Russian child’s journey to Everett in 1992 was a success

How wonderful to learn that Sergei is fine and dandy.

Sergei Vorosov came to Everett with Healing the Children in 1992 to receive life-saving heart surgery.

I was thrilled to cover the 6-year-old’s progress for The Herald in a series called “Sergei’s Journey.”

He was kindly offered a home during his stay with Linda and Carl Johnson.

They didn’t speak Russian.

Sergei didn’t speak English.

They learned to cope in fine style. We went to doctor visits together. Photojournalist Rich Frishman took photographs during the surgery.

We waved goodbye when Sergei went home.

I never heard another word about the child until I was contacted by Nancy Allen, a former president of the now disbanded Everett Sister Cities Association.

Allen sent an e-mail to a newspaper in Sovetskaya Gavan, asking if they could update Sergei’s story. Sure enough, an article arrived and was translated, thanks to to Vidal Martin, director of the Northwest Language Center and chairman of the World Languages Department. The story was written by T. Medvedev with photographs by Kulinsky.

It was interesting to get background on Sergei’s medical journey.

The newspaper article read that in 1992, everyone in the city of Sovetskaya Gavan knew about the child who traveled alone to America. Doctors did the surgery for free, but money for the trip, there and back, was gathered in Sovetskaya Gavan.

“People gave what they could,” according to the story.

It was a terrible time for his parents, Marina and Sergei Vorosov. Immediately after Sergei’s birth, he was diagnosed with heart disease. It was necessary to move him to Khabarovsk for observation. Sergei was placed on a waiting list for surgery in Novosibirsk. Under Soviet rule at that time, all patients had to wait for medical operations.

At 3 years of age, Sergei began to choke, his condition deteriorated, hemoglobin in the blood increased, and asthma attacks occurred with increasing frequency. His parents put him in the hospital.

Her son suffered, Marina Vorosov said.

Russian doctors were unable to cure him.

She stayed at his side, helpless.

The little boy eventually had surgery in Novosibirsk, but became ill again two years later. There were no adequate facilities for another surgery.

The Vorosovs were advised to go to Kiev or Moscow.

“Wait for seven years. If he survives and gains 21 kilos, come,” they were told. Marina and Sergei were in a hopeless, vicious circle, outlined by the helplessness and indifference of the then-Soviet medicine. Hauntingly, they got refusal after refusal at every door.

Meanwhile, Sergei was getting worse and worse. It seemed there was no light, when fate gave them hope. Marina, with her enormous maternal love, grasped at it.

As luck would have it, the article read, Dr. John Bishop traveled to Russia at the request of the Everett Sister Cities Association. He met with five Sovetskaya Gavan children who needed surgery. When Bishop came back to Everett, he contacted Healing the Children who got the ball rolling.

The boy flew to America without his parents, but he was accompanied by Frishman, who was in Russia with the Sister Cities group.

After the little boy’s surgery, an amateur radio operator, Victor Shinov, connected the family.

“Mother, Mother,” her son cried from across the seas and mountains, “You did not forget, you did not leave me?”

A few months after his surgery, members of the Everett Sister Cities Association accompanied Sergie home. The healthy little boy arrived wearing cowboy boots, a hat and jeans, with toy pistols and other toys. Frishman sent more than 40 photographs to his parents, which captured moments of Sergei’s stay overseas.

Sergei is now 23 years old. He graduated from the Khabarovsk branch of Sovgavansky Industrial and Economic College and works in communications as an electrician. He also studies through the Vaninsky branch of Komsomol State University.

His hobbies include computers, and he learned to play the guitar on his own. He plays sports in moderation for pleasure. In general, he lives like all young men his age, the article reads.

He vaguely remembers his trip to America and the operation, mostly because of photos in the album.

Looking at the past, Marina said she is horrified: “How did I make it through all of it? Oh, if a doctor from Everett had not arrived, I do not know what would have become of Sergei.”

She thanked everyone who saved her son.

Sergei’s Everett mom, Linda Johnson, still lives in the same house. She said they didn’t keep in touch with Sergei through the years. They went on to house and support five more Healing the Children patients.

“It has been wonderful doing that for the kids,” Johnson said. “It blessed our lives.”

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451,

Excerpts from past O’Harran columns about Sergei’s Everett stay

Here are portions of stories Kristi O’Harran wrote in 1992 and 1993 about a 6-year-old Russian boy, Sergei Vorosov, who came to Everett, alone, for heart surgery, thanks to the Everett Sister Cities Association and Healing the Children.

During his first days at the home of his hosts, Linda and Carl Johnson of Everett, Sergei devoured more than a dozen tangerines. He ate eggs for breakfast. His mother, Marina Vorosov, sent a note to the Johnsons telling them Sergei enjoyed a variety of foods.

Sergei learned a little English from Johnson’s 2-year-old granddaughter, Breanna Toler. Linda Johnson said he hopped on Breanna’s riding car calling “beep beep” as he pushed it down the hall. The evening before, Sergei “held up” Johnson with a toy gun.

“They know all the games in any nationality,” Johnson said.

While Sergei was an active youngster, his ailment was apparent.

After tossing a ball briefly, his breathing became labored, forcing him to crawl into a recliner where he watched a Disney video.

Johnson wondered how energetic Sergei would be after his surgery. She planned to spend a lot of time with him in the hospital.

“They get attached,” she said. “They want to see you. It’s important we’re there all the time when he’s awake.”

Language wasn’t a major barrier.

“I communicate with the children mostly by sign language,” she said. “You need to be aware of what their needs will be. It’s sort of like having a baby.”

Sergei seemed happy at her home. Though he loved eating tangerines, he tucked a few away in his suitcase for his parents, Johnson said.

Sergei, 6, learned more English while he recuperated at the Johnson home. When it was time to return to Russia, he sobbed as he hugged his friends goodbye before leaving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“Goodbye, Linda,” Sergei called. “Goodbye, Carl.”

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