In 1986 the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near Kiev in the Ukraine experienced a meltdown period. Millions of curies of radioactive iodine were released into the atmosphere and descended from the sky as fallout, contaminating homes and fields wherever the radioactivity was blown by the winds. Even physicians in the area had no knowledge that the reactor accident had occurred. Infants and children suffered the most. Since dietary iodine intake was inadequate, radioactive iodine taken in milk and food from contaminated fields accumulated in thyroid glands in large quantities. Within three to four years the youngest children began to develop thyroid nodules and cancers as well as hypothyroidism, goiter, and other problems. Unfortunately the thyroid cancers in these children are an unusual and highly malignant thyroid tumor unlike the usual forms of thyroid malignancy which are often curable.
If the Soviet government had told physicians in the area and surrounding countries what had happened, the inhabitants could have been given plain iodine as tablets or iodine drops which would have markedly reduced the amount of radioactive iodine that could get into the thyroid glands. They could also have told inhabitants to stay indoors while radioactive fallout was occurring and told them not to drink contaminated milk or eat contaminated farm products. Such measures proved helpful when the radioactive plume reached Poland. By that time the children had been given non-radioactive iodine which protected the children and caused no complications.
The Thyroid Foundation of America obtained a grant from the Ronald McDonald House Charities to bring surgeons from the Chernobyl area to the United States where they work with American surgeons and thyroid specialists to develop new surgical techniques and peri-operative care to benefit the children of Chernobyl. In the future we hope to encourage surgeons and thyroid specialists from the United States and other countries to go to the Chernobyl area to further develop these programs in the spirit of international collaboration. We thank Ronald McDonald House Charities for their generosity in supporting this program to benefit the Children of Chernobyl.
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