Cleveland Community Rallies Around Teen from Armenia Suffering from Leukemia

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Funds Desperately Needed for Costly Treatments

By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

CLEVELAND — When one thinks of a major Armenian community in the US, certainly Glendale, Fresno and Watertown come to mind. However, it seems when it comes to the true meaning of community, the folks in Cleveland make up for their small size with their generous hearts.

The community, through St. Gregory of Narek Church and its pastor, Fr. Hratch Sargsyan, is rallying behind Stella Arakelyan, 17, a leukemia patient from Armenia has been receiving care at the Cleveland Clinic since May. Stella is accompanied by her mother, Iren.

In a letter to the Mirror-Spectator, she wrote, “Four days before her prom in Yerevan, Armenia, she was diagnosed with Philadelphia Chromosome Positive Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. This diagnosis came as a shock to her family and friends and herself. At the tender age of 10 she had already been diagnosed with another life-threatening disease — diabetes. Stella had endured her illness with extraordinary strength and maturity, but this new blow and the terrifying diagnosis of cancer has put a stop to her dreams.”

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Iren Arakelyan, speaking by phone from Cleveland, praised the community for its warmth and support in this trying time.

Speaking in Armenian, she said, “I have no relatives here, no one or nothing. Now I feel I am surrounded by people who are all dear to me and my child. There are such good people here in Cleveland. They are all taking care of me.”

Stella Arakelyan goes into Cleveland Clinic for monthly chemotherapy treatments, her mother said. This month was the third such treatment, the last part of a three-month cycle.

The results after this last round will be analyzed at the end of August, at which time, the next course of action will be determined. Iren Arakelyan, herself a physician as is her husband, Levon, said that there is about an 80-percent chance that their daughter will require a bone marrow transplant.

“It is very difficult,” Iren Arakelyan said. “Still, we are fighting it. Stella is an excellent student. She wants to go to medical school too and become a doctor,” said her mother. “She is very beautiful and smart. We are fighting with God’s help. We have no choice.”

According to the church website, despite the deep discounts Cleveland Clinic has given the young patient, the cost of the treatment is exorbitant, hovering around $500,000 now and expected to rise if there is the need for a bone marrow transplant.

“We are in the process of initiating a campaign to gather some funds from charitable organizations, however Stella and her mother who are now living in the St. Gregory of Narek parish house are trying to cut even on their daily expenses to save for the treatment. Their needs are not only monetary but spiritual and moral,” read the church’s website.

The Armenian-born Sargsyan took the helm of St. Gregory of Narek Church in 2011, after short stints at St. John Armenian Church of Southfield, Mich. under the guidance of its pastor, the Rev. Garabed Kochakian, and St. Sahag Armenian Church in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.

Sargsyan has opened the doors of the parish house to the Arakelyans and parishioners take turns hosting the family, cooking for them or transporting them.

“We mainly try to support them morally and with our prayers,” Sargysan said. “We don’t give up hope.”

He added, “I feel joyful to see a challenging situation in which fellow Christians and fellow Armenians all come together. Half a million dollars will be hard to raise but for some reason, I don’t lose faith. We need to find those generous people.”

He continued, “It is sad and difficult when I go to the hospital to visit Stella,” but, he added, she is responding well to treatment.

Sargsyan’s and the community’s help means the world to the family. In a statement, Iren Arakelyan wrote, “Father Hratch Sargsyan […] is responsible for our free lodging adjacent to the church and for the invaluable moral support to our family. The benevolence, the atmosphere of constant care and material support has created an ambience of being surrounded by family. Stella is on the very beginning of her path to recovery and the amazing warmth and moral support she is getting from the Armenian community has an immense effect on the success of the healing process. There are no words with which I can express my heartfelt gratitude to the people who have become the pillar of our strength in these few first days. On behalf of my family, I want to thank all who are supporting us with their Christian generosity of spirit in this difficult time.”

Dr. Gevog Yaghjyan, a fellow physician in Armenia who works at Yerevan’s University Hospital N1 with Stella’s parents, got a call from colleague Dr. Bella Grigorian, a neurologist at the same hospital, asking for help for the young girl in the spring.  “I told Bella the truth; the only place where they can get a cutting age treatment and support of Armenian community will be in Cleveland. On May 23 I got the latest lab results from Iren by e-mail and called Dr. Rafi Avitsian with the question, ‘can we help this family. They need our help.’ Rafi’s reaction was ‘Send all the results immediately.’”

Through Avitsian’s coordination with the Cleveland Clinic’s International Department, all the paperwork and visa applications at the US embassy were completed in two days.

Donations can be made via http://www.stgregoryofnarek.org/news/we-need-your-help/ or checks can be mailed to St. Gregory of Narek Church, 678 Richmond Rd., Richmond Heights, OH 44143. Make checks payable to St. Gregory of Narek, memo line: Stella Arakelyan.

Sargysan stressed that if anyone is interested in contacting him about the case, he would be happy to speak to them at 440-264-3541 or fr.hrach@yahoo.com.

There is also a Facebook page titled HelpForStellaAraqelyan.

 

 

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