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Ukrainian teen severely hurt in bombing makes miraculous recovery in Chicago

Ukrainian teen severely hurt in bombing makes miraculous recovery in Chicago
Ukrainian teen severely hurt in bombing makes miraculous recovery in Chicago 02:44

CHICAGO (CBS) – A teenager who narrowly escaped death when war broke out in Ukraine more than two years ago made what was described as a miraculous turnaround.

That was in part due to the treatment he received in Chicago. CBS 2 spoke with him and his mother at Shriners Children's Hospital.

The road to recovery has been a grueling one for Ivan Povnenkyi. He survived a Russian airstrike.

"I remember waking up and not being able to move," he said through a translator.

It was March of 2022, just weeks after war broke out in Ukraine, when the 17-year-old nearly died during the airstrike. He, along with his family, were inside a firehouse in the port city of Mariupol where his father worked when it was targeted.

"I don't remember physical pain, but I remember the emotional pain. Both my heart and soul were hurting," he said.

"I did not think we were going to survive that moment," Ivan's mother Malia said through the translator. "It felt surreal. It felt like a movie."

That moment was documented by a film crew and was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary "20 Days in Mariupol." While the mother and son have not seen the film, they said they're happy it was filmed to show the world what happened.

Their journey for medical care to treat Ivan's multiple injures, which included a broken leg and arm, would take the teen and his mother to Poland where they received help from the general director of the Dnepropetrovsk Regional Children's Clinical Hospital Alexey Vlasov along with his colleague, Harvard Medical School professor and Massachusetts General Hospital physician Gennady Fuzailov.

The family overcame unpredictable challenges that ranged from communicating with medical teams in Dnepr and Krakow to establishing an evacuation route from Ukraine to Poland.

Vlasov and Fuzailov eventually found a plane that could travel from Poland to the United States that was able to accommodate Ivan, who had multiple braces on his limbs.

In addition, the pair had to establish contact with the Department of Homeland Security since the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was evacuated. They organized the receipt of documents to cross the border to the U.S., and find a hospital that would agree to accept Ivan in serious condition with complex injuries.

After such a long, grueling flight on April 12, 2022, Ivan was accepted for treatment by the Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America in Augusta, Georgia, where, over the course of four months, he underwent several life-saving operations.

Then, in August of 2022, they arrived at Shriners Children's Hospital in Chicago, where the rehabilitation has been a game changer.

"We were working on simple things as getting him to bend his knee a little bit more and now he walks, you know, pretty independently at times," said Dr. Gabby Martinez, Ivan's rehab physician.

After more than 10 surgeries and hundreds of hours of physical therapy, Ivan has his eyes on the prize and vowed to recover.

The family is telling their story to remind the world of the atrocities still taking place. They said war is the worst thing that could happen to people, especially children.

As Ivan's recovery continues, the future is looking bright for him. He said he was recently accepted into a physical therapy program in Ukraine, where he hopes to one day become a physical therapist.

The family said their long-term goal is to return back home.

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