Doctors’ Big Care Package Helps the Healing in Armenia

Photo courtesy USC-VHH
Packing and shipping a 7,500-pound piece of equipment proved challenging for local physicians who sent a CT scanner to Armenia to help surgeons whose patients sustained shrapnel wounds in the war with Azerbaijan.

It all started with the recollection of a quote.
When Dr. Armand Dorian, chief medical officer at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale, saw news reports in September that war involving his ancestral home of Armenia had resumed, he was drawn back to a famous statement by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” Dorian said in an interview, reciting Mead’s words.
His recall of the remark prompted him to get on the phone, and a few calls later, Dorian said, he knew what he had to do. Armenia’s ministry of health reported that chief among the nation’s needs was a CT scanner, largely for use in surgeries on people with shrapnel wounds as a result of the fighting between Armenian forces in the breakaway state Artsakh against Azerbaijani forces aiming to reassert control of the region.
So he got to work.

“It was really about a bunch of people taking ownership and doing something to support a humanitarian effort, when time is crucial,” said Dorian, who is Armenian-American. “We understood the need by the end of that month. In two weeks, we basically were able to raise the funds — almost $100,000 — find the scanner, figure out its weight, package it and put it on a plane.”
Dorian said he and a number of other physicians in his network ultimately pooled the money together to purchase the machine. An extensive network also involved Glenoaks Imaging in sourcing a supplier for the scanner and a local trucking company to help transport it.
“I grew up there. I went to school there. I have childhood friends who were fighting in the front lines there,” said Andrey Shakhbandaryan, co-founder and technical director of Glenoaks Imaging. “Since I am in radiology, I have multiple scanners I work with and their sources. I had the source and the company was willing to work this us.”
With the sensitivity of the equipment and the endeavor in mind, that company, Shakhbandaryan said, threw in an extra box of parts that have presented the highest likelihood of failure during installation. The Glendale resident said he felt honored to be part of such a community effort.
“I was just blown away,” he said. “It took like a day and a half to collect the money for it.”
“It’s not Amazon Prime,” Dorian quipped. “It was a massive team effort. The way in which technology has allowed for things to happen quicker … to be able to use services like Zelle or Venmo, everybody making phone calls and texting friends. When you have a single-minded goal, if you can all rally around a single focused purchase, it makes things a lot easier.”
Packaging and shipping the 7,500-pound piece of equipment was another challenge for team members, but they assembled a crate and were ready to load it onto a plane when Turkey — which militarily supports Azerbaijan and has no diplomatic ties with Armenia — began grounding flights into Armenia that used Turkish airspace.
“That’s when Turkey blocked the airways for flight paths,” Dorian said. “The previous planes that had gone for humanitarian relief were grounded in other countries, like Georgia, so it was a political issue. This was the first plane that was going to be a direct flight from LAX to Yerevan.”
As the scanner was being shipped via Qatar Airways, those involved began engaging the Arab kingdom for a diplomatic solution. Qatar and Turkey have bolstered their relationship in recent years over mutual animosity with the Saudi-centric Persian Gulf states, and are engaged by proxy in the Libyan civil war. (Qatar also has a political and military relationship with Iran, which maintains a relatively close relationship with Armenia.)
After a flight plan was approved, there was another hitch after the scanner pinged as a “hazardous weapon.” After that issue was rectified, crews received the scanner in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, on Monday, Oct. 19 — essentially three weeks after the war ignited. The device ultimately made its way to a medical facility in Kapan, a village in southern Armenia near the border of the disputed region.
“Putting it in a truck is one thing, but putting it on a plane and sending it on a direct flight in a 747 has never been done before,” Dorian said. “It was really something no one had done, and we learned on the fly. The key is, when you’re dedicated and passionate and know that people’s lives depend on it and time is of the essence, people get things done.”

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