Henry Marsh wrote in to tell us about the difficulties that his friend Igor Kurilets has been dealing with since filming on The English Surgeon ended, and shares his thoughts on Ulyana. Filmmaker Geoffrey Smith provides a brief update on Marian Dolishny, the patient who underwent awake brain surgery in the film.
Since The English Surgeon was filmed, Igor Kurilets’ professional situation in Ukraine has remained difficult and precarious. Ukraine is still struggling to escape its past as part of the Soviet monolith. The concept of civilized competition between professionals is an unfamiliar one. Kurilets’ professional rivals — other neurosurgeons in Ukraine — have devoted more time and energy to trying to destroy his reputation and medical practice than to trying to equal or outperform his remarkable achievements. He suspects that his contract with the Lipska Street Hospital, where he runs his not-for-profit clinic, will not be renewed at year’s end, partly because the director of the hospital, who was a supporter of his, has retired.
A criminal investigation of Kurilets was begun recently. It regards an operation carried out under his supervision 17 years ago, while he was still working in the state sector. The accusation is clearly absurd, not only because the operation was performed 17 years ago, but also because 17 years ago he was struggling to perform surgery under appalling conditions at the state emergency hospital.
Kurilets has no doubt that this investigation of his “crime” is a preemptive attempt by his rivals to discredit him before the film is shown more widely in Ukraine. (The film has already been screened at two Ukrainian film festivals, where it was rapturously received.) Since the film shows the Ukrainian medical system in a critical light, Kurilets will inevitably make many enemies, who will undoubtedly accuse him of being unpatriotic. This is ironic, given Kurilets’ deep love for his country.
Kurilets hopes to build his own hospital, but his plans have been postponed due to the current economic crisis, which has hit Ukraine especially severely. When I spoke to Kurilets recently, he sounded as determined as ever, though I know he has been through some black times of late. I continue to go to Ukraine on a regular basis and will continue to do so for as long as Kurilets feels that I can help him and his patients.
— from Henry Marsh
Seven months after we filmed Ulyana in Kyiv, I saw her and her family again at Igor’s clinic. I did not recognize her at first, since her appearance had changed utterly — as I had predicted, although I had not realized quite how little time it would take; she had gone completely blind.
As far as I could tell she now understood her situation and she had come to terms with it, although her mother and sister found it difficult to accept that nothing could be done. It was a very painful meeting. It is not easy to tell patients, or their families, that nothing can be done to save them, either in Kyiv or in London.
Igor does not know for certain what has happened to her since that last meeting, but it was quite some time ago and, sadly, I have little doubt that the rest of my predictions by now have come true as well. It is important to point out that with her particular tumor, the outcome would have been no different in the West, nor would the outcome have been different if the problem had been diagnosed at an earlier stage.
— from Henry Marsh
Marian is physically very well, but he has not been able to find a job in his home town as yet due to the economic situation. He spends most of the time working in his garden and helping Stanislav repair his house.
— from Geoffrey Smith