“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined such progress.”
Ophthalmology is in Dr. Alex Malayan’s blood. Now the Chief Ophthalmologist in Armenia, Dr. Malayan grew up in a family of doctors. His father, Sergey, who also served as the country’s chief ophthalmologist in the 1970s, had a lifelong dream to build a quality eye hospital in the country’s capital. The dream became a reality when the Republican Eye Hospital — now the S. Malayan Ophthalmological Center — was completed in Yerevan in 1978. Sadly, two months after the hospital opened, Dr. Malayan’s father passed away.
Knowing how much ophthalmology and the new hospital meant to his father, Dr. Malayan made a lifelong commitment to continue his father’s legacy and dedicate his life to the hospital. He graciously accepted the role of Chief Ophthalmologist in Armenia and made a promise to provide the best eye care in the country.
In the years following the opening of the hospital, Armenia faced many challenges — a devastating earthquake in 1988, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992 and a war with Azerbaijan that lasted through 1994. Armenians struggled with a number of serious economic obstacles in every sector and all impacted access to health care. Dr. Malayan’s hospital was inundated with people injured in the war — half of whom were children — and the chief ophthalmologist was overwhelmed with patients seeking care.
It was about this time that Dr. Roger Ohanesian, an ophthalmologist working in Laguna Beach, California, received a fax from Armenia’s Ministry of Health asking all doctors in the Diaspora to help during this critical time in their homeland. Without hesitation, Dr. Ohanesian answered the call and traveled to Armenia. Working at the hospital in archaic conditions and seeing as many as 120 patients a day, Dr. Ohanesian recognized that Armenia was in desperate need of help. He returned to America, subsequently founded the Armenian EyeCare Project and began working closely with Dr. Malayan.
“We started our cooperation in the hardest of times, without running water or electricity,” said Dr. Malayan. “What we were missing was the knowledge of modern medicine.”
Almost instantly the two talented ophthalmologists developed a strong bond and formed a productive partnership combining their resources to offer the best eye care in Armenia.
First up — a Fellowship Program was created. Armenia’s top ophthalmologists traveled to the U.S. for one year to train in their subspecialty at one of the U.S.’s premier medical institutions. Following the completion of their fellowship they returned to Armenia to direct a clinic — fully equipped with advanced equipment — in their subspecialty.
“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined such progress,” said Dr. Malayan.
Reflecting on the medical advancements made possible by the Subspecialty Clinics, Dr. Malayan recalled a time when the state of eye care in Armenia was very different — a time when he would have to send his patients out of the country for care.
“With every referral I would bleed from the heart,” said Dr. Malayan. “As a physician, not being able to treat your patient is torturous.”
However, through medical advancements made possible by the Malayan-Ohanesian partnership, the Armenian EyeCare Project, the Fellowship Program and the Subspecialty Clinics that soon followed, there was a world of difference.
“Now, not only do we not send our patients away for treatment, other countries send their patients to us for care,” Dr. Malayan said with a big smile.
He also shares that Dr. Ohanesian came into his life at a time when he needed it most.
“I was able to work with my father for just two short months. Each time I entered the hospital or performed surgery I imagined him sitting in the corner of the room watching over me,” said Dr. Malayan solemnly. “But that void was filled with Roger at my side. And for that, I am very grateful to him.”
Through Dr. Malayan’s partnership with Dr. Ohanesian and the Armenian EyeCare Project, the Malayan Ophthalmological Center in Yerevan has evolved into the state-of-the-art medical center that Dr. Malayan and his father envisioned — a place where Armenia’s most talented ophthalmologists treat patients in their subspecialties; where advanced surgical techniques along with cutting-edge medical equipment are used; and where people from throughout the surrounding regions come for quality care.
“I’m very happy,” Dr. Malayan concludes. “And my father is happy too.”