I have always had an interest in global medicine, but the demands of my practice have limited my ability to work in other countries. My practice is now at a point that I have been able to accept the opportunity to travel to Armenia and provide care to children.
From Friday through Oct. 14, I will return to Armenia with a team of medical professionals to the remote, underserved regions of the country where we will provide care to the indigent population. The team is called the Fresno Medical Mission and it is organized by the Fresno Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia, Berj Apkarian. During the past three years, this team grew from 23 to about 40 medical, surgical and dental professionals.
I am looking forward to seeing the surgeons I worked with previously.
When I was in Yevan before, I was surprised to find there were two children’s hospitals where pediatric surgery was being practiced. As I got to know the surgeons there, it was evident they were very skilled and had been doing this for a considerable length of time.
However, they were limited by the lack of modern equipment and supplies to provide the necessary care. Items that we take for granted in every day care were not there mostly from the lack of money but some because they were not even available within the country.
I was able to demonstrate how I would perform some procedures which they were aware of but had not had the chance to see done or have done themselves. The hope is now they will feel comfortable doing them.
I learned that surgical training is quite different there than in the United States. Training there involves a lot of observation but little actual hands-on doing of procedures.
This year there will be a new surgeon who just completed his training a year ago and so I hope to assist him in getting comfortable doing procedures. I am also looking forward to going to another area of the country and the possibility of teaching non-pediatric surgeons how to care for children.
In order to have success with projects such as these, the most important thing is teaching someone how to do something so that when we leave the care continues.
A side benefit of these trips is getting to know the people of the country. I had a great time talking to the surgeons about their lives and views on various topics. One gets a very different view of situations in that part of the world when you talk and understand their point of view.
It was also an honor to meet the President of Armenia and the head of the Armenian church. One could not help but feel that our presence was greatly appreciated and they were genuinely grateful for the help we provided.
I am grateful for the opportunity to return to Armenia again this year. This important humanitarian mission has been and continues to be possible thanks to generosity of the Fresno community.
Dr. David S. Hodge is a University of California San Francisco-Fresno faculty member and a pediatric surgeon.