Pan-Armenian Celebration of ABMDR’s 20th Anniversary

ABMDR volunteers, Board members, and supporters. Photos by Shahe Melelian / Arka Photography, courtesy of ABMDR

LOS ANGELES—At its annual Match for Life gala, the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry celebrated the 20th anniversary of its founding. The festive pan-Armenian event, which took place on August 25 at the Taglyan Complex in Los Angeles, was attended by over 350 supporters, including elected officials, community leaders, and honorees. The gala was made possible by the major sponsorship of Adventist Health Glendale and the Los Angeles Cancer Network.

After a cocktail hour and silent auction in the foyer and terrace of the venue, the evening’s main program began inside the hall. The gala’s Master of Ceremonies was Dr. Vicken Sepilian, a longtime ABMDR supporter, President of the Armenian Medical International Committee, and past President of the Armenian-American Medical Society.

“The Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry exemplifies the spirit of compassion, and generosity and compassion are exactly what we are gathered here to celebrate tonight,” Dr. Sepilian said in his welcoming remarks. “Over the past 20 years, ABMDR has grown to become a global organization that has recruited over 31,000 donors in 33 countries across four continents, identified over 9,000 patients, and facilitated 33 life-saving bone marrow transplants. This work could not have been possible without the hard work and generosity of a whole army of volunteers and supporters. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s welcome this army of volunteers and supporters, who are about to walk in through the doors.” With this, the attendees rose to a standing ovation as members of the ABMDR Board, including founding members, longtime volunteers, and major supporters, entered the hall.

Next, Dr. Sepilian acknowledged the presence of several dignitaries and guests of honor, as well as representatives of community institutions and health organizations, including Fr. Vatche Hayrabedian of the Western Diocese; Rev. Ghevont Kirazian of the Western Prelacy; Kanakara Hovhannisyan, representing the Consulate General of Armenia in Los Angeles; Mary Hovagimian, representing U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff; California State Senator Anthony Portantino; California State Assemblymember Laura Friedman; Jason Maruca, representing Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger; Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian; Glendale City Council members Paula Devine, Vrej Agajanian, and Vartan Gharpetian, along with Dr. Armine Gharpetian; Adventist Health Glendale Business Development Executive Ramella Markarian; Dr. Neena Kapoor of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles; representatives of Bridge of Health; Armenian-American Medical Society co-founder Dr. Jean Momjian and past President Dr. Varoosh Alaverdian; Armenian Relief Society Western Region Chair Silva Poladian; Robert Barsam and Lily Balian of St. James Armenian Church; Taleen Khatchadourian of the Armenian Autism Outreach Project; and Zaven Kazazian of the Armenian-American Museum.

The gala’s invocation was performed by Fr. Vatche Hayrabedian and Rev. Ghevont Kirazian. Father Hayrabedian also delivered a congratulatory message from Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese.

Subsequently remarks were delivered by gala Committee Chairperson and ABMDR Board member Sona Ashjian. “I’d like to express my utmost gratitude and thanks to our generous sponsors and donors,” Ashjian said. “It is because of these supporters that ABMDR has grown and thrived for so many years. Our 20th anniversary really is a testament to the drive and perseverance of those special individuals and organizations who believed in ABMDR’s mission to save lives.” Ashjian went on to acknowledge her fellow gala teammates as well as several Board members and supporters, whose exceptional work and contributions were crucial for the success of the gala.

Following Ashjian’s remarks and the presentation of a short video dedicated to ABMDR’s founders, supporters, volunteers, and Yerevan Lab staff, the gala’s major sponsors were honored with special-appreciation awards. Accepting them were Ramella Markarian, representing Adventist Health Glendale, as well as Dr. Boris Bagdasarian and Dr. Nubar Boghossian of the Los Angeles Cancer Network.

At this juncture, the attendees were shown a congratulatory video message from U.S. Congressman and longtime ABMDR supporter Adam Schiff. Addressing ABMDR’s global family of volunteers, supporters, donors, and staff, Congressman Schiff stated, “The Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry has been invaluable in saving the lives of patients from all backgrounds suffering from leukemia and other life-threatening blood-related illnesses. Your unwavering commitment to helping people in need is a sterling example of what the organization represents. Thank you for your exceptional contributions to the community. Please accept my best wishes for continued success, and my gratitude for all that you do.”

Congressman Schiff’s message was followed by a documentary video tracing ABMDR’s journey from its beginnings 20 years ago. At the conclusion of the video, Dr. Frieda Jordan, President of ABMDR, addressed the attendees. “What you saw in the video just now was the story of how we came to be,” she said in her keynote address. “In simple terms, it was a call for help from a mother and father with a sick child, Alique Topalian; responses from a number of individuals and organizations across the globe; and, ultimately, a plan of action for the future. It was the beginning of a marvelous project, something that had not existed before, but that was so desperately needed: the ABMDR.”

“Over the past 20 years,” Dr. Jordan continued, “we have seen this story play out again and again: a family crying out for help. Only now, they can make just one call: to the ABMDR. That’s because each one of you in this room is a participant in a sustained and sophisticated network of support, compassion, and action. You are ABMDR. It is no wonder, then, that we have been able to serve a total of 12,000 patients in Armenia and worldwide in the past two decades, with Armenian communities throughout the globe having joined forces for our organization’s uniquely humanitarian quest. The profound inspiration that launched ABMDR has led to its growth as an internationally respected registry, with a pioneering lab accredited by the European Federation for Immunogenetics, the EFI, and a grassroots support infrastructure that empowers our life-saving mission.”

