Eye surgery without anesthesia and a man with a rocket in his eye: Roger Ohanesian’s memories of 1992

August 9, 2017  22:34

On September 10, 1992, eye surgeon Roger Ohanesian (USA) was going to leave for a family vacation to the UK when he received a message that changed his plans for the coming weeks – and for the rest of his life. Ara Grigoryan, Deputy Minister of Health of Armenia, contacted him and other doctors in Diaspora to say that in Armenia there were many injured people in war who needed good doctors.

Doctor Ohanesian called his wife and said that his plans had changed and he had to go to Armenia, where his help was required.

"When my grandfather was young, he returned to Armenia from the US with a group of friends to fight there. He always told me that when the time comes, I, too, will have to return to my historic homeland. So how could I not return? I called my wife who was already in Britain and asked if she would mind if I went to Armenia. She answered that she even envied me, because I had the chance do something for my homeland," Dr. Ohanesian said in an interview with NEWS.am Medicine.

During the following years, Roger Ohanesian often came to Armenia and brought medicine, medical equipment, his knowledge and skills. Together with Armenian doctors he did his best to save the eyes of people who were wounded during the hostilities.

Talking about the most memorable events of 1992 and the following years, Roger Ohanesian remembered a young soldier who was wounded and needed eye surgery. They didn’t have enough anesthetics so they had to operate without them. The guy was given two sharp pieces of glass, he had to squeeze those in his palms to distract from the pain in his eye, which was being operated on.

"I was so impressed with this guy. Obviously he was in pain, because the anesthetics they gave him was not enough, but it was all they had. He just squeezed his hands, the cut glass caused pain in his hands that deferred the pain in his eye. The cornea of his eye that had penetrating wounds was repaired by Doctor Malayan, who was able to put the eye back together again. The young man survived the operation. His eyes are fine now."

A small rocket hit the eye of another young soldier during the hostilities. Usually such rockets explode when they hit something, but that one penetrated the man's eye and started to flare. The man reached out and took the hot burning rocket out of his eye, and then threw it away as far as possible. The rocket exploded, barely touching the ground.

"He had third degree burns to his hands, to his eye and his face... If this rocket exploded in his eye, he would not have had a chance to survive. When he was operated on, he literally died on the operating table, he had a heart attack from the obvious pain, but the doctors restarted his heart, and he lived. The eye was lost, but he still has the other eye."

Later on, plastic surgeon Dr. Howard Kohn was invited to Armenia and performed a number of plastic surgeries, and this man was among his patients. The surgeon repaired his face and placed a patch of skin in the place of his lost eye.

"This man was very happy after the operation, saying that he wouldn’t scare his children anymore. The guy had been a hero in the war, but he was disturbed by the fact that his face was frightening his children."

In those years the doctors had to treat and operate not only on wounded soldiers, but civilians as well, including injured children. Among them was an 8-year-old girl named Tsovinar.

Tsovinar was playing on the street with her brother when a bomb fell near them. The girl grabbed the bomb, but threw it away at her brother's request. The bomb did not explode when it hit the ground, and the curious boy hit it with a stone. The bomb exploded. Both children got shrapnel in their faces and bodies. The boy was bleeding badly, yet he was able to tell his sister to call their parents.

But the girl did not reach their parents. A car driving by found her unconscious, covered in blood, and took her to the hospital. Only there, when she came round, she could tell about her elder brother who needed help. But it was too late – when the adults found him, the boy was already dead.

The girl had penetrating wounds in her eyes, so she was brought to Yerevan and underwent surgery. She now has good vision in both eyes.

The girl has grown a beautiful young woman now. A few days ago she got married, and she invited to her wedding the members of the Armenian EyeCare Project, which Dr. Ohanesyan founded after the events of those years.

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