Yerevan State Medical University graduate, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery Department at University of Maryland, USA, urologist and neurosurgeon Kaspar Keledjian is a worthy descendant of the generation that survived the Armenian Genocide. From Beirut to Yerevan, from Yerevan to Beirut again, and then to Maryland, USA – this was the difficult but fulfilling path of the future doctor.
«My grandparents from father’s side, as well as my grandfather from mother’s side are from Sis, Kilikia, my other grand mom is from Kars. They all came to Lebanon in the 1918-1923 period. This was after the Genocide. My grandfather heard that there was French ship in Mersin, took his wife, mother and one-year-old son and got on the ship, which brought them to Tripoli, north of Lebanon. My mother’s father was an orphan in a French orphanage», - says Kaspar Keledjian.
- Dr. Keledjian, how did you decide to become a doctor? Was that your dream?
I’ve always been interested in science and biology. During the civil war in Lebanon, where I was born and grew up, medicine was very appreciated, respected. The war was causing lots of casualties and injuries, and I wanted to help people the best way I could, I wanted to help them heal their wounds. Being a doctor was one good way to save lives, so I applied to the Yerevan State Medical Institute to study medicine.
- What kind of difficulties can you mention in the profession of a doctor?
Being a doctor is challenging somehow, and you accept that when you decide to become one. In a way, you’re always «on call», you might be on vacation and you might be called to save someone’s life. Also, there’s the challenge of not letting your patients, their pain impact you negatively, so that you’re able to find the right solution to their health problems. If we speak about challenges during my studies, there were multiple challenges as Armenia was going through difficult times during the last days of the Soviet Union and then in the few years of post-independence. To name a professional challenge, it was the lack of medical literature in the Armenian language during my student years, so we always had to rely mainly on lectures. We had to complement our knowledge by reading English books, if available.
- What privileges do you enjoy being a doctor?
The most important privilege I would say is the satisfaction you get by positively affecting your patients’ lives every day, the contribution you make to their lives, and also the opportunity to advance medical science through taking part in research and finding new cures.
- Please, tell a little bit about your career ladder. I know it will take a long time as your achievements are so much, but, anyway, I would like to ask you to mention them shortly if it is possible.
After graduating medical school, I did my residency in Urology under the mentorship of late Dr. Ivan Aghajanyan at The Mikaelyan Institute of Surgery. I passed the board exams in Lebanon successfully and set up my urology clinic in Beirut, Lebanon where I worked for some time. However, the economic and political difficulties in Lebanon made me migrate back to Armenia, where I started as an urology fellow at the National Institute of Health of Armenia, working at the Department of Urology at The Mikaelyan Institute of Surgery, under the mentorship of late Dr. Aghajanyan and Dr. Sergey Fanarjyan. While working there, I got invited to do research on prostate at the University of Maryland in the U.S. I joined the lab through an exchange scientist program invitation and worked there for two years and produced three first authorship publications on prostate and alpha blockers. Upon my American mentor’s leaving to another University, I realized I was attracted to research, so I decided to join other research projects at the University of Maryland in trauma and surgery, and then I met Prof. J. Marc Simard, a highly professional neurosurgeon and a successful scientist; who hired me at his lab. In the last decade my work was focused on pathophysiology of chronic neuroinflammation induced by central nervous system injury, such as traumatic brain injury, blast brain injury, spinal cord injury, gulf war illness and multiple sclerosis (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis) etc. Currently I am an assistant professor at the same department, working on multiple preclinical and translational projects related to the inflammation of the central nervous system.
- How do you fight the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in Maryland? From your point of view, what are the most effective measures for the struggle against it? Could you mention any state or states that effectively struggle and prevent its spread?
Maryland is one of the states that are managing the pandemic in a good way, and here the University of Maryland is involved in works related to developing and testing a vaccine and improving testing kits. They also keep us updated with all the instructions of the Centre for Disease Control, so we’re good. The effective way to fight the pandemic actually is to follow the guidelines of public health authorities, always sanitize, wear a mask, wash your hands and keep your physical distance from others, especially from vulnerable people. Till a vaccine is found, these are the measures that we could follow to keep the pandemic under control and save lives.
- Do you manage to relax? How do you do it? What are your hobbies?
Working in research takes time and consistency, sometimes you have to work late hours and on holidays or weekends; you have to constantly read new articles to keep up with the novelty in certain field. So, whenever you have a chance to relax, you have to go for it. I’ve been a scout, always in close contact with nature, and luckily, Maryland is a very beautiful state, with many great parks and abundance of greenery; the seashore is not that far as well. So, I go for walks in nature, do biking, explore new towns and meet friends. Every autumn, I join a small group of nature lovers and follow the migration of hawks from north to south.
- You are a graduate of Yerevan State Medical University. What do you remember from your education there? Do you keep in touch with your classmates?
I’ve enjoyed my years at the Yerevan State Medical University, and I had great classmates. A few years back, we reconnected thanks to Facebook, created a group of graduates, and we regularly share news or post old pictures; it brings back good memories of the years at the university and helps us keep in touch.
- What do you miss from your homeland?
Armenia is always in my heart, wherever I go. Of course, I miss my days there, my friends there, I miss the food, the water, the atmosphere…. the nature. Armenian hospitality is different. No matter where I visit, Armenia always remains special.
- Are you planning to visit Armenia in the future?
Definitely. Actually, I was planning to visit this Summer, and obviously COVID changed all the plans. I will visit as soon as possible, once life is back to normal.
- As an experienced doctor with a rich professional path, what advice would you give to future doctors?
I’d advise them to keep developing themselves professionally, to continue challenging themselves and never forget that their call is to serve their patients, to make a positive impact in their lives.
Author: Tatevik Ghazaryan