This is a human interest story about Larissa Torosian, from Yerevan, Armenia. She was recently in Salt Lake City with her 9-year-old daughter, Emma Obosian.
They came at the invitation of local industrialist Jon Huntsman to seek medical help for Emma's eye condition at the Primary Children's Medical Center. The condition, known as Duane's syndrome, was incorrectly diagnosed by Moscow physicians as a paralyzed nerve.According to University of Utah Medical Center surgeon Dr. Rob Hoffman, Duane's syndrome is an abnormality of the brain stem. It manifests itself in the failure of the muscle that turns the eye out. Hoffman says that when Emma wanted to turn her eye out, the message didn't get to her brain.
In Emma's case, the left eye turned in, causing her eyes to appear crossed, and she had to turn her head to look straight.
Even though her condition was quite severe, the surgery made her eyes parallel. According to Dr. George Pingree, who diagnosed the case and assisted Hoffman in the surgery, they loosened the muscle that turns the eye in to make it a weaker muscle. It still can't turn the eye out.
Nevertheless, I saw Emma before and after surgery, and the change was quite remarkable.
The success is a credit not only to the surgeons but to Primary Children's Medical Center and its administrator, Don Poulter, who worked very hard to see the case reach fruition.
Duane's syndrome is common enough that Hoffman sees two or three cases of it a month - mostly in girls, and mostly in the left eye.
Emma's mother didn't trust Armenian doctors to perform the surgery.
"I think they have too low qualifications there. But I felt that in Moscow they could do it. They said that the success rate was 90 percent, but when she was 7 years old - old enough for surgery - they said it was only 50-50. I was frightened, and I said that I can't risk it. It's not just a hand or a leg, and I think it's more dangerous."
Torosian met Huntsman two years ago when he went to Armenia to help victims of the earthquake. As an official of the Ministry of Construction, she and others at the ministry suggested that he provide new technology or new building materials.
Huntsman liked the idea. Torosian worked with him as he traveled to the earthquake zone and translated for him. In June, Huntsman will return to Armenia to dedicate a hospital, an apartment complex and an office building - the permanent result of those humanitarian efforts.
When Huntsman toured Armenian hospitals, complaining about the lack of equipment, Torosian told him of her daughter's medical problems. Immediately, he offered to help. The result was Torosian's first visit to the United States.
She visited Washington, D.C., en route to Salt Lake City and found it to be "a very nice city - like our Leningrad." She was slated to visit Los Angeles and New York before returning to Yerevan.
She is most impressed by the roads, the cars, the private homes ("they are all so different") and the grocery stores. She was determined to get some pictures of the supermarket meat departments before leaving Salt Lake City. "There are 20 different kinds of meat!"
In Armenia she walks everywhere but cannot imagine doing so in Salt Lake City. "Here you must have a car to get around. You get in the car and go everywhere."
Although Torosian's husband is in private enterprise, "the good side of perestroika," she has reservations about Gorbachev's leadership.
"I know he is very popular abroad. He's not so popular in our country. I think he has done a lot in this field - he opened the doors. He allowed people to go and see the world and allowed foreigners to come in. We were just like in prison here really. We just heard from other people about things we couldn't see ourselves. It wouldn't be possible for me to come to the United States five years ago. In this respect I like him.
"Still - things are getting worse and worse with him. When you go to your stores, just imagine that all goods were taken out and you have only empty shelves. To get your eggs and butter you have to wait for several hours for each of them - not just one. If it were only one line and you could get everything at once - but no - you have to stand for five hours for butter, three hours for eggs, three hours for sugar - and that's impossible - you spend most of your time standing in lines.
"You have to know the right people to get food. You see nothing on the shelves, and yet you see someone leave by another door carrying some meat. The women in the United States are spoiled. They don't have to stand in line for eggs and meat."
Torosian is self-assured and highly educated. When she completed a college degree in English and literature, she intended to teach English but was unable to get a job in the city - so she returned to the university and got a degree in economics. Her husband is encouraging her to go into private business to make more money, but she likes her government job.
"Everybody is now interested in economics."
In Torosian's opinion, the move toward private enterprise is not such a big change to her country. "To tell the truth, Armenians had that always. Initiative is in their blood."
It is that initiative in Torosian that caught Huntsman's eye. She energetically helped him accomplish his humanitarian purposes in Armenia - then he helped her and her daughter get expert medical help in America - both permanent contributions in an unusually productive blend of cultures.
It should happen more often.