Rep. Terry E. Haskins

Commemorating Genocide: Background to Recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the South Carolina House and Senate

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By Dr. Agop Y. Bedikian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

March 2018 was the 19th anniversary of recognition of the Armenian Genocide by South Carolina. The bill to recognize it was introduced by representatives Terry E. Haskins and Jeff E. Smith. It was recognized by the South Carolina House on March 4, 1999 and by the State Senate on March 17, 1999. Through H. 3678 Concurrent Resolution, the State of South Carolina declared recognition of April 24, 1999 as ‘South Carolina day of remembrance of the Armenian genocide of 1915-1923” so as to honor the memory of the 1.5 million people of Armenian ancestry who lost their lives during the genocide. The total population of South Carolina at the time was about 4 million, of which about 0.1 percent were Armenians. With so few Armenians living in the state, how did South Carolina recognize the Armenian Genocide? Rep. Terry E. Haskins played a key role in this effort. It is long overdue for Armenians recognize his effort in this process and honor his accomplishment. Here is the background as related to this historic achievement.

Dr. Agop Bedikian

I met Rep. Haskins in 1996, when he came to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas for consultation regarding management of his advanced cancer. His skin cancer (malignant melanoma) was located at the right shoulder. It was excised in 1973. After appropriate surgery, he remained free of disease until January 1995, when he felt a lump at his right axilla. A biopsy from the lump showed melanoma metastatic to a lymph node. He had appropriate lymphadenectomy which rendered him free of disease. He received melanoma vaccine therapy to prevent tumor recurrence.

However, in January 1996 he was found to have systemic metastases. He came to the MD Anderson cancer center to see me in April 1996 after it was determined that the interferon therapy he was receiving had not worked.  Radiologic evaluation showed metastases to the lung, lymph nodes and skin. He was hospitalized and started on concurrent biochemotherapy, including cisplatin, vinblastine, dacarbazine, interferon and interleukin-2. He received this therapy for 3 months and achieved complete remission.

Unfortunately, his disease came back in October 1998. He was started on sequential biochemotherapy this time; i.e. administration of combination chemotherapy followed by biotherapy with interferon plus interleukin-2. He achieved complete response to therapy for the second time. Then, he went to the John Wayne Cancer Clinic in Santa Monica, Calif. for investigative new melanoma vaccine treatment. After receiving melanoma vaccine for 6 months, he was found to have new brain metastasis.

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He returned to the MD Anderson cancer center. Radiologic restaging confirmed multiple metastases in the cerebral cortex. While the brain metastases were being treated with stereotactic radiosurgery with the gamma knife, new lesions showed up in the cerebellum. In addition, MRI of the brain indicated involvement of meninges. Examination of cerebrospinal fluid confirmed development of meningeal carcinomatosis. The patient went to Duke University for intrathecal chemotherapy. The treatment failed to control his central nervous metastases. He developed right facial paralysis and lost the function of his left upper extremity. In addition, he developed multiple new systemic metastases. He expired on October 24, 2000.

During one of the biochemotherapy treatments in the fall of 1998, Terry developed the well-known, dreaded adverse effect of interleikin-2, i.e. severe drop of blood pressure.  When uncontrolled, it causes multi-organ failure involving the kidney, heart, lung, liver and central nervous system. For that reason, in the MD Anderson Cancer Center, interleukin-2 is administered in specially designated rooms under the supervision of trained nurses who constantly monitor the blood pressure, urine output and patient’s organ functions. Normally a trained nurse is assigned for every 2 to 3 patients receiving interleukin-2 on the week-days.

Terry developed severe hypotension with shock and multi-organ failure on the last day of interleukin-2 treatment on Friday afternoon. In view of this serious development and the expected decreased medical and nursing personnel during the week-end, I decided to spend the night in the hospital taking care of him. I informed his nurse of my decision so that she could concentrate on her other patients. Throughout the night, I administered a dopamine drip to maintain adequate perfusion of the vital organs and adjusted the rate of administration of IV fluid based on the urine output and the status of cardiopulmonary functions. The patient was very unstable and could not be transferred to the intensive care unit located in an adjacent building.

On Saturday afternoon, he started recovering from the shock: his blood pressure normalized, urine output increased and the lungs cleared. He started responding appropriately to questions. By the evening, when he was fully awake, he noticed I was to his bed side. He asked me what I was doing in the hospital when I had no week-end duty. I told him he had a rough night; I spent the night with him to help him recover from the severe interleukin-2 related hypotension. He thanked me for doing so.

