Masis Atabekyan, 45 y/o
Fate doesn’t play favorites. For the Atabekyan family, however, generosity can. Two years ago, extreme poverty brought Masis and Loreta Atabekyan and their daughters Diana and Milena from Armenia’s southern Goris province to the village of Tairov, near Yerevan. They live in a rusty metal shack at the end of a dirt road, paying 20,000 drams [~$65 USD] per month in rent. “You can’t find anything cheaper,” says Loreta. Masis is the family’s sole breadwinner; all money earned through difficult construction jobs is spent on rent, food, and minimal essentials for the family. Like in many poor Armenian families, life for the Atabekyans is a day-to-day challenge to survive. However, two tragic episodes – and two inspiring recoveries – set this family apart.
In 2007, seven-year-old Diana received heavy burns in a firework accident at a school Christmas performance. “Everyone was screaming in horror as Diana’s white snowgirl dress was devoured by fire from the sparklers…my child was burning inside that flame,” Loreta recalls. “The fire burned through her dress to her body, leaving her skin horribly drooped. No one dared to approach her.”
Medical treatment was far beyond what the Atabekyans could afford. The incident was widely covered by Armenian and international media, and generous individuals came to Diana’s aid. Thanks to volunteers from Armenian communities in New Jersey and Boston, Diana underwent three surgeries, including one at the Shriner’s Hospital in Boston. Further surgeries are planned for restoring her health.
The Atabekyans faced fate anew in summer of 2008: Masis fell several stories after sustaining a 10,000-volt electricity shock at his construction site. His many significant injuries included a traumatic cataract preventing any vision out of his left eye. Unable to work as a result, Masis faced the sobering reality of unemployment, knowing that he would not be able to provide for his family.
Generous Americans again came to Atabekyans’ aid. Upon the request of Laura Bilazarian Purutyan from Boston, the Armenian EyeCare Project provided the sight-saving surgery for Masis. It was performed by AECP ophthalmologist Asatour Hovsepyan on January 26, 2010 at the Malayan Eye Center in Yerevan. The cataract was successfully removed, there were no complications, and vision was completely restored.
The day of Masis’ post-operative checkup and bandage removal was memorable. Loreta and five-year-old Milena eagerly asked Masis what he saw as he removed the patch. He was silent for a moment, then erupted in joyful exclamations and a wide grin. “I thought I would never see again, but now I see better than before!” Soon he was playing with Milena in the Malayan Eye Center garden. “We are so thankful to all of you for this … I knew that together we could overcome…” Loreta said through tears.
Masis is just one of thousands of Armenians whose lives have been changed by the Armenian EyeCare Project. By restoring vision, the Project provides hope – and very tangible second chances – to people like Masis. These stories energize AECP staff members, who know that patients’ restored sight often means restored livelihood and provision for their families. Indeed, tragedy may occur twice, but generosity is refreshingly unaware of its limitations.
Our mission is eliminating
preventable blindness and
making eye care accessible to
all people in Armenia.