Dr. Catena leaves the Nuba Mountains only in utter necessity. Nominated in 2016, he was not able to leave his patients and those who come to him for help. In 2017, his trip to Yerevan became possible thanks to three Armenian doctors, who left for the war-ravaged region to substitute the sole surgeon in the hospital.
Selected as the 2017 Aurora Prize Laureate from more than 550 nominations submitted from 66 countries, Dr. Catena received a $100,000 grant and the opportunity to continue the cycle of giving by donating the accompanying $1,000,000 award to organizations of his choice, these being African Mission Healthcare Foundation (AMHF), U.S., Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB), U.S. and Aktion Canchanabury, Germany.
“Receiving Aurora’s offer to go to South Sudan, we agreed without hesitation. We were all so deeply impressed by Dr. Catena’s story,” the Armenian doctors confess.
Lieutenant Colonel Gevorg Voskanyan has served as a military doctor for 23 years. He is now the chief surgeon at the Central Clinical Military Hospital of Armenia, where Major Hayk Hovhannisyan is the Deputy Chief of the Surgery Unit. Gynecologist Armine Barkhudaryan, who was on a humanitarian mission in the hospital of Malindi, Kenya, joined her colleagues in Sudan.
Before leaving for Armenia, Dr. Catena introduced them to the locals.
“It was during the Sunday Mass. The people living there are mostly Catholics. When Dr. Catena announced that three doctors from Armenia arrived to substitute him, some of them looked at us doubtfully, but this didn’t last long. At the end of our mission, they didn’t want to let us go,” Dr. Hovhannisyan says.
Dr. Barkhudaryan, in turn, adds that she still receives letters from the Kenyan hospital. “When I heard Dr. Catena’s life story in 2016, I understood that I know nothing about real hard work. Although I was not sure I will succeed, I contacted a Kenyan hospital and was accepted. When I received the offer from Aurora, I was happy, because I got another opportunity to work in a place, where people need help badly.”
Hardships in Nuba Mountains
The hardest feeling in any doctor’s career is the loss of a patient. “One of my patients was seriously injured. We performed the surgery and did our best, but he died three days later. It was very hard,” Dr. Hovhannisyan says.
According to Dr. Voskanyan, the most necessary equipment in a hospital is the device for artificial respiration. “I once lost a patient, because of the lack of this device. I could nothing but pray for him,” he says.
Dr. Barkhudaryan says she has recently helped delivery over 20 babies.
Although all three doctors confess that the most difficult thing was working in extreme conditions, they firmly say they would like to continue cooperation with the hospital in the Nuba Mountains.
“There are no concrete agreements yet, but Dr. Catena has projects that can be implemented. I hope we can go there in 2018,” Dr. Voskanyan says, adding that he performed his first eye surgery in the Sudanese hospital.
Dr. Catena has introduced a system that makes the work in the hospital easier, Hovhannisyan notes. “He has a team of smart assistants; otherwise it would be impossible to work at a torrid pace.”
Armenian doctors for Nuba residents
Most of South Sudan residents have never heard about Armenia, doctors say. “We now hope that Armenia will now be associated with people who helped them,” Dr. Voskanyan says.
They don’t think of themselves as of heroes, but philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan, one of the co-founders Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, says he is proud of the Armenian doctors. “I am thankful to them for all they have done. It’s really a heroic deed. Although we [Armenians] live in hard times, we still find strength to help the others,” he says.