On Sept. 20, 2012, Hrair Garabedian, an American-Armenian pediatric cardiologist from Spokane, Wash., was awarded the Medal of Mkhitar Heratsi by the president of Armenia. Hrair was honored for his devoted contribution to the development of the field of pediatric cardiology and heart surgery in Armenia over the past 20 years.
Hrair joined Arthur Halvajian and Alice Movsesian of the Eastern Region of Medical Outreach for Armenians, which was founded to help the injured victims of the devastating Armenian earthquake in 1988; 125 of those victims came to the United States for recovery. At that time, it quickly became apparent that there was a dire need for child and adult heart care. Medical Outreach decided to address the need in the pediatric heart field because the young are the future of a nation. Initially, over 400 children were brought to the United States for heart surgery, while at the same time the group set up a heart center in Armenia.
Dr. Hrair Hovaguimian, a cardiac surgeon from the United States, joined Medical Outreach shortly thereafter. The outcome of this cooperation was the establishment of the Nork-Marash Medical Heart Center. Dr. Hrair Hovaguimian heads this pediatric and adult heart center, and has been living in Armenia for more than 20 years.
Hrair Garabedian and Medical Outreach have also been heavily involved in the continuous development and advancement of the center facilities. Equipped with modern equipment and facilities, Nork-Marash is now one of the largest and most reputable centers in the Trans-Caucasian region, surveying more than 14,000 patients and performing more than 800 surgeries annually. Hrair visits Nork-Marash twice a year, and volunteers at his own personal expense, helping Armenian pediatric heart specialists to advance in new medical technologies. In recent years, his son, Dr. Carl Garabedian, has been traveling to Armenia on a yearly basis to contribute to and continue his father’s life-granting activities.
In early spring 1992, a group of four children were taken halfway around the globe by Medical Outreach for open-heart surgery in Spokane. I was the youngest in the group, only four years old. With a pale face, blue cheeks and lips, I was also the weakest in the group. Based on my critical health situation, it was decided that I would be operated on first, a few days after we arrived in Spokane. After a successful operation and a week of hospital rehabilitation, I became even more energetic and active than I was before. The other three children also underwent successful surgeries and are now in good health. We stayed in the United States for a few months as our health was monitored and it was determined that we were fit to go back home.
An active and bonded Armenian community in Spokane provided us with a home, care, and love. The center and tying knot of this community was, of course, the Garabedian family—Hrair and his wife, Hilda, who opened their home and hearts to us. Even though I was away from my family at such a young age, I never felt lonely or unhappy. Hrair and Hilda, as well as Alice and Guillermo Rubios, hosted me and cared for me, and became the dearest people in my life. During my stay with them, I learned the true meaning of hospitality and compassion. This was also the time when I learned most of my English, which has been a huge asset.
My parents gave me life. Hrair gave me the life I have now. It is hard to imagine where I would be if it weren’t for Hrair (for sure, not in a leading university in London writing this article in English). He is my role model, as ideal as a person can be, as both an individual and a professional.
Please note: I am only one of many success stories. Thank you, Hrair!