A team of 30 volunteers, including eight doctors, a pharmacist, a chiropractor, a nurse/educator, pre-med students, and ancillary staff, headed to Armenia June 14 to set up and staff two-day medical clinics in Vanatzor and Stepanavan. Sunday, June 10, most of the group attended a special commissioning service at United Armenian Congregational Church in Los Angeles (volunteers from the Bay Area, Wisconsin, and other parts of the country were teleconferenced in for the pre-trip meeting held afterward).
Dr. Albert Phillips and Susan Phillips, a combined 1st/2nd generation couple, have recruited physicians and volunteers to serve basic medical needs in Armenia through a special summer mission for the past four years. More than 500 patients each year received free medical exams and medications through the program, which is sponsored by the Armenian Missionary Association of America. This year, with an expanded number of doctors, the group expects to offer services for 1200 patients. All program donations are used for supplies and medications, while volunteers pay for all their own travel and lodging expenses.
Physicians often take their family members including teenagers on the trip. Susan Phillips emphasizes that these additional staff members are absolutely necessary, as they manage the flow of patients lining up for services, create intake charts, and carefully count out the years’ worth of medications prescribed. Others conduct basic lab tests, and 2-3 newly-diagnosed diabetic patients as well as other chronic disease sufferers are typically identified.
Some doctors and volunteers are returning to serve for a second or third summer, while others are making the trip for the first time. Dr. Maylene Glidewell, an orthopedic surgeon with Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, traveled with the group in 2009. “Caring for so many Armenians in such need of medical attention left a lasting impression on me, and created a strong desire to return and serve again,” she said.
Dr. Kevin Kevorkian, a cosmetic surgeon practicing in Beverly Hills, is a first-time volunteer taking his entire family with him on this mission. What moved him to sign up? “I wanted to teach my kids that life is not like they know it. They’ll be seeing people in severe poverty, but they’ll also get a chance to help and to see that they can make a difference,” Dr. Kevorkian said. “I also want to see Armenia because I’ve never been there, and this is a chance to connect with my heritage. Finally, I’m very happy that I’ll be able to give back to my community as a medical professional.”
Susan Phillips introduced all the volunteers present at the service, and thanked them in advance for their willingness to serve. As of the 14th of June, the group heads to Armenia to set up and conduct this much-needed medical mission.
Elise Kalfayan is a Glendale resident, a native Southern Californian, and a combined first/second generation Armenian-American. She has produced or edited print and online pieces on topics ranging from urban development to Armenian Church history. She is the publisher of a Glendale community news blog, and works as a contract writer, editor, and publishing consultant for clients including businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and memoirists.