Thirty-seven children and young adults seriously injured in the earthquake that devastated Soviet Armenia two months ago were flown Thursday to the United States for free medical treatment.
The victims arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., and from there were transported to hospitals in Philadelphia; Chicago; Buffalo, N.Y.; Boston; Tampa, Fla.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Columbus, Ohio, and Charlottesville, Va.The airlift was sponsored by Project Hope, a non-profit organization providing medical care and health education throughout the world, with help from the U.S. and Soviet governments.
The medical treatment will be provided free of charge by the hospitals, where the victims are expected to remain for at least two months and perhaps up to six months.
The victims suffered injuries ranging from crushed arms to severed limbs to paralysis in the Dec. 7 earthquake that rocked the Soviet republic of Armenia and killed an estimated 25,000 people.
Each child flown from the Soviet Union was accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Six children will be treated at two Philadelphia hospitals. One of them, Haroutyoun Sarkissian, 14, arrived at Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in good spirits and carrying a teddy bear. He earlier underwent an amputation and was brought to the hospital to be fitted with an artificial limb.
"He was smiling," hospital spokeswoman Olga Melendez said. "His dad was a little scared or bewildered."
She said local Armenian-American residents were opening their homes to the parents or guardians of the children and donating clothing, food, and blood. The residents also plan to raise funds to help pay for artificial limbs, she said.
"What they have been doing is networking," Melendez said. "They will be available around the clock for translating."
Seven children, ages 5 to 14, and three other patients, ages 17, 22 and 25, were taken to Buffalo, where they will be treated at Children's Hospital and Millard Fillmore Hospital. They will be cared for by physicians from the State University of New York at Buffalo, including Dr. Munro Strong, assistant professor of orthopedics.
Strong returned from Armenia earlier this week after spending nearly two weeks in the Soviet Union with a team of physicians from the United States.
"We found what we expected to find," Strong said. "People there had been working night and day for weeks to take care of the children. But the Armenians know they need our direction, especially in rehabilitation and aspects of orthopedic surgery."