For Dr. Hratch Karamanoukian, the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation’s recent medical mission to Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) was the trip of a lifetime. Karamanoukian’s grandparents, as toddlers, left NKR with their family. A region located in Europe’s Southern Caucasus between Armenia and Azerbaijan, NKR has endured numerous wars and been disputed between the two countries, as well as the former Soviet Union, and others, for nearly a century. Karamanoukian, of Armenian descent, had never visited his grandparents’ homeland.
“For the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation, this was a special trip,” said Karamanoukian, a cardiothoracic surgeon and a member of the Daemen College Board of Trustees. “For over 20 years, the Foundation has been providing free surgical care to children and individuals in countries around the world where it is much needed but difficult to obtain.
“And for me to be able to go back to the country of my grandparents as a part of this team, bringing surgical care to a region where it is practically impossible to get for many residents, was a tremendous opportunity to give something back.”
The Hope for Tomorrow Foundation was founded by Buffalo plastic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Meilman. The Foundation’s group that traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh numbered some 30 individuals, including Meilman, six other surgeons, an anesthesiologist, a dozen college students (five from Daemen, seven from other colleges), and others. Meilman, also a member of the Daemen Board of Trustees, has traveled the world for more than 20 years providing free medical and surgical care to residents of Third World countries through the Foundation.
“Participating in the NKR trip was really a wonderful experience…the most meaningful moment for me was being able to assist in repairing a young boy’s arms.”
Anne Nikirk, Daemen physician assistant student
“The purpose of the Foundation is to have students involved so that this work can be carried on for many years to come,” Meilman said. “In doing so they will have the opportunity to give many children around the globe a brighter future.”
Group members left for NKR on May 23, 2012, and stayed in the capital city of Stepanakert, completing 75 surgeries in three days. Daemen Director of Athletic Training Lynn Matthews, an assistant professor who holds a clinical doctorate in physical therapy, traveled with the group to NKR.
“This presented our students with an excellent opportunity to directly assist in the surgeries that were performed for the residents of Stepanakert,” said Matthews. “The surgeries we performed included skin reconstructions; arthroscopic knee surgeries; plastic surgery reconstructions on children, and burn victims; vascular surgeries; fractures; and other procedures that are very difficult to obtain for most residents of the NKR, which is greatly impoverished.”
Karamanoukian pointed out that, as in the Foundation’s medical mission to Haiti last year — which also included Daemen physical therapy and physician assistant students — all equipment and supplies that the group took with them to provide surgical care to residents of NKR will remain there.
“We were only there for a short time, so we were not able to treat everyone who needed care. But we strive to teach the local doctors, surgeons, and other health care providers so that they might continue to treat those who need these surgeries after we are gone.”
Virginia Kaufman, a Daemen College physician assistant graduate student, was one of the Daemen students who had traveled to Haiti last year, and also accompanied the group to NKR this year.
“We gained clinical experience on both trips. As students, we are in the process of becoming doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and physical therapists,” she noted. “We are future practitioners who are gaining valuable insight into our chosen careers.”
“Participating in the NKR trip was really a wonderful experience,” said Anne Nikirk, a physician assistant student. “The most meaningful moment for me was being able to assist in repairing a young boy’s arms. This six-year old boy was badly burned when his shirt caught on fire. During the healing process webbing formed between his arm and torso severely limiting his range of motion.”
“Dr. Meilman, our plastic surgeon, taught me how to suture and allowed me to close the z-plasty and y-plasty that he performed. Knowing that this boy’s life would be changed forever because of the procedure, and having the privilege of being part of the solution was amazing.”
Other Daemen students who participated included Doctor of Physical Therapy student Erika Funnell and nursing student Jessica Panepento.