Also delivering remarks was ABMDR Executive Director Dr. Sevak Avagyan. “The growth and success of our organization have been made possible because we have cultivated a powerful tradition of cooperation between the Armenian homeland and diaspora communities, international bone marrow registries, and health care institutions worldwide,” stated Dr. Avagyan. “As importantly, not only our Yerevan lab has been accredited by the EFI, we have also established, in 2009, a state-of-the-art Stem Cell Harvesting Center.”

Dr. Avagyan continued: “These achievements are complemented by our ongoing work in terms of processing patient search requests and providing a broad range of services for potential bone marrow transplant recipients. Your enthusiastic presence here tonight encourages us to embark on ever-newer ventures and to address new challenges still.”

Next to come to the podium was Alique Topalian, who, as a five-year-old girl struck by cancer, had inspired the establishment of ABMDR in 1999. Soon afterwards, Topalian survived acute myeloid leukemia, a very rare cancer in children, and, this year, earned her PhD in public health.

“We Armenians are a strong people,” Topalian said in her remarks. “We’ve had a history that’s taken the lives of too many already, and caused us to spread across the world. Are you willing to contribute to the mission of ABMDR, to ensure that the lives of more Armenians will be saved, and not senselessly lost to disease? To ensure that our nation will continue to grow strong, and flourish throughout the world? To save the life of another individual, like me, who will have a chance to grow up and devote their life to the healthcare field in their community? Help us create a strong community and a healthy community.”

Topalian and Dr. Sepilian next introduced the “Be an Angel, Save a Life” fundraising segment of the evening, featuring the young ABMDR Angels. Following this segment, the 2019 ABMDR Lottery winners were announced, and the attendees were treated to a musical interlude, featuring performances of international classics by singer Mr. X.

The ABMDR 2019 awards ceremony took place in the second half of the gala. The Volunteers of the Year Awards were presented to Annethe Postik, Ara Soudjian, and Dr. Miganush Stepanians. Accepting the award on behalf of Dr. Stepanians was Alvart Badalian, director of ABMDR’s New England Support Group. The ABMDR Organization of the Year Award was presented to the Los Angeles Cancer Network’s Dr. Boris Bagdasarian and Dr. Nubar Boghossian.

On the occasion of ABMDR’s 20th anniversary, Senator Anthony Portantino and Assemblymember Laura Friedman presented Dr. Frieda Jordan and Dr. Sevak Avagyan with special resolutions on behalf of their offices as well as the California State Senate and the California State Assembly, respectively. The resolutions extend the State of California’s congratulations on ABMDR’s 20th anniversary and highly commend its humanitarian mission benefiting communities in California, the U.S., and worldwide.

Subsequently the ABMDR Visionary Awards were conferred on individuals and organizations that have had an extraordinary role in the life of ABMDR throughout the past 20 years, having selflessly dedicated themselves to the establishment and continued development of the organization. The ABMDR Visionary Awards were bestowed on Diana Artunian; Mark Geragos, Esq.; Dr. Carolann Najarian; as well as Stepan and Linda Vartanian, proprietors of Foundation Laboratory, in Los Angeles. Finally, the ABMDR Lifetime Achievement Award was conferred on philanthropist and longtime ABMDR supporter George Titizian.

“I remember the day Dr. Frieda Jordan approached me with the goal of establishing an Armenian bone marrow donor registry,” Dr. Najarian said in her remarks. “It didn’t take me two seconds to realize the importance of the project. It was a project that would raise Armenia’s technical abilities and put the country on the global healthcare map, bringing honor to our homeland. Over the years, bringing ABMDR to such a level as to receive recognition from other countries, and to work and collaborate with them, have been a huge accomplishment. I’d like to express my profound gratitude to the leadership and volunteers of ABMDR for having made such marvelous strides.”

In his remarks, George Titizian said, “It has been a privilege to be a part of the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry in the past 20 years. I would like to thank specially my family and friends for supporting me and ABMDR in its journey. I’m humbled and grateful to all of you for this prestigious honor, and I wish our beloved organization continued success in helping save lives.”

After Titizian’s comments, members of the ABMDR Board joined together to cut the 20th Anniversary cake. This was followed by a solemn candle-lighting ceremony.

“It has been said that generosity is the most natural outward expression of the inner attitude of compassion and kindness,” Dr. Vicken Sepilian said. “Tonight, we have collectively demonstrated generosity, compassion, and kindness at their best.”

The festivities continued well into the night, with more performances by Mr. X, while many additional supporters participated in the silent auction in the foyer.

Established in 1999, ABMDR, a nonprofit organization, helps Armenians and non-Armenians worldwide survive life-threatening blood-related illnesses by recruiting and matching donors to those requiring bone marrow stem cell transplants. To date, the registry has recruited over 31,000 donors in 33 countries across four continents, identified over 9,000 patients, and facilitated 33 bone marrow transplants. For more information, call (323) 663-3609 or visit the website.

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