Doctors Travel Far to Help Patients

July 12, 2012 Updated Jul 12, 2012 at 8:13 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By By Jaclyn Asztalos

July 12, 2012 Updated Jul 12, 2012 at 8:13 AM EDT

Nagorno Karabakh Republic (WKBW) - It is called the "Hope for Tomorrow Foundation" and the name says it all.

"This is the 22nd yearly trip for Hope for Tomorrow. During those years, we've been to many countries, usually third world countries, trying to help surgically," Dr. Jeffrey Meilman said.

More than 3,000 surgeries have been performed, over the more than two decades. This year, the group traveled to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic just outside Armenia. As a team, the doctors performed everything from cleft lip surgeries, to vein surgeries. They even helped a small boy whose fingers were fused together on both hands. Dr. Jeffrey Meilman and Dr. Hratch Karamanoukian were two local surgeons who were there.

"We were well received and we split into three groups, each group doing their surgical specialty. We had orthopedic surgeons, plastic surgeons and vascular surgeons," Meilman said.

This trip is not only for the doctors and their patients. Students from across Western New York and the country joined in the effort. They participated in surgeries and the doctors said they got an experience of a lifetime.

"It's practical clinical experience that I received. I got to see that and how important it is in changing the lives of people," Daemen College Student Anne Nikirk said.

Loyola University Student Kristan Blum agrees.

"It's an experience that I just couldn't get back at home," Blum said.

"We incorporate them in our medical, surgical mission. They see patients and screen them. They take care of them," Dr. Karamanoukian said.

Dr. Meilman said it is an amazing opportunity for these students.

"They had hands on experience and for students at their level it's just not available here in the United States," Meilman said.

Dr. Karamanoukian is of Armenian decent. He said this trip meant a lot to him. The doctor also said that the area has been touch by war and political turmoil so he wanted to leave something behind that could help the people in the future. He taught a local surgeon his vein surgery techniques and donated more than $50,000 in supplies and equipment.

"We donated two machines, a dopler machine and vein laser machine. We also established a vein treatment center, which is the only one in the country," Dr. Karamanoukian said.

At the end of their trip, the group made their way to Italy and Vatican City.

"My greeting goes to the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation from the United States," Pope Benedict XVI said.

Pope Benedict XVI recognized the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation. He even blessed a young boy who was helped by the foundation last year.

"The Pope embraced him and gave him a kiss on the head and blessed him. It was the first time I saw him smile so I think it got through to him who that man was and what that experience was for him," Dr. Jack Huebschmann said.

The doctors said they hope to see more sights like this, as they bring "Hope for Tomorrow" to people across the world.