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Dentist Treats Children of Chernobyl

<sh>Church sponsors program to bring fallout victims here for health care.

July 25, 2002

Ten-year-old Marina Hrytskevich, 10, smiled for the first time since coming over to the United States in early July. Her dingy teeth, which were discolored from medicine at an early age, were composite bonded with a resin material to make them whiter, courtesy of Dr. Tom Winkler in Burke.

"This little girl wouldn't smile, this was her mother's wish. Dr. Tom went that extra mile," said her host mother, Michelle Haase from Fairfax Station. Marina is among eight children in the Children of Chernobyl program that came over from Belarus to stay with host families and get dental work done, compliments of Winkler.

Belarus is a former Soviet republic and the area where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred in 1986. Although Marina wasn't born then, the environmental damage that occurred in that area has far reaching effects, including radioactive water and soil, which affects their diet.

This program, in its third year, is sponsored by Christ Church United Methodist in Fairfax Station. Some of the children were here in previous years and some for the first time. Springfield optometrist Dr. Ender Adam also did eye examinations on the children. He is with Davidson, Brown and Adam, an optometry practice in West Springfield.

Winkler noticed a lot of cavities in the initial visits. Christina Suchshanka, 13, is in her third year with the program. She had 16 cavities the first year, none last year, and two this time.

Winston noted one potential cause.

"We've got fluoride in the water and it makes a huge difference," he said.

Alexandria resident Virginia Nelson is in Christina's host family. She heard about the program at a swim meet and through Christ Church in Alexandria.

Dr. Riaz Rayek is also part of Winkler's practice, which is in the professional building at the intersection of Burke Lake Road and Rolling Road. Rayek looks at the cause of the dental problems.

"IT'S MOSTLY the lifestyle. Their nutrition is affected by the radiation. Most of it could be prevented by proper dental care. Radiation itself affects the ecosystem," he said.

The smile is important for their future as well.

"I think it affects development as a whole, you learn that the proper dental care in this country, how valuable it is," he said.

Tara Jensen is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Maryland doing her summer internship in Winkler's office. She didn't know anything about the Russian children when she began early in the summer. She was overwhelmed at first.

"I thought I was just coming to a general practice. Most of them just had a lot of fillings to do, some teeth that needed to be pulled. [Now] they'll be able to keep their teeth," she said.

Jensen noted the importance of a smile.

"A smile is one of the top five characteristics people look for. A smile turns into another smile," she said.

THE CHILDREN don't spend their whole time at the dentist though.

Liuba Kravets, 11, is in her second year in the program. Her English is better than some. Watching teenager movies is one of the things she enjoys.

"My favorite movie, 'A Walk To Remember,' we take it in video for one day," she said.

Cheri Winkler is the dentist's sister-in-law. She has the youngest child in the group, Aksana, who is 8 years old.

She noticed the difference between the Russian children and her own children.

"Our kids are accustomed to these things, they're not as appreciative. Most of this is to give to them [Russians], but we're getting more," she said.

Aksana was so excited to have her own bed and toilet, she took a picture of both and sent them home.

Sveta Katlionak, 11, is on her second summer in Burke with the same family. "Maria" the mother, chose not to use her last name because of recent child abductions in the news. They are members of the Christ Church United Methodist as well, and said each children's airplane tickets and insurance is about $1,000 which was raised through their child's Sunday School class.

The Barbie dolls seem to be an international medium that crosses all boundaries between her own children and Sveta.

"Play is universal," she said noting that Sveta makes her Barbie talk in Russian.

Maria hopes her children take a lesson from their experience with Sveta.

"I hope that someday my children will do the same," she said.

Sveta only had a few cavities when she visited Winkler's office.

Volha Yazhkova, 29, came with the group as their translator. She is from the same area and took English classes to be a translator. She was with the group last year.

"Children looked forward to it all year. When the big trouble happened in September, people [from this program] were worried," she said.