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Coming together in a time of war

Kaiser Permanente San Rafael staff and patients show support to Ukrainian physician. Pictured, Dr. Natalya Greyz.

The first word of the physician profile for Kaiser Permanente San Rafael oncologist Natalya Greyz, MD, is, “zdoroven’ki  buli,՚” which is Ukrainian for “hello.” After joining Kaiser Permanente in 2005, Dr. Greyz said it was important for her to have that phrase on her profile because she wanted everyone to understand who she is and where she came from.

Dr. Greyz was born and raised in Dnipro, Ukraine, the country’s third largest city. At that time, Ukraine was a beautiful, peaceful country with large prospering farms and burgeoning cities. The mom of 2 met her husband while attending medical school in Ukraine. 

Fast forward to 2022, and Ukraine is a very different place after being devastated by a Russian invasion. Thousands of Ukrainians have lost their lives and millions of refugees have since left the country.  

“Nobody is safe there anymore,” said Dr. Greyz, whose friends and relatives in Ukraine are constantly on her mind. Although much of her immediate family have immigrated to the Bay Area, some close friends and family remain in the war-torn country. 

Dr. Greyz said she and her husband, who is a home health nurse at Kaiser Permanente Vallejo, often feel powerless to help the situation in their homeland. But it’s the love of her colleagues and patients at Kaiser Permanente San Rafael that keeps her spirits up.

A show of support 

Recently, she came to work to discover her colleagues in the Department of Hematology and Oncology dressed in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

“It was everyone — the pharmacists, the medical assistants, the nurses, the techs — everyone in blue and yellow,” said Dr. Greyz. “It was such a beautiful gesture.”

“I’m so thrilled that people are reaching out and offering support. But still, I find myself close to tears every day seeing what’s happening to my homeland.” Dr. Natalya Greyz

It’s not only her medical staff who have shown sympathy.

Dr. Greyz said she’s received dozens of cards and phone calls from her patients, all offering help and condolences to her and her family.

“I’m so thrilled that people are reaching out and offering support,” said Dr. Greyz, adding that patients she discharged nearly 10 years ago have reached out to her. “But still, I find myself close to tears every day seeing what’s happening to my homeland.”

In March, Kaiser Permanente announced that its employees donated more than $400,000 to KPGives for relief funds dedicated to Ukrainian refugees. Kaiser Permanente matched a portion of those funds for a total of $600,000. 

Dr. Greyz often thinks of her time in medical school in her hometown in Ukraine, recalling how she graduated from the school exactly 50 years after her own grandmother earned a medical degree there. Dr. Greyz attributes her passion for integrative oncology — a field of cancer care that utilizes lifestyle modifications and conventional medical treatment — to her education in Ukraine. 

Now that Dr. Greyz’s 2 sons are looking for colleges to attend, she thinks to herself, “What kind of world are we leaving to our children?”

She’s hopeful, however, that soon there will be a way to bridge the animosity and find solutions to the crisis. 

After all, she said “zdoroven’ki  buli՚ also means “good health to you.”

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