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Medical Mission to Yerevan, Armenia – The first few days

First post by Eileen Asahi, Trip Co-coordinator:

As many of you know, Plasticos Foundation is on a medical mission to Yerevan, Armenia to do cleft lip, cleft palate, and burn contracture surgeries on indigent children and orphans in Armenia.  One of the beautiful things that happened as a result of the last trip to Armenia in May 2011, was that a number of the orphan children who had surgery were adopted into loving families.  Life changing work, for sure.  I’m very excited to have this opportunity as it is my first medical humanitarian trip with Plasticos Foundation, the humanitarian foundation of Dr. Larry Nichter and Dr. Jed Horowitz .

Nver’s Before and After Photos – Cleft Lip Repair by Dr. Nichter

Nver Before and After Plasticos Armenia

Dr. Nichter performed a cleft lip surgery on Nver in 2011, when he was two years old. The top two photos shown above are of Nver before the surgery. The bottom left photo is of Nver post-surgery in 2011, and the last photo is of Nver with Dr. Syuzanna Voskanyan in 2013. Can you imagine how this changed Nver’s life?

Here is a link to a previous blog article that Dr. Nichter wrote about Nver on the Plastico’s 2011 trip to Armenia.

October 22 – Flight to Armenia

Twelve of the fifteen team members are flying out of LAX to Yerevan, Armenia through Paris CDG airport.  Flight scheduled to leave LAX at 3:45pm.  We all arrive at LAX at noon to have plenty of time to get checked in with all of our medical supplies.  We are bringing over $26,000 in medical supplies and donations, over 600 pounds, 13 large boxes/bags.   Thanks to Susi Germenian who has been communicating with the Air France supervisors over the past couple of weeks, we have a smooth check in.

Hiccup #1
We are all comfortably awaiting the flight when we find out at 3pm that there will be a 2 hour delay.  Oops, we have a 2 hour connection in Paris, not looking good for making that flight to Yerevan.  Since there are limited flights to Yerevan, we are all very concerned and Susi is already trying to find other options.   At 5 pm, we find out that the flight is now cancelled and since it is an Airbus with over 500 people that need to be rescheduled, things are looking dim.

Thanks to “make it happen” Susi, her connections with the Air France supervisors pay off as we find out at 8pm that we can get on a 9pm flight from LAX to Munich, Munich to Vienna, Vienna to Yerevan, arriving at 4am, with only an 8 hour delay which means we won’t miss anything important.    Next problem is to get our 600 pounds of baggage back from the baggage claim in Terminal 2 to the Tom Bradley International terminal, recheck all the baggage and ourselves with Lufthansa, go through security again and be ready for boarding at 8:30.  Go team!  No porters available but a resourceful team grab all the luggage carts they can get and, unbelievable as it may seem, we made it!  Must have been that unbeatable team spirit, or more likely, the fact that none of us were interested in spending any more time at LAX!

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CUSTOMS CLEARANCE IN YEREVAN – Susi had arranged for the owner of the hospital to meet us upon arrival which was originally scheduled for 8pm, to assist us in getting through customs with all of our medicines, medical supplies etc.  While it might be a bit nervy to ask someone to meet you at the airport at 8pm, how about now we are arriving at 4am?   Not sure what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised to be met as we deplaned by Dr. Ara Babloyan and about 5 customs officials who guided us through customs and security in about 30-45 minutes.  Our vans were waiting for us outside and we were off to the hotel where we arrived a bit worse for the wear at around 5am.

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The medical supplies are still in with customs officials and we are expecting them to be released sometime on Friday so that we can begin set up for Sunday’s patient screening of about 100-120 children.

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Plasticos team members in front of Arabkir Hospital

THURSDAY – October 24th (we lost a day because of time difference)
Dr. Horowitz and Dr. Persing are at an international conference so the rest of the team has lunch together before departing for a tour of Arakbir Hospital to get the lay of the land for our upcoming week.  Dr. Babloyan personally shows us around the hospital, giving us the history of the hospital as well.  We are all impressed with the great work that this hospital does for the children of Armenia.  Among other things, they manage to get medicines and medical services for children with epilepsy and diabetes that otherwise would be unable to afford it.  There is an Armenian Doctors of America in California that supplies the medicines as well as three foundations in Switzerland and Belgium that offer financial support. The hospital staff shares with us their appreciation for what we are going to do for the children in the upcoming week.

I’m a little nervous as this is my first medical mission and one of my responsibilities is to set up the reception area to check in the 100-120 children and their families to be screened for surgery on Sunday.  Lucky for me, Ruth Ann Burns will be working with me and not only has she been on many medical missions in the past, she is probably the sweetest person you will ever meet.   After touring the hospital, as it consists of a number of buildings that were put together after the fact, I hope they don’t send me on any errand to try to find something as I’m not sure I’ll ever find my way back!

Oh yes, about that data entry into the new medical software we are attempting on this trip; fortunately, we have a very handsome, technically savvy young man named Robert Barry who will be in charge and is already doing a fabulous job of all of the IT stuff so far.  Rob is an EMT who is applying to medical schools this year so this should be a great experience for him.  Lucky us, though.   All of us older folk are actually learning new tricks on our iPhones.  The only thing he hasn’t been able to help with so far, is retrieving the blog that I wrote this morning and accidentally deleted while trying to email it to myself!  Enough about my technical expertise.

I thought you might like to see something about our Armenia 2013 Team Members:

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THE DOCTORS – I would like to personally express my admiration for the work these doctors do.  They take time out of their extremely busy lives, their medical practices and their families to change the lives of hundreds of people around the world.  These kids and their families are so appreciative.  Words cannot express what good they are doing in this world.

Dr. Jed Horowitz, Plastic Surgeon -Medical Team Leader &  Plasticos Foundation VP
Dr. John Persing, Plastic Surgeon – Yale University
Dr. Robert Burns – General-Vascular Surgery (Co Team Leader)
Dr. Paul Quintana – Pediatrician (has been on over 100 medical missions!)
Dr. Vahe Tateosian – Pediatric Anesthesiologist – New York
Dr. Armen Chalian – Pediatric Anesthesiologist – Los Angeles/Orange County

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THE NURSES – Rachel and her team have spent countless hours, procuring, packing and creating customs documents multiple times for this trip.  Not only do these nurses take their personal vacation time to do these trips, they spend evenings and weekends preparing the medical supplies.  $26,000 and more than 600 pounds on this trip!  Kudos to Rachel especially on this challenges of the customs documentation on this particular trip.  Hats off to you nurses for what you do.  These trips wouldn’t happen without you.

Rachel Russell, RN, OR Nurse – Materials Management- Hoag Hospital Heart Team

Irene Landry RN, OR Nurse – Hoag Hospital Heart Team

Ho J. Chun, RN, OR Nurse – Hoag Hospital Heart Team

Monica Karamian, RN, OR Recovery Nurse – UCLA
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Linda Nguyen and Ho Chun packing for the trip.

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TRIP COORDINATORS – We stress out about the details.
Ruth Ann Burns
Dennis Gertmenian
Susi Gertmenian
Robert Barry
Eileen Asahi

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