by Sevak Hakobyan

“I was overjoyed when I learned that I was about to bring twin boys into this world,” recalls Anahit Bulghadaryan-Zalinyan. “When my first son, Vahagn, was born, the doctors congratulated me. Fifteen minutes later, my second boy, Vahe, was born. But this time the doctors weren’t saying anything to me. They just kept discussing something among themselves.”

Vahe was born with the birth defects known as cleft palate and cleft lip. Anahit says that, at that time, no effective treatment for these conditions was available in Armenia. The doctors even suggested that she give up her second son. But far from agreeing to such a step, the young mother was determined to fight till the end for the well-being of her child. “It was extremely difficult to feed him,” she remembers. “Breastfeeding was impossible. As for bottle-feeding him, I had to be extremely careful, to make sure he didn’t choke.”

Surgeries followed, accompanied by a host of complications. Vahe underwent his first procedure when he was ten months old. His last surgery was performed seven years ago. Today, once again, he needs an operation.

Despite all these difficulties, Vahe is a top student. He regularly participates in math competitions, and has won prizes. He also loves reading books, and has been taking carpet-weaving and painting classes. Now in fifth grade, Vahe hasn’t decided what to become when he grows up, only because he has so many diverse interests. There’s only one thing that sometimes irritates him. “Now and then, my classmates don’t understand what I’m saying, so they call my brother and tell him, ‘Vahagn, translate what he’s saying,’” Vahe explains.

On his part, Vahagn says that his brother never lets his medical condition stand in the way of his studies. “He’s more hard-working than I am,” Vahagn says. “It’s true that I, too, study hard, but my brother is smarter than me. I’ve decided to become an athlete, and I think he’ll become a mathematician.”

Because of the split in the roof of his mouth, Vahe sometimes has trouble eating normally. Another issue is that the split causes inflammation during the cold months of winter. His mother has long wanted to have him undergo another operation. But she hasn’t been able afford one, as the cost of surgeries for children older than seven in Armenia is not covered by the state. Recently Anahit, whose husband works abroad and older son serves as a soldier in Artsakh, sought the help of doctors from Glendale Adventist Medical Center (GAMC). Between October 16 and 21, these doctors were to provide free medical services, including surgeries, at Noyemberyan Hospital, as part of a large-scale medical mission implemented jointly by GAMC and Armenia Fund US Western Region.

Vahe was examined by renowned oral and maxillofacial surgeons Edward Balasanian and Joli Chou of the United States. The two specialists, who were taking part in the medical mission to Noyemberyan Hospital for the first time, performed several surgeries at the facility, free of charge. Their team for the duration of the mission also included a young local surgeon, Dr. Guram Aghababyan, who worked enthusiastically alongside his American colleagues.

After examining Vahe, the doctors suggested to his mother to wait one more year before he undergoes another operation, so that the procedure would yield an optimal outcome. Although Vahe is not exactly fond of surgeries, he most certainly looks forward to being treated by doctors from the United States next year, as he is confident that they will help him become fully healthy.

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Photo Credit: Areg Balayan