Armenia Honors Consummate Volunteer Physician
Posted By Tom Vartabedian On December 8, 2010
MANHASSET, N.Y.—On the day when a tumultuous earthquake rocked Armenia, Dr. Louis Najarian was back home in New York celebrating a birthday, unaware that buildings were being toppled in Spitak and Gyumri resulting in the loss of more than 25,000 lives.
The date—Dec. 7, 1988—continues to maintain an indelible imprint in the life of this prominent New York physician. Since then, he has made annual trips to the homeland, providing medical support to those in dire need and helping to rehabilitate the country both physically and mentally.
Once and twice a year, he puts his medical practice on hold, takes leave from his family and friends, negates his personal life, and heads to Armenia where he spends weeks providing crisis intervention to victims.
It’s his birthday gift to humanity—a volunteer role he’s played for the past 22 years at no cost to the country. Much of the expense has been absorbed out of his own pocket, except for an occasional stipend. At first, the project was under the auspices of the Armenian Relief Society’s (ARS) Western Region in California. They financed the expense and sent many clinicians to work with him at both cities. Unfortunately, the ARS decided to close the clinics in spite of the tremendous need.
That has not prevented Najarian from traveling and working on his own. He’s become more than enamored by his mission of faith and loyalty.
“The primary goal for a physician is to heal,” he said. “Many choose clinical practice, research or academia. Some aspire to chair departments. Others become administrators. It’s a rare opportunity to influence one’s discipline in an entire country. The earthquake, world political events, and my upbringing with immigrant grandparents [genocide survivors from Govdoon Sepastia] allowed me to give something on their behalf and impact the mental health delivery system of our homeland.”
Now, the country has reached out to Najarian. While presenting a research paper on resilience and an 18-year follow-up on earthquake victims, he was presented a coveted Mghitar Heratsi Gold Medal for contributions in the fields of education, science, and medicine.
The award came as a total surprise from the region’s Yerevan State Medical University and was presented before 150 international specialists attending a three-day conference in October. Also there to applaud him were Dr. Samvel Torossian, chief psychiatrist of Armenia; Dr. Armen Soghoyan, president of the Armenian Psychiatric Association; and Dr. Khachatur Gasparyan, chairman of the Medical University’s department of psychology.
The award followed several others Najarian has received in the past, but from America. His work in psychiatric care has remained pivotal and appreciated. The Gold Medal reflects his highest and proudest achievement.
Mghitar Heratsi was a 6th-century philosopher and physician in Armenia who contributed much toward medical care, research, and humanism at the time. He was often called the Armenian Hippocrates.
The medical institute was part of Yerevan State University until 10 years ago when it was established as a separate university and named Yerevan State Medical University after Mghitar Heratsi.
“A lot of the credit goes to Dean Gohar Kyalyan for doing a tremendous job in renovating the facility and enhancing the quality of medical education in Armenia,” said Najarian. “The curriculum now follows that of Boston University’s Medical School due to the efforts of Dr. Aram Chobanian.”
One week after presenting his paper and being given the medal, Najarian delivered the same research on resilience at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at its annual meeting in New York and received considerable attention.
“There are no specific reports of an 18-year follow-up on the functioning of adults who were traumatized as children,” he pointed out. “Our research on treatment of traumatized children has provided the foundation for intervention in other disasters such as the war in Bosnia, along with September 11 and Hurricane Katrina in this country.”
According to Najarian, all clinicians working in the area of trauma refer first to the “Armenian studies” in the scientific literature.
“Our goal was service, training, scientific inquiry, and the ability to put Armenia on the world psychiatric map,” he added. “Every opportunity I have to address organizations, I encourage people in all disciples that their expertise is needed in Armenia. Many medical specialists have spent time in Armenia as Fulbright Scholars. For me, it’s been an opportunity and privilege to do in Armenia what I have done in New York and I couldn’t let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass.”
Najarian is well-known throughout the Armenian community of America as an activist, proud parent, organizational impresario, and sports aficionado. With a son like Berj, he has no choice at the athletic end. The younger Najarian happens to be the personal secretary to New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and has three Super Bowl rings to show for it.
Louis and his wife Elenne are also parents to two other sons, Haig and Aram, both college-educated with fine jobs.
“While living in Gyumri for a year (1990-91), Najarian stayed with a family of seven in an attached trailer while working to establish mental health clinics there. He maintained his own sanity by visiting churches and playing his clarinet, also sailing on Lake Sevan and skiing at Dzagnadzor resort.
“I came home twice and Elenne visited me once,” he recalled. “It was a bigger sacrifice for my family but the timing was right for everyone. After I returned, it took me three months to resume a full-time private practice. My family has given me its full support and for that I’ve been thankful.”
Najarian received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and his MD from St. Louis University of Medicine. He continues to work as a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University of Medicine. His private practice deals primarily with children.
He is a member of the Karaghuesian Corporation Board of Directors in New York, helping supervise the operation of six dental clinics in Armenia in addition to providing medical support to youngsters and families in Beirut and Aleppo. He also belongs to the Parish Council of Holy Martyrs Armenian Church in Bayside.
Where he finds the time to play clarinet with the theatrical group, “The Way We Were,” which staged “Hello Ellis Island,” is anyone’s guess, not to mention skiing with his grandchildren and sailing competitively in Rockport, Mass., where the family owns property.
“The future holds a lifetime of commitment—one person at a time,” he maintains. “I’ll continue to consult and provide continuing education for as long as the opportunity and need persist. It’s been my calling and I’ve answered it.”