Humanitarian Surgery Trip: Yerevan, Armenia
Yerevan, Armenia, the site of our latest humanitarian surgery trip, is a city of about 1.5 million people located in one of the oldest regions of human civilization. The country sits on the north border of Iran, the east border of Turkey, the west border of Azerbaijan and the south border of Georgia. It has been continuously inhabited since early Old Testament times and was the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD. The LDS Church’s humanitarian service, LDS Charities, organized the trip with Malayan’s Eye Hospital in Yerevan. Dr. Armine was our host. She is one of the few, if not the only trained oculoplastic surgeon in the country.
Dr. Armine was fellowship trained in both the US and in India. However, being the only person among millions who does a particular job doesn’t give you an opportunity for collaboration or to compare your techniques and outcomes with someone else. Our mission as dictated by LDS Charities is to teach what we know to others so they can become more self-sufficient and need our services less in the future. As such, we saw some of her more challenging patients and came up with treatment plans that she could carry out. For the most challenging, we planned surgery so she could see how I was trained to do a procedure and incorporate those skills into her repertoire. It was great working with a surgeon that already had advanced skills and knowledge and just needed some extra help with complex decisions. Her patients are in good hands.
It just so happened that there was a holiday on Thursday and the hospitals and government buildings were all closed. We took advantage and drove out to a few sites. About 35 kilometers from Yerevan is the town of Garni, where an ancient Roman temple was constructed around 125 AD. It sits right on the edge of cliffs leading down into a beautiful gorge cut out by flowing rivers. Quite a site.
We then went up the road a ways to Geghard monastery, which was built between the 4th and 13th centuries, slowly carved out of a mountainside. A portion of the building is hollowed out rock with amazing domed rooms. A spring ran across the floor and light flowed in from oculi in the ceilings.
Our last day was spent visiting the town of Artashat, about 40 kilometers from Yerevan, where a beautiful clinic has been built. LDS Charities purchased some much needed equipment to treat advanced diabetic eye disease. I also spoke with the doctor in charge, Kristina Hovakimyan, about returning to teach her some basic oculoplastic techniques. Hopefully, we’ll see her on a future project. While there, we had an impromptu consult on a young boy with a tumor growing on his eye. This was an immediate reminder of why they need instruction on how to deal with these issues. Of special note, nearly every ophthalmologist I met in Armenia was a woman, which is in stark contrast to the US, where until only recently women were entering ophthalmology in significant numbers.
Armenia is a beautiful place with wonderful people. We hope to return again soon. The amazing doctors there are doing great work and their patients are lucky to have them. Our next humanitarian surgery trip – back to Haiti in September with my former partner Branson Call who inspired all this. We’re looking forward to it!