Washington, D.C.: As Mother’s Day approaches, the Armenian American Cultural Association celebrates the women of Armenia, especially those associated with its humanitarian project in Armenia – the Armenian American Wellness Center (Wellness Center). The Center was created in 1997 by two visionary women, one from the Diaspora, Rita Balian, and one from Armenia, Hranush Hakobyan. They wanted to save the lives of women through the early detection of their “breast cancer, which was the number one leading cause of cancer deaths among women in Armenia” according to the Ministry of Health.
“I take pride in being a part of the establishment of a center, which brought a new culture to the health care system in Armenia. The Center educated Armenian women to care about their health by having annual medical examinations. Throughout the years, the Wellness Center trained many medical experts – radiologists, gynecologists, cytologists – using Western standards, and became instrumental in saving the lives of thousands of mothers. It is hard for me to express the joy and pleasure I feel each time a human life is saved. I never regret the time, energy and dedication that Rita Balian and I put into establishing this Center and developing it for the past thirteen years. Throughout history, Armenian women and mothers have played and continue to play a valuable, lasting and honorable role as the most important pillar of the Armenian family.” – Hranush Hakobyan, Minister of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia, Co-Founder & Co-President
The 36 staff members at the Wellness Center, many of them mothers themselves, have made considerable contributions to the wellbeing of the women of Armenia – grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. The Center has had a significant impact in both saving and improving the lives of these women through its diligent awareness campaigns for the early detection of breast and cervical cancer,
“My work as the Chief Radiologist at the Wellness Center is a great responsibility since it can be decisive in one’s fate. Each time I receive a patient – whether she is a housewife, a woman coming from a remote village or a very high-positioned person – in all of them, I see the image of an Armenian woman. I do my utmost to give each and everyone of them an accurate diagnosis. I feel very proud when we diagnose the disease early, and I can assure her that treatment is possible. Each time the survivors come back to the Center for their follow-up services, they are full of gratitude, joy and greater faith.” – Ani Hakobyan, M.D., Chief Radiologist
“In March 2005, I went to the Wellness Center after feeling a lump in my breast. After receiving mammography and sonography screening, I was told that I had early stage breast cancer. Following consultation with an oncologist, I had a lumpectomy. I come to the Center every year for an annual check-up and a mammogram. I owe my life and health to the Center. Together, we won my battle against cancer.” – Anahit Muradyan, 52 year old breast cancer survivor
“I have been a regular patient at the Wellness Center since 2003 when I visited for the 1st time with a complaint of breast pain. For me, having lived and worked during Soviet times, the sight in front of my eyes when I entered the Center was amazing; it was like something I had only seen in movies. I thought I had been transported abroad. The physical environment was indescribable with its cleanliness and beauty; the medical specialists were so caring and capable. That was the reason I went back the next day, taking my daughter for a mammogram. Last year, my granddaughter also joined us. This is the 7th year that we will return for our annual mammograms and medical check-ups. We all belong now to the big army of educated women using the Center’s services.” – Armik Aghajanyan (74), with her daughter, Marine (52), and her granddaughter, Elen (24)
Since its inception in April 1997 through March 2010, the Center has served 143,768 patients throughout Armenia and has provided them with 191,486 services, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, basic gynecology, lab services, osteoporosis screening, menopausal counseling, family planning, and primary health care. The six-story building has recently undergone extensive renovation, expansion and seismic reinforcement and is now being equipped and furnished to allow for the provision of additional medical services. When this part of the renovation project is completed, the Center will be a state-of-the-art Primary Health Care Facility, providing services to the women, men and children of Armenia and will also become a Health Care Center for the entire Caucasus Region.
“Being far from the medical servicing world, I could not visualize just how much effort and passion it requires. Now, working at the Wellness Center as its in-house architect, supervising the renovation work for the past three years, I can see that it takes a lot of patience and love of people to be able to work in this environment. I do not have words to describe my admiration for the staff of this Center. I feel very proud that I am part of this family and work hard to enhance and make this building a beautiful environment for both patients and staff. ” – Yelena Hambaryan, Architect
The Gynecology Department at the Center plays a major role in addressing the needs of the women who come to the Center. In addition to providing family planning counseling and Pap smear screening for the early detection of cervical cancer (second cause of cancer deaths among women in Armenia), the Department also provides services for the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. Couples struggling with infertility for several years were treated for these chronic infections and were subsequently able to conceive. For couples who had all but lost hope, these babies are an answer to their prayers.
