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A great accomplishment

     

Our time in Armenia has come to an end. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of the Plasticos group, and I am proud of the work that we have done for the children of Armenia.  We pre-screened over 250 children before we came, and additional 91 in on site. We completed 60 surgeries – all with successful, dramatic results. Although the numbers are impressive, they are not what define the trip for me. The impact that that this mission has had on everyone involved goes beyond numbers.

One of my happiest moments on the trip happened on our last day of post-op clinic, when our doctors made their final check up and recommendations for the children who have had surgery. Zohrab, at 5-year -old boy who had syndactylys on his right hand walked into the room and lay down on the clinic bed.  Now I’ve grown fond of Zohrab, and I know that how talkative, energetic and funny he is – always spitting out 100 (Armenian) words a minute, but whenever doctors are in the room, he tenses up and becomes deathly quiet because – let’s face it – doctors can be pretty intimidating and scary to a child, especially to one who has recently had surgery and whose hand is still healing and hurting. On previous follow-ups with the doctors, he stared wide-eyed with a serious expression that made it look like he was thinking, “What the heck are they going to do to me know?” But on our last day, he did something surprising and utterly adorable: When he got up form the clinic bed, he said – in perfect English – “Thank you.” The entire room cheered and clapped. I nearly died. Then he stood next to his mother and refused to leave the room because he wanted to stay with us.  And earlier that day, when we made rounds to check up on all the children, I couldn’t help but notice all the smiling faces. The children were feeling better and they were beginning to understand what were have done for them.

Linda and Zohrab

It’s always interesting to observe how our group works with the Armenian staff. For some, like Monica, our recovery nurse who is fluent in Armenian, it’s second nature. She was completely in her element, even though this was her first trip with Plasticos. I watched her talk to and comfort mothers before, during and after surgery, care for children post surgery, and interact with the Armenian nurses like she was one of them. To watch her work is to see love, passion and compassion in action. Others, like myself, who have a limited Armenian vocabulary, rely on facial expressions and body language to communicate, but the warmth and love of the Armenian staff were not lost in translation.

Monica in the recovery room

Watching the doctors communicate in surgery is always a learning experience. Aside from operating, the teaching that they do is highly technical, but it is also an art form. They carefully choose their words to communicate a sharing of information, and they ask questions that often require out-of-the-box thinking. And the Armenian staff is highly receptive. In fact, another trip-defining moment for me was watching the incredible work that Dr. Hovakimyan (Armenian Maxillo-Facial Surgeon) did on his first cleft lip surgery.

Dr. Nichter assisting Dr. Hovakimyan in surgery

One of the greatest things about my job on this trip is that I get to see all aspects of the child’s care – from screening, preop, surgery, recovery, follow-ups — I have been there through all of it. I’ve had a great time working with Joanne Horowitz, who has been documenting the trip, and has also seen the entire process of caring for a child who is having surgery. She shared with me a truly moving story. On our third day at the medical center, we screened a 14-year old boy named Arzuman Ghazaryan, who had a lymphangioma in his upper lip. He walked into the screening room ashamed of who he was – and I don’t mean “of the way he looked” but who he was.  It is amazing how, for many children, abnormalities can be thing that defines them. Arzuman had trouble letting himself connect with others; he could not make eye contact with anyone.  A couple days after surgery, he was a completely different person – confident, happy, and actually really funny.  While snapping post-op photos, Joanne said he was ready for the cover of GQ magazine. And I completely agree.

Joanne Horowitz

I leave Armenia not fully recovered from the impact that its people have had on me, but I am proud of the work that our team has accomplished. That we transformed Arzuman’s life is enough for me. But the fact is that we have helped many children – many of whom are orphans, and we leave Armenia confident that the Armenian staff is capable of continuing the types of surgeries we have done during our stay.

Plasticos Team, from left to right: (back row) Dr. Larry Nichter, Linda Nguyen, Rachel Russell, Dr. Annu Sharma, Brenda Drake, Monica Karamian, Irene Landry, Ruth Ann Burns, Dr. Robert Burns, Dr. Mohamad Iravani. (Front row) Dr. Jed Horowitz, Joanne Horowitz, Susi Gertmenian, Dennis Gertmenian, Jessica Bonthius, Dr. Ani Kalfayan.

Linda Nguyen

Trip Coordinator

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