Then, he started to ask personal questions including about my education, ethnic background and relatives in Lebanon. Although I felt uneasy, I did not mind continuing the conversation because I wanted to evaluate the extent of recovery of his mentation from the adverse effect of the severe hypotension. He persisted in his desire to know more about me and family. Since it was my day off, I asked him how far I should go. He told me as far as I could.

In the past, I have had similar intimate conversation with 2 doctors not involved in my training.  Both times, the outcome had a life-changing impact on the realization of my aspiration to become cancer specialist. After the loss of my father to throat cancer, I was determined to sacrifice anything to achieve that goal. During the first instance, I was called in by Dr. John Vavra, who was the head of the Washington University-supervised internal medical service at the City Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. He told me he was very impressed by my hard work, dedication and compassion toward my patients and offered me residency training at the Washington University Medical Center even though I was on the St. Louis University-supervised internship program at the City Hospital.

In the second instance, Dr. James R. Nugent, whom I treated in the Emergency Room for post ictal cyanosis and confusion, wrote a testimonial about the quality care he received to Dr. Copeland, Chief of Surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center, requesting from him to find out as to what happened to my fellowship application to that institution. Based on that testimonial, Dr. Emil Freireich offered me a fellowship position without an interview.

With these experiences in my mind, without hesitation I told Terry that I was an Armenian born in Lebanon. My parents were Armenian Genocide survivors. They were among the orphans collected by missionaries from American Near East Relief foundation from Syrian Desert after forced deportation from their town close to Konya in western Turkey. While the official justification given by the Turkish government was that Armenians living close to Turkish-Russian border in the Caucasus were collaborating with the Russians my parents were from a town more than 550 miles from the said border.

I brought to his attention the fact that the American government officially does not recognize the Armenian Genocide as genocide on Turkey’s part because of geopolitics and economics. This is so despite the fact that the massacres of the Armenians residing in the Ottoman Empire were witnessed and documented by Americans and the presence of these archival documents in the library of Congress. Terry wanted to get familiar with American documents related to the Armenian Genocide. I provided him with several books on the subject based on American sources.

In February 1999, I learnt that during the regular session of the House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina, beginning Tuesday, January 12, 1999, he revealed that he had been receiving therapy for metastatic cancer under my care at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. In April he told me that he worked closely with Rep. Jeff E. Smith to have the Armenian Genocide recognition bill passed by both the South Carolina House and Senate. In mid-1999, I was presented with a framed copy of H. 3678, the Concurrent Resolution that was introduced by Reps. Terry E. Haskins and Jeff E. Smith.

In this official declaration, it states that “the members of the General Assembly recognize April 24, 1999, as South Carolina Day of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923 so as to honor the memory of the one and one-half million people of Armenian ancestry who lost their lives during that terrible time and to honor the memory of the victims of genocide throughout the world.” This achievement was due to the persistent effort of Rep. Terry Haskins, who despite his pain and suffering related to the cancer and its treatment, selflessly, and for no personal benefit, championed the fight for the recognition of Armenian Genocide. It is important that Armenians recognize his effort and honor his accomplishment.

Rep. Terry E. Haskins

Terry Edward Haskins was born on January 31, 1955 in PontiacMichigan. In 1972, he entered Bob Jones University in GreenvilleSouth Carolina, from which he received a Bachelor of Arts in Speech and a Master of Arts in public speaking. He graduated in 1981 from the University of South Carolina School of Law began his legal practice. Two years later, he was elected to the Greenville City Council. In 1986, he was elected to the state legislature and held that seat until his death on October 24, 2000. In 1995, Haskins was elected speaker pro-tempore of the House. By 1999, he was influential in achieving the compromise by which the legislature was able to remove the Confederate battle flag from flying over the state capitol and also was able to end video poker in South Carolina. He supported affirmative action, the election of African American judges, and admission of women to The Citadel.

(Agop Y. Bedikian was born in Beirut, Lebanon. He is a graduate of the Hovagimian-Manougian Secondary School for boys. He studied medicine at the American University of Beirut. In 1975, he completed his residency in Internal medicine at the Washington University Medical Center in St, Louis, Mo. and moved to Houston. After completing a fellowship in Medical Oncology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, he joined the medical staff. His activities included conducting clinical trials with new anticancer drugs, treating patient and teaching fellows, pharmacists and nurses. At present, he is Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Medical Oncology at MD Anderson.)

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