Washington, D.C.: The Armenian American Cultural Association (AACA), headquartered in Metropolitan Washington, D.C., and the main sponsor of the Armenian American Wellness Center (Wellness Center) in Armenia, has, since 2009, been upgrading most of the U.S. medical equipment at the Center with more recent technology.
These upgrades include three LORAD M-4 mammography machines manufactured by Hologic Corporation; a Kodak M-6 processor to develop mammography films (until all screening systems are converted to digital technology within three years); its DEXA bone density screening unit, and three additional ultrasound screening machines, one of which is the latest model from SonoSite, Inc. – a M-Turbo portable unit. This unit will be used at the Wellness Center and during Outreach Missions to provide free-of-charge services to the vulnerable population residing in the remote areas of Armenia.
In addition to these equipment upgrades, AACA continues its commitment to provide the highest level of training for the Center’s staff by organizing and sponsoring Medical Exchange Missions. The most recent – its 54th – was held in Yerevan from June 20 through July 8, 2010. The focus of this Mission was to provide additional medical, administrative and technical training, and to assess the Center’s capacity to provide future breast cancer treatments, augmenting its current quality screening programs.
Leading this mission was Rita Balian, President & CEO of AACA and Founder and Co-President of the Wellness Center, accompanied by Michelle Saylor, a registered Sonographer and Senior SonoSite Manager from Alexandria, Virginia; Dr. Carla Kurkjian, a breast oncologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma, Health Sciences Center, Department of Hematology / Oncology and a previous Fellow at the National Cancer Institute / National Institute of Health, and Natalie Kurkjian, a second year medical student.
“As I compare my visit to Armenia with my travels to Romania, Lithuania, Nepal and other countries, I found the care at the Wellness Center to be of the utmost quality,” commented Mrs. Saylor, who trained the Center’s five radiologists on the use of the SonoSite ultrasound system. Mrs. Saylor also reviewed the Center’s ultrasound protocols and made recommendations for improving diagnostic screenings.
Further reflecting on her visit, Mrs. Saylor observed, “The Center sees a tremendous number of patients each day; and as such, delivers outstanding care, treating each woman as if she were the “only” patient there! The doctors take care to provide a very comprehensive screening, and deliver very high quality care.”
Despite the extreme heat this summer in Yerevan, the Center is still providing services for 80 to 110 patients daily, including breast, cervical cancer and bone density screenings, as well as gynecological and pathology lab services. Additionally, the Center provides ongoing public education throughout Armenia stressing the importance of the early and accurate detection of diseases, annual clinical check-ups and healthy lifestyles.
In addition to the Center’s focus on early detection, the Boards of AACA and the Wellness Center have been very keen on introducing treatment options for the Center’s breast cancer patients. With this in mind, Dr. Kurkjian was invited to participate in this Medical Mission to share her observations of the Center’s work and her recommendations for future breast cancer treatment options in-house. She continued, “With its computerized Quality Management and Information Systems for medical records and statistics, the Center would be ideal for establishing clinical trials.”
In further describing the Wellness Center, Dr. Kurkjian noted, “The facility was inviting for the patients and was extremely well-maintained, far beyond what one would expect to find in a developing country. My experience at the Center far exceeded my expectations.”
Her sister, Natalie Kurkjian, was thrilled, as a medical student, to have patient contact during her visit and also shared her observations: ‘The women of Armenia taught me an important lesson… for quality care, they would travel long distances even with little resources.” She continued, citing the example, “One patient, while pregnant, had previously been seen at a different facility, complaining of a lump in her breast. She was told that she likely had cancer and would need to terminate her pregnancy. On her visit to the Center, an ultrasound revealed the mass in her breast to be a benign simple cyst. The patient’s visit to the Center ensured not only her health, but her baby’s as well.”
AACA remains committed to providing the staff at the Wellness Center with extensive, ongoing Continuing Medical Education (CME), both in the U.S. and on-site in Armenia. All of its 54 Medical Training Missions have enabled the Center’s 17 medical staff members to learn new methodologies and skills, keeping them current with Western medical advancements. This enhances their professional development and ensures that the services provided at the Wellness Center meet Western clinical standards. Furthermore, the Center’s 14 administrative, 4 consultants and 7 support staff also receive Western training.
Commenting on AACA’s support of the Wellness Center, Rita Balian commented, “Since its inception in 1997, AACA has relied on the dedication and commitment of US medical professionals, who volunteer their time and efforts to help bring the highest standard of care to the Wellness Center’s patients. I am so pleased that the US specialists on this recent Mission were able to support our vital work by providing their expertise, both in training and in developing future plans for the Center, including breast cancer treatment options. I am also grateful to USAID, both in Yerevan and Washington, for its continued financial assistance in supporting this medical humanitarian project, so dear to my heart.”
– By Gail Howard