Through Armenia Fund USA’s latest medical mission, Chevy Chase Surgery Center’s generosity boosts GI and ophthalmology capabilities of Stepanakert hospital

Los Angeles, November 5, 2018 – This year, Armenia Fund USA implemented a medical mission, from September 27 through October 5, in Stepanakert. The mission was jointly organized by Armenia Fund USA, Adventist Health (Glendale, CA), and Chevy Chase Surgery Center (Glendale, CA). The medical team of physicians and surgeons from Chevy Chase Surgery Center as well as a major donation of medical equipment and supplies by Drs. Avedis and Ara Tavitian helped elevate the professional levels of the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center.

The Stepanakert Republican Medical Center was built by the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund in 2013, through a generous donation by Russia-based benefactor Samvel Karapetyan. The facility is adjacent to the Stepanakert Armine Pagoumian Polyclinic, built by Armenia Fund USA in 2006; as well as the Stepanakert Oncology Center, constructed by the Fonds Armenien de France in 2007.

During the mission in Stepanakert, the volunteer medical team from Chevy Chase Surgery Center performed a wide range of advanced GI and ophthalmological procedures and general surgery, working alongside their Stepanakert colleagues. For the first time in the history of Artsakh, 35 eye surgeries, 56 endoscopies, and 56 colonoscopies were performed during a single mission, which also encompassed 19 general surgeries.

The Chevy Chase Surgery Center team consisted of Raffi Sarkisian, Administrator; Dr. Edgar Mehdikhani (GI); Dr. Armine Sarkisian (GI); Dr. Mireille Hamparian (ophthalmology); Dr. Armen Gregorian (colon-rectal surgeon); Dr. Andre Yarian (anesthesiologist); Angel Matevossian (surgical technician); Angela Shagoyan (nurse-anesthetist); and Vardan Lalayan (surgical technician).

Throughout the course of the mission at the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center, the team of doctors from Chevy Chase Surgery Center equally focused on expanding the specialized knowledge and technical skills of their local colleagues. To this end, the volunteer team provided their Stepanakert counterparts with hands-on trainings in the implementation of advanced GI and ophthalmological screenings and procedures using the donated medical equipment. Valued at more than $250,000, the equipment consisted of a state-of-the-art Alcon Infiniti System for eye surgeries, and a complete GI machinery suite, including five Japanese-made Pentax scopes, for endoscopies and colonoscopies. The Alcon Infinity equipment has given the Stepanakert Hospital the flexibility to perform three different types of cataract surgeries, while the Pentax scopes allow doctors at the hospital to perform endoscopy and colonoscopy screenings, remove polyps, and provide other treatments.

“It’s all about securing the long-term technical and professional sustainability of the hospital,” said Chevy Chase Surgery Center Administrator Raffi Sarkissian. “Supporting institutions such as the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center will ultimately enable them to provide better healthcare to the people of Artsakh. We have already started planning our next year’s mission by adding two or three specialties to its work scope. I also want to thank Armenia Fund and Adventist Health for their continued support of the project.”

“Reflecting back on my week-long mission trip to Stepanakert, many emotions come to mind. Love, laughter, joy, and hope are a few to mention,” said Dr. Armen Gregorian. “I had the fortune to dive into the medical system of Artsakh as a practitioner, and was reminded of all the beautiful characteristics which make us Armenian. Our colleagues in Artsakh have always worked in suboptimal conditions, thinking outside the box to provide optimal medical care. I worked with these extraordinary people, learning from their experiences while teaching them from mine. At the end, the goals of our mission were accomplished: to create a bond which will last a lifetime, and to reassure the people of Artsakh that the Diaspora will continue to stand side by side with our brothers and sisters in the Homeland.”

Other doctors who had participated in the medical mission also reflected fondly on their experiences during the project.

“It was an honor to travel to Artsakh and serve my Homeland by training and working with fellow Armenian gastroenterologists,” said Dr. Edgar Mehdikhani. “They accepted us with open arms, worked with us 10-to-12-hour days, and, by the time we were done (on the fifth day), we all came out as one big family. I am proud to say that this mission, to me, was very successful, especially since local physicians were given the skills and tools they need to continue performing advanced procedures, serving the people of Artsakh. I hope we can continue to expand our collaboration with the medical community in Artsakh through future missions to the region.”

“We had the ambitious goal of training local doctors, nurses, and support staff in modern cataract-surgery techniques in the short time that we worked in Stepanakert,” said Dr. Mireille Hamparian. ”I am happy to report that we exceeded our expectations. We were successful because the doctors and nurses in Artsakh were open and eager to learn from us. This teamwork created great synergy, and, I believe, a blueprint for future collaboration. I am proud of this effort and proud of the heroic people of Artsakh. The fact is, we stand united.”

“The highlight of my trip was when they showed me an x-ray of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy who had swallowed a coin six days prior to our arrival,” said Dr. Armine Sarkisian. “The coin was approximately one inch in diameter. The original plan was to operate and remove the coin. But thanks to equipment and supplies which were sent from the US, I was able to perform an endoscopy and remove the coin without surgery. There were over 30 local physicians and other staff in the room observing the procedure. I’m unable to explain in words the cheers and tears that filled that room at the successful completion of the procedure. The boy went home the same day.”

“With its excellent facilities and highly dedicated staff, the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center is poised to become a world-class hospital,” said Sarkis Kotanjian, Executive Director of Armenia Fund USA, and continued, “What we’ve done this year was to help elevate its capabilities to higher standards, through the introduction of advanced medical procedures, trainings, and technological assistance. I would like to convey our deep gratitude to the team of volunteer doctors from Chevy Chase Surgery Center, as well as Drs. Avedis and Ara Tavitian, for their extraordinary generosity and selfless service.”