“Now when I hold my child, I know he will have a fulfilling life…”
A happy couple, Armen and Karine began to start a family soon after getting married. First, they had a beautiful little girl. Then, they were expecting twins. Unfortunately, Armen and Karine’s joyful lives came to a sudden halt when their twins were born premature and one twin passed away shortly after birth.
Though the other twin, little baby Eric, survived, he still had many health complications of his own. This included a diagnosis of retinopathy of prematurity in both eyes, which is a crippling eye disease found in premature infants that leads to blindness if not treated swiftly.
As the days went on, Eric’s eye disease progressed and soon, doctors noticed that he had no sight in both eyes. Eric’s parents, Armen and Karine, were bewildered on what to do.
In the past, surgeries to treat retinopathy of prematurity were not available in Armenia. Children like Eric would either permanently go blind or have to travel to Russia for care, which was a daunting thought considering how fragile premature infants are.
“I refused to believe that this was it and I had hopes for another solution,” Karine said.
Luckily, Armen and Karine were introduced to the Armenian EyeCare Project (AECP) and our Center of Excellence for the Prevention of Childhood Blindness, which screens and treats babies with retinopathy of prematurity and other eye diseases that affect children.
With USAID’s help, the AECP opened its Center of Excellence, equipped with a cutting-edge operating room and the latest medical equipment, in 2012, inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Yerevan where premature infants are cared for. The proximity of our eye center to the NICU was an innovative idea that even advanced medical institutions in the U.S. have not yet adopted.
“No children’s hospital in the United States has what Armenia has,” Dr. Thomas Lee, Director of The Vision Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said.
And because treatment for retinopathy of prematurity is an extremely difficult surgery, the AECP has invested in training local doctors in Armenia to perform this delicate procedure.
At the AECP’s Center of Excellence, Dr. Tadevos Hovhannisyan, a local ophthalmologist who now specializes in retinal surgeries, operated on both of Eric’s eyes – a procedure that took six long hours.
Fortunately, the surgery was a success and little Eric was able to regain vision in his eyes.
“After the surgery, I was finally able to breathe,” Armen said. “I can see the difference!”
“Now he pays attention to his toys, follows my movement and recognizes me,” Karine added.
Armen and Karine are ecstatic that their baby boy, who once had a very real possibility of being blind for the rest of his life, has been blessed with the gift of sight.
“Now when I hold my child, I know he will be attending preschool and will have a fulfilling life,” Karine said with a wide smile.
What’s more, it’s important to note that Eric is just one success story. Since our Center of Excellence opened in Armenia, the AECP has screened roughly 20,000 prematurely born infants in the country and provided sight-saving surgery or treatment to over 500 babies. We continue to do this invaluable work through our donors’ generosity and support.