A Tragic Landmine Accident
More than ten years have now passed since that horrific day when two of the three Arstamyan’s young children were involved in a tragic landmine accident.
In Nagorno-Karabagh and along the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan doctors continue to deal with injuries from landmines and other explosives, especially among children. “A miracle,” said the parents of one victim. A miracle that the AECP Mobile Eye Hospital just happened to be in Karabagh with a team of ophthalmologists on the horrific day that two of their three young children were injured.
Three o’clock in the afternoon. Eleven-year-old Albert Ashot Arstamyan and his sister, nine-year-old Tsovinar, were playing at a favorite playground for village children — Ttot, or Mulberry Park in Gishi. Tsovinar saw something on the ground and picked it up. Albert immediately recognized the pellet bomb (forbidden by international treaties) and told his sister, “Quickly. Throw it away.” Tsovinar tossed the bomb, but it did not explode. This piqued Albert’s curiosity. Maybe he made a mistake and it wasn’t dangerous. Deciding to have a closer look, Albert picked up the deadly piece of metal and tried to break it with a stone. The explosion killed Albert and seriously injured Tsovinar.
Wounded and bleeding, Tsovinar left her dying brother in the field. Slowly she crawled for help, reaching the fence that separates the field from the highroad. But, as she climbed over the iron road fence, Tsovinar lost consciousness. One tiny leg caught on the fence. A passing motorist noticed the small child hanging on the fence and rushed her to the hospital. Tsovinar was operated on for a ruptured liver and multiple wounds, but the full extent of her injuries was not known until she was able to talk.
A few days after surgery Tsovinar complained about something in her eye. She needed to see a specialist. By sheer coincidence, the Mobile Eye Hospital was in Karabagh. The child, unable to walk, was cradled in her father’s arms as he carried her to a team of waiting doctors on the MEH.
The doctors agreed. Tsovinar’s injury—a piece of shrapnel precariously imbedded in the corner of her eye—required immediate surgery under a general anesthetic. Following travel arrangements made for them and paid for by the EyeCare Project, Tsovinar and her parents, still reeling from the loss of Albert, made the seven-hour drive to Yerevan (leaving three-year old sister Aspram with neighbors) where doctors at the Malayan Ophthalmological Center were awaiting her arrival so they could operate and remove the piece of metal, at no cost to the family.
Today, Tsovinar’s eye has healed. Though the family will always struggle with the agony of Albert’s death, “at least we were able to reduce the family’s pain with Tsovinar’s surgery,” said Dr. Ohanesian, head of the surgical team. Continuing, he said, “I will never forget the smiles from the child and her parents. They sustain all of us and make our efforts worthwhile.”