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Soviet Youth Bids Farewell to United States After Heart Surgery

February 15, 1991

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ An 11-year-old Soviet boy who had never been well enough to attend school in his homeland spent his last day in the United States at an elementary school.

Konstantin Golub came to Nebraska for lifesaving heart surgery performed a month ago. He got his last view of America on Thursday during a visit to Lincoln’s Prescott Elementary School.

He fed Boobers the turtle and stroked Snoopy the guinea pig. He got a valentine that said ″Welcome to America, Dude,″ and was serenaded by pupils singing ″America the Beautiful″ and ″You’re a Grand Old Flag.″

″Hey, he’s cool,″ one student remarked after meeting Konstantin in the computer lab.

Because of a congenital heart defect, Konstantin has never attended school in his hometown of Kharkov in the Ukraine. A malformed heart valve meant he did not have enough strength to stand for more than a few minutes, much less climb stairs or run and play.

But that changed with the surgery performed Jan. 17 at Children’s Hospital in Omaha. Konstantin will be able to enroll in school as soon as he gets back to the Ukraine.

″He now has more energy and is getting stronger every day,″ said Susan Garwood, the Lincoln nurse who sponsored Konstantin and his mother, Elena, and who gave them lodging.

The Omaha surgeons were not able to replace the valve, but did place a shunt between Konstantin’s aorta and left pulmonary artery branch to recycle blood through his lungs and improve his oxygen levels.

″Visiting your school will be a good memory for him,″ his mother told the Prescott students. ″We are very impressed and enjoyed our visit.″

But it will be a bittersweet journey back to the Ukraine to see their family and the familiar surroundings of their home.

″Our country and people are very poor,″ said Elena Golub, fighting back tears. ″They are hungry. ... They work very hard, but they can’t live as well as your people.

″I love my country. I love my people. I would like to help them, but I can’t know in what way.″

Golub said she has considered asking for permission to come back to America after she gets home.

″I would only like to come back to this country for the sake of my son, his health,″ she said. ″The medicine in your country is much (better). If I lived in your country, I would be (less worried) about the health of my son.″

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