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Armenia Day 5

Emma (one day after cleft lip surgery) and her radiant mother.

Adorable Zohrab giving the thumbs up.

As I write this, the Plasticos Team is in the OR.  We are operating on 2 children who suffer from burns: Gevorg Pogosyan, an infant whose fingers on his right hands are fused together, and Arpine Meekonyan, a young girl whose face and neck are scarred by burn contractures.  We have seen many children who have suffered from burns, that it makes one wonder why it is so prevalent. Monica (our invaluable recovery nurse) tells me that during the winter – and even summer – people here dress in layers. Many Armenians do not have central heating and warm running water, so they often boil water for  use. It is easy for a child to accidentally tip over hot water when reaching for something or get burned by fire because for many Armenians, the kitchen is a multi-purpose room. And if a child gets burned, by the time the child takes off the layers, it would have been too late.  I have seen how burns affect each child differently. Some children have limited mobility – one child’s right arm is bent at a 90 degree angle, some cannot turn their head fully, some cannot hold objects, and etc.  And then there are some who have scarred skin that does not prevent them from doing every day normal activity.  Although the burned skin is unsightly, if it does not hinder physical activity, we cannot do surgery. Because our team is here for a limited amount of time, we choose our surgery cases carefully – putting precedence over critical deformities that prevent children from living a normal functioning life. It is always difficult to say to a child’s parent that we cannot help their child on this trip. Always. Today, a mother came in with her 9-year-old daughter who had burned skin on from her lower abdominal area down. We were actually done with screening, as we have a full surgery schedule for today and tomorrow (our last day in the OR), but the mother looked so happy and hopeful to see us – she spoke decent English and was just radiant when talking to Dr. Burns (yes, that’s his real name) that we could not turn her away.  After examining her child, we came to the conclusion that the girl’s diagnosis was cosmetic rather than reconstructive. We had to tell her that we only have time to help children who have restricted movement.  It must have been the most difficult thing for the mother to hear; it was like all hope was crushed.  She tried to put on a happy face and said goodbye to us with a smile on her face, but her eyes filled up with tears as she left. Thus is the dual nature of Plasticos trips – we deal with highs of completing life-changing surgery, but also with lows of turning children away because we do not have time.

On another note, the training we give doctors and staff here has been going very well. Dr. Vartan, the Chief of Maxilla Facial Surgeon at St. Grigor’s, finished his first cleft lip surgery by himself yesterday.  This is great accomplishment for him and for our team because it means that our skills will not leave with us, and that many more children’s lives can be made better.

As the days go on, the young children who have had surgery are feeling better, and therefore more playful.  One can see that they are starting to understand what has been done for them.  The children and hospital staff have opened their hearts to us and Armenia is quickly feeling like home. I have gotten so used to the routine and the feeling here that I don’t know how I will deal with leaving in a couple days…better not to think about it now.

Linda Nguyen

Trip Coordinator

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