As we report each year during our holiday-season fund-raising drive, any child is welcome at Children's Hospital. This year, a patient arrived from a country where treatment would have been less available and might have been less successful. My associate, Julia Angwin, reports:

Liya Dovgalyuk's mother remembers her 9-year-old daughter telling her once while at Children's Hospital, "I'm so happy I'm here. Maybe in Riga {Latvia}, I would be dead.

"She's such a small child but she understood," said Lyuba Dovgalyuk.

The Dovgalyuks, a family of classical musicians, emigrated to the U.S. from Latvia last November because Mikhail Dovgalyuk felt he was the victim of religious discrimination. The Baptist family had experience with persecution. Lyuba's father spent 12 years in a Siberian prison camp during Stalin's reign.

A visiting Baptist group took up the Dovgalyuks' cause and persuaded the McLean Baptist Church to sponsor their emigration. After two years of paperwork, the Dovgalyuks arrived in the U.S., only to find that their daughter had Ewing's sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer.

Liya first started complaining of pains "like a hammer" hitting her knee in January, 1992. "We thought it was from P.E.," said her mother.

By March, they noticed a knot near Liya's knee, and took her to a doctor who accepted Medicaid. He immediately referred them to Children's after spotting a tumor in the X-rays of Liya's right leg.

Luckily, her cancer had not spread. "She was fortunate that she only had it in her leg," said Nita Seibel, one of Liya's doctors in the Department of Hematology/Oncology. Liya began receiving chemotherapy treatment while waiting for surgery.

At many hospitals in the country, not to mention in Latvia, Liya's leg would have been amputated, Seibel said. But Martin Malawer, an orthopedic oncologist at Children's, has pioneered what he calls limb-sparing surgery.

Malawar operated on Liya's leg in July, delicately removing the cancerous portions of her femur and tibia bones as well as nearby muscles that were potentially cancerous. He replaced the bones that make up the knee with an expandable six-inch metal prosthesis, and transferred some muscles to replace tissues removed during surgery. As she grows, doctors will have to operate again to enlarge the prosthesis to fit her leg.

After surgery, Liya started the cycle of chemotherapy again. She expects to finish treatment in May, and start school next fall. The chances of her tumor recurring are about 25 percent, according to Seibel. "She's doing perfectly," Seibel added.

The Dovgalyuks are not overly worried. "They are looking at the glass as half full," said Michael Scott, an investment banker from Great Falls who hosted the Dovgalyuks after they first arrived.

In Latvia, Lyuba had volunteered in the cancer ward of the local hospital. "Kids usually died after six months or a year," she said. "Here you can't say it's better. It's like day and night."

During her volunteer work in Latvia, Lyuba had never seen an IV, or sophisticated X-ray equipment. "When I first saw the computer that showed her body and all the insides, it was like a miracle," she said.

Lyuba has since become familiar with the hospital. Volunteers from her church drove her and Liya to the hospital for treatment almost daily. Now that Lyuba works as a checker at Magruder's, she does not go as often. The shy girl has taken it well, though.

"Before surgery, she was with me all the time," Lyuba said. "When she was by herself, she started talking to the doctors."

To express their gratitude to the hospital, the Dovgalyuks did what they do best -- played music. Two days before Christmas, children, nurses and doctors from the cancer unit came to the hospital atrium to hear Liya play the violin with her family's musical group.

Like her three older brothers, Eugene, Paul and Tim, Liya has been playing an instrument since she was five years old. "We played in concert halls and churches in Moscow, Latvia and the Ukraine," said Lyuba, who accompanies her children on piano. Since arriving in the U.S., the kids have started taking lessons donated by a few members of the National Symphony Orchestra.

Mikhail Dovgalyuk is the only non-musical member of the family. "I play money," he said, about his role as the group's manager. Mikhail works as an engineer at a small company in Chantilly.

After the concert, a group of children from the cancer unit presented Liya with a teddy bear for her collection of stuffed animals. "Children's is like a new home for Liya," her mother explained.


Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.



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