impressed with the care here,” Daria said.

Daria expressed gratitude on behalf of Karolina and her family for the care provided by the doctors in Ukraine immediately after Karolina’s injury, and the clinicians at Shriners Children’s Boston who are helping her walk again.

Karolina's Story - Shriners Children's Boston

View Transcript

Speaker 1:

Go. Oh yeah, you got it. You're already faster. There you go. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, big step. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Eleven seconds!

Speaker 2:


Speaker 3:

[foreign language 00:00:15].

Speaker 4:

[foreign language 00:00:16].

Speaker 1:

[foreign language 00:00:22].

Wow! Yeah, you can keep going! You can go faster!


Speaker 5:

Stop, stop.

Meet Karolina

This fearless and fun 7-year-old inspires everyone around her.

karolina with daria

Karolina with Daria.

staff member working on karolinas prosthetic implant

Karolina was molded and casted for her prosthetics soon after arriving in Boston in January.

karolina with a therapy dog

Karolina enjoyed a special Valentine's Day pet therapy visit with Lincoln.

karolina standing with staff members

Karolina's ability to acclimate so quickly to her new legs amazed her entire care team.

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