“For the past four years, I have been working as the Head of the GYN Department at the Wellness Center. My work requires great responsibility because our Center has become “the place” where many women come after giving up hope that they will ever be able to conceive and have a child. To date, 61 “miracle babies” have been born to these women and six women are currently pregnant. This brings great joy and happiness not only to the women, but also to their families and to us. When you realize that you have gifted one more family with that kind of joy, your heart is filled with an inexplicable and overpowering sentiment as you realize that this family will hear the voice of a healthy, screaming baby and you know that there is continued life and happiness in that home.” – Marine Voskanyan, M.D, OBGYN
“For many years, I tried to give birth to a child, and had even gone for help at several medical institutions and clinics in Armenia and abroad, with no results. Every year, the flame of my hope was getting dimmer. Taking my hope into my hands, I went to the Wellness Center, and after treatment and regular follow-ups by its capable staff, I heard the long- awaited phrase: “You are pregnant.” Tears of joy came down my cheeks when that miracle happened. At the Center, they understood my deep pain and they helped me. I am very proud that we have this kind of a center in Armenia, where the entire staff share with their patients the sadness of their pain and the joy of their healing. At the same time, during one’s difficult moments in life, they give hope, strength and inspiration. I am proud and joyful … that now I am a mother.” – Aida Sarkisyan, proud mother of her 20-month-old daughter, Sona
Through the sponsorship of the Armenian American Cultural Association, the Wellness Center staff receive ongoing administrative and management training, as well as Continuing Medical Education (CME), both onsite in Armenia and in the US, from US medical specialists. This ensures that the staff is up-to-date in their knowledge, skills, professional development and performance. With a focus on Western technology, expertise and standards, the Center strives to provide high quality care to all its patients, while educating the public on the importance of the early detection of diseases and preventive health care through annual medical check-ups.
“In spite of the great demands and pressures that I face in my work each day as the Executive Director of the Center, I love what I am doing. I feel very proud that I have been a member of the Center’s work team for the past eight years. So many of the women who come here are filled with anxiety and fear of cancer; it requires us to approach each patient with great compassion, understanding and care. During the past several years, we have saved many, many lives and, each time we detect the cancer in its early stages and save the life of one person, we overcome and dispel the fear associated with this disease. The survivors are so grateful. In their eyes, we can see their gratitude. These are the moments I feel that I am privileged to share their joy.” – Khachanush Hakobyan, Executive Director of the Wellness Center
The festival of Mother’s Day is celebrated throughout the world in 46 countries, though on different dates. Millions of people across the globe take the day as an opportunity to honor their mothers, to pay tribute to them for giving them life, for their efforts in raising them and for being their source of constant support.
“As a mother and a grandmother I know how important it is for us to get quality medical care, so that we can continue caring for our immediate and extended family members. The same applies to all mothers and grandmothers, all over the world, and more so in Armenia. I strongly believe that we are a “matriarchal” society – with all my respect to Armenian men. After my several trips to Armenia, since the earthquake of 1988, I witnessed the dedication, hard work, determination and care that each mother gives to her family and to our nation. My admiration and respect has grown with every visit to our motherland. It is the reason that I wanted to bring my participation to their noble mission.
My own mother, Marie Simonian, who was an Armenian Genocide survivor, orphaned at age 6 who lived 97 years short of 6 months, was a registered nurse who devoted her entire life serving her family, her community, her nation and mankind. She was the greatest example to us, her children, to learn from her to share our time, our talent, and our resources with people who are less fortunate than us. My beloved husband Vartkess joined me to realize this noble project, along with Hranush Hakobyan from Armenia, for the women and mothers of Armenia. Therefore, each time we save a mother in Armenia, we save her entire family – and thus, our nation. ” – Rita Balian, Co-founder & Co-President of the Wellness Center.
– By Gail Howard