Keep the child breathing – one family’s mission

Night time used to be a massive ordeal for now five-year-old Rafayel from Alaverdi city in the north of Armenia – not because of temper tantrums about going to bed but because at night Rafayel’s breathing would become more laboured. Sudden shortness of breath, anxiety and panic, wheezing and chest pain were the norm. His worried parents were unable to find a solution to the problem in Armenia, and were obliged to take him abroad to Moscow.

“Rafayel’s condition had worsened to the extent that we had to call the ambulance right from the Moscow airport and take him to a hospital”, says 62-year-old Manushak Shiroyan, Rafayel’s grandmother. “Here the doctors told us that the main reason for his illness was allergy, and the asthma was a side effect caused by the overdose of medication that the child had been given to confront the allergy”, says Manushak.

Our main thought is that the reason of the child\'s allergy is behind the ecological situation in our city Since then little Rafayel has relied on an inhaling device, which he uses four to five times a day. “In case he doesn’t get it for a long time, he starts suffocating”, says Manushak.

“Doctors told us the allergy could have been caused because of some specific food that Rafayel’s mother had eaten while breast feeding him. But our main thought is that the reason is behind the ecological situation in our city”, she explains.

Indeed, according to some estimates, the Alaverdi Copper Factory is seriously damaging the ecology of the region and causing some health problems among its population - especially children.

But coping with the every day challenges of several people living in a one-room apartment often overshadows these broader issues. Rafayel, his elder brother Karlen, 6, their mother Flora Varosyan, 27, grandmother Manushak and grandfather Karlen Shiroyan, 72, share the tiny home, while the father - Felix Shiroyan, 37, has been working in Russia for the past seven years to earn a living for his family.

‘Earning a living’ however has fallen terribly short of the family’s hopes and expectations. Felix barely makes ends meet with the dwindling work in Russia and only manages to send home medication for Rafayel.

We can hardly manage to buy food, how can we find money to buy medicine and not see our child suffocating? The family’s only real income is 63,000 AMD (US$170); the pension that the grandparents receive. World Vision has assisted the family with documentation to ease the bureaucratic procedures they had to overcome to receive an additional monthly state allowance of 10,000 drams (US$27) to help meet Rafayel’s health needs.

“The medication, especially the inhaling ones are so expensive”, says Flora, Rafayel’s mother, “we can hardly manage to buy food, how can we find money to buy medicine and not see our child suffocating? If my husband didn’t send medicine from Russia we would have already lost the boy”.

Rafayel stopped talking two years ago. He has become very irritated and aggressive. The rash throughout his body causes additional discomfort for him and sometimes his skin breaks into open wounds with a risk of becoming infected.

Little Rafayel has just started to attend the local World Vision-founded Child Development Center in Alaverdi, where a speech therapist is now working with him to help revive his speech.

I feel guilty that I have to give medication to my five-year-old son knowing that sometimes it may harm his health in other ways “It is impossible to keep living in this tiny room with five people and with a sick child. Rafayel needs some rest. He is so nervous. At times he starts screaming loudly and we can’t control him. He then starts suffocating even more. It hurts me to see my little child in this condition. I feel guilty that I have to give medication to my five-year-old son knowing that sometimes it may harm his health in other ways. But this is the only way to keep him alive”, says Flora.

The family’s only hope is to keep Rafayel’s condition stable with the help of medication until he gets older. “It becomes easier with time, the asthma”, says grandmother Manushak. “By the time Rafayel is ten, the condition will ease a little. It just gets easier to live with asthma at an older age”.

Until then the family has to bear the daily pressure of their child’s health condition and the concern of how to find more medicine to keep him breathing.

World Vision is in the early planning stages to conduct an assessment into the impact of the factory on the health of the region\'s population.

*Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, cough, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. More information:

*According to official statistics, 147,117 children in Armenia aged 0-14 suffer from respiratory diseases.