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Local doctors expand Armenian medical mission to dangerous territory

Local doctors expand Armenian medical mission to dangerous territory
During a mission to Armenia last year, Adventist Health Glendale physicians Dr. Samvel Hmayakyan, left, and Dr. Tsovinar Tekkelian saw patients at the primary care clinic at Noyemberyan Hospital in Tavush. (Courtesy of Areg Balayan)

A team of local doctors will be expanding their fourth Armenian medical mission this fall to include a hospital in the violent, contested region of Artsakh.

The decision by Adventist Health of Southern California and the nonprofit aid group Armenia Fund to work with the Stepanakert Republican Medical Center in the turbulent area comes after a successful joint project the past three years at a rural hospital in the Tavush region of Armenia, which they will be wrapping up from Sept. 22 to 26.

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“In terms of sustainability, it’s a huge success,” Adventist Health’s Dr. Arby Nahapetian said, adding that the goal with the Noyemberyan Hospital in Tavush was always to provide its staff with the equipment and knowledge to carry on as a high-functioning rural facility after the mission ended.

“They’ve come awfully close,” with the final portion of the mission there this fall focusing on women’s health, according to Nahapetian, medical officer of Adventist Health of Southern California, which includes Adventist Health Glendale and two other area hospitals — one in Los Angeles and the other in Simi Valley.

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Once that’s completed, the team of about 60 doctors and other medical professionals will head to the modern Stepanakert facility from Sept. 27 to Oct. 5 to begin a new mission that is expected to take three to five years, Nahapetian said. Unlike the rural hospital that they focused on previously, the Stepanakert hospital is meant to serve an urban population of roughly 200,000.

“To commit to being a physician in a war zone is not an easy thing,” Nahapetian said of the medical professionals they will be assisting in Artsakh, which is primarily populated by ethnic Armenians but is internationally recognized as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan, resulting in an ongoing conflict between the two countries.

Built by the Hayastan All-Armenia Fund in 2013, Stepanakert Hospital has the capacity to handle complex surgical and other advanced medical procedures, including removing blood clots and reconstructing hips and knees. The facility also has a catheterization lab, where Nahapetian, a cardiologist, will be teaching the Armenian team how to implant pacemakers.

The ongoing volunteer project in Armenia was launched in 2014 as part of Adventist Health of Southern California’s broader medical mission work, which includes volunteering in Mexico, the Philippines, Africa and south Los Angeles.

“Believe it or not, you don’t need to go international to find need,” Nahapetian said. For example, local volunteers from Adventist Health provide care to the homeless people living under freeways in the L.A. River Basin.

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