Photo Dr. Levchuck with two Russian patients. Photo by Joe Danielle


ROSLYN –– Katya Lebedeva was born with a hole in her heart from a condition called ventricular septal defect or VSD. Despite undergoing two procedures in Russia, including open heart surgery, doctors in her country were unable to cure her. But after undergoing a new, minimally-invasive procedure being performed at St. Francis Hospital, the third time proved to be the charm. Now, the 15-year-old aspiring ballerina and 10-year-old Anastasia Bakhtiarova, who was born with the same condition, have a new lease on life.

“This technology is a miracle for children who generations ago would have to undergo major surgery,” says Sean Levchuck, M.D., Chairman of Pediatric Cardiology, who performed the first two procedures at St. Francis on October 2. “After recuperating at the hospital overnight, they can begin playing outdoors the very next day.”

The condition, which is caused by a hole between the two lower chambers of the heart, is the most common form of congenital heart disease, accounting for 25 percent of all cases. It causes a pressure difference between the right and left chambers, forcing the heart to work harder. If left uncorrected, it can shorten and reduce the quality of life and may eventually lead to heart failure.


Using a catheter-based device, Dr. Levchuck is able to navigate through the arteries and veins and deliver a plug to the space. However, getting to the area is more difficult than reaching other holes of the heart, which are typically located in the upper chambers.


The state-of-the-procedure has been a dream come true for the two girls, who were brought here through Russian Gift of Life USA. The humanitarian organization has sponsored more than 400 children, bringing them to the U.S. and enabling them to receive life-saving cardiac procedures from physicians such as Dr. Levchuck, who, along with St. Francis Hospital, donates all medical services.


The procedure has also been a true blessing for the girls’ mothers, who accompanied them on the trip. Their daughters were not permitted to play sports in their country because of the condition. But when they get back home things will be different for both. Anastasia says she looks forward to finally being able to ski and play volleyball. As for Katya, she can’t wait to dance her heart out in ballet class.