UF neurologists raise more than $20,000 to help people in Ukraine

By Michelle Jaffee

headshots of 4 women doctors who organized the fundraiser for Ukraine
(From left) Drs. Natalie Buchwald, Meghan Humbert, Anna Khanna and Elsa Rodriguez.

Over dinner one evening in early March, University of Florida neurologists Anna Khanna, M.D., and Natalie Buchwald, M.D., discussed their shared Eastern European heritage: Khanna is a native of Ukraine, and Buchwald spent much of her childhood in Poland. The two doctors discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the many refugees fleeing for safety in Poland.

“Our hearts were going out to everyone over there,” says Buchwald, a stroke fellow who twice had planned her wedding to take place in Poland and then twice canceled, first because of the pandemic and then when Russian attacks caused a humanitarian crisis.

Neurology residents Elsa Rodriguez, M.D., and Meghan Humbert, D.O., were with them at dinner, too, and the four decided to quickly organize an online fundraiser. The response from the UF neurology community was swift: In just 10 days, the group raised more than $10,000 — an amount that Khanna and her family had pledged to match. Donations continued to mount, bringing the total to $21,401, which now has been transferred to the Ukraine Jewish Relief Fund to help Ukrainian refugees in need.

Khanna, who lived in Kyiv until she was 9, and her family left under refugee status from what was then the Soviet Union due to anti-Semitism. While most of her immediate family lives in the United States today, her parents still have friends living in Ukraine. “They are basically living in a basement without electricity, sleeping on concrete floors,” she said.

For Rodriguez, the fundraising effort was an opportunity to give back, in a sense: In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, she was evacuated from Puerto Rico, where she was attending medical school at the time. UF assisted so she could continue her med school rotations.

“It’s not the same type of crisis, but I received a lot of help from people,” she says. “And UF allowed me to help out with a big College of Medicine fundraiser collecting supplies for Puerto Rico. There were a lot of UF attendings, residents and med students who donated money, time, toiletries and more.”

In Ukraine, she said, “These people need help now, not in a month, but now.”

As they launched their fundraising effort on March 8, Khanna stood during grand rounds and recited a poem written in response to the invasion. The poem, titled “Two Weeks Ago” by Julie Callaghan, includes the words:

Images come from underground
in the shelters of Ukraine
A place where women take cover
from the ruthless, deadly rain …

“Two weeks ago these families
lived their lives safe and free
Two weeks ago these people
lived their lives like you and me.”