BY LORI KHATCHATURIAN
Tens of thousands of young soldiers risk their lives every day to protect Armenia. The sad reality is that out of those who return, many lose their quality of life.
Unfortunately, after the 44-day war, Armenia has hundreds of soldiers who are amputees, having lost one or multiple limbs. Prosthetic devices such as artificial arms or legs have the potential to restore a soldier’s quality of life. However, they cost from a range of $5,000 to $50,000 and require additional physical therapy, making it extremely difficult for Armenian soldiers to gain access to. In addition, even the best prosthetics need to be replaced multiple times during the life of a soldier.
As a high school student given the opportunity to present a speech at Johns Hopkins University, I decided to research solutions to combat this problem. As part of my research, I visited the Armenian Heroes Rehabilitation Center (Center), which has immensely contributed to prosthetic and rehabilitation availability in Armenia.
The Center opened in May 2021 and is funded by the generous donations of AWHF supporters, to provide heroes free one-on-one training on how to use their prosthetics. Upon arriving at their newest, renovated center, I was able to meet and interview Armenian veterans. Most of the veterans come from impoverished villages across Armenia and once they lost their limbs felt they couldn’t accomplish anything more in their lifetime. However, the Center completely changed these expectations and provided these heroes with the hope they needed. When soldier amputees first come to the Center, experts work with them for up to 3 years. In this process, experts strengthen veterans’ muscles, attach prosthetic devices, and rehabilitate veterans post prosthetic attachment. This entire process is free of charge and available to every soldier in Armenia, no matter their socioeconomic status.
The Center is run by Lieutenant Colonel Sargis Stepanyan, a veteran who lost both his legs and one arm while retrieving fallen comrades under enemy fire. What struck me most from Stepanyan’s interview is when he stated, “If a wounded hero does not want to walk, he won’t.”
Not only does the Center provide free prosthetics and rehabilitation, but they prioritize the hero’s mental health. The Center does not separate those with and without prosthetics in the training room to create a sense of normalcy.
Everything in the Center from the gym equipment to the locker rooms is disability and wheelchair friendly, which is also unique in Armenia. In order to motivate and provide the soldiers with a sense of purpose, Stepanyan trains soldiers for international competitions once their prosthetic rehabilitation is over. Stepanyan, an international Paralympic arm-wrestler and world champion, serves as an example for other soldiers that their disabilities are not limiting.
AWHF assists soldiers both physically and psychologically when returning to their full capacity. Centers and organizations like these are key to providing access to implementing prosthetics and rehabilitation in developing countries. In addition to the Rehab Center, AWHF has provided over 20,000 USA military first aid kits, which provide immediate medical aid and to stop bleeding. These first aid kits have saved numerous lives over the past five years. Visit the AWHF website for more information.
Lori Khatchaturian is a Senior at La Canada High School. She is Co-Chair of the Armenian Club, President of LA Children’s Hospital Club, President of Key Club, Secretary of the National Honors Society.