Interview with Rojeh Melikian
OCAPS Executive Committee interviewed longtime OCAPS member Rojeh Melikian about his recent time volunteering his medical expertise in Armenia as the 2nd Artsakh war was coming to a bitter end.
Can you tell us a little about the type of medical professional you are and your experience?
I am an Orthopaedic Surgeon who specializes in Spine Surgery. After medical school at USC, I went to Harvard for my orthopaedic surgery residency and did my Spine Surgery Fellowship at Emory. I then returned to California and have been in private practice since in Los Angeles and Newport Beach.
What Inspired you to go into the Medical Field?
My father is a physician and was my inspiration to go into medicine.
When the war against Armenia & Artsakh started, at what point did you decide to go to volunteer your medical services, and why?
By the time I had reached Yerevan, the cease-fire had already been signed so there was no immediate physical danger. More pressing was that COVID infections were rampant in Armenia in the immediate aftermath of the war. In fact, almost every physician I met there had been infected recently. In light of these risks, the decision to go to Armenia was a difficult one for us but ultimately the right one.
Was this an individual mission or were you traveling with a team of colleagues in your field?
This was an individual mission but a colleague of mine had just come back from one of the hospitals and was able to give me a good understanding of what to expect and what the hospitals and physicians needed.
What did the journey look like to get there and where was your final destination and/or areas you worked at?
I worked in Yerevan at 3 Medical Centers: Kanaker-Zeytun, Erebouni and Arabkhir Hospitals.
What were the conditions of the hospitals and its patients?
broken bones or had spinal cord injuries.
Were you and/or medical staff working under any dangerous conditions considering indiscriminate shelling by Azerbaijan?
No, the final cease-fire had already been signed by the time I arrived and I was only in Yerevan.
How many operations did you or your team perform during your visit?
We did 8 surgeries over the course of 4 days there. My 5th day there I spent at a rehabilitation hospital seeing some of the soldiers who had spinal cord injuries. Interestingly enough, whereas in the U.S. I usually start surgery around 7:00 or 7:30 AM, Armenian time we started surgery around 10:30 or 11:00AM so it’s hard to do to more than a few in one day.
Was there any specific moment or person you met that impacted you the most?
One of the patients at the rehabilitation hospital was a 19-year-old with a spinal cord injury. He had no feeling in his legs and was obviously unable to walk. This war has completely changed the trajectory of his life. He is just one example of thousands of young lives that have been completely altered by this conflict.
What was the most challenging part of this whole experience?
What was the most rewarding part of this whole experience?
Witnessing the resiliency of the Armenian people was the best part. No matter who I met, soldiers, doctors, nurses etc…they all felt it was something we had been through before and would get through again. In fact, a lot of the surgeons had been there through the first Artsakh war in the 1990’s and definitely had a unique perspective on the whole situation.
What advice do you have for those who want to get involved?
There are a lot of great organizations doing work on the ground in Armenia that could use help. In fact, there is a push for a diaspora-run medical clinic to be built there. Anybody interested should feel free to check out https://eternalnation.com.
Above all, Armenia itself needs our help and our expertise. This should be a wake-up call to the diaspora. And by that I don’t mean just pouring in donations like we have done previously. Instead, the country itself needs economic development. If each of us did something within our area of expertise to help, for instance, improving their agricultural methods, transportation, opening a business in Armenia, outsourcing web design, production etc…it would help tremendously. It’s a country that does not have much in the way of natural resources and so it’s growth has to come from technology, service-related industries etc. It has already had a lot of growth in the past few years from the technology sector but there’s a long way to go.
How has this experience changed you as a human being and/or as an Armenian?
I think it’s easy for us to get consumed by our day to day lives here in Orange County and lose sight of what is going on in Armenia. I won’t ever take it for granted again. When most of us were born, Armenia as an independent country did not exist. Now it does. We should do everything we can to help her continue to exist and thrive.
Do you consider returning in the future and volunteering your services again?
Anytime they need me, I’ll be there.
Final thoughts that you want to share?