A Medical Giant Passes

COSECSA Graduation

By Ara Erzingatzian and Raffi Ouzounian, 25 September 2022

Krikor Erzingatsian, a medical giant prominent in several African states, passed away in Lusaka,  Zambia on 12th July, 2022. He was born in Addis Ababa in 1942, the third of four children of Levon and Hripsime.

After elementary education at the Kevorkoff Armenian School in Addis Ababa, he received his secondary education at Lindisfarne College in Wales. A school master there advised him to turn his attention to medicine instead of studying pharmacy as planned.

He entered medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in 1963 and spent the next fourteen years in Dublin. At the RCSI, he was top of his class in many subjects. He also undertook a series of Higher Surgical Training programs at several Dublin hospitals leading to the completion of a fellowship in general surgery and training in three countries. In 2016, the RCSI made him Honorary Fellow, the highest honor the College bestowed, in recognition of his distinguished career.

Erzingatsian loved Africa and particularly Ethiopia. However, his plan to return to his home country was scuttled by the political situation there. Instead, he left for Zambia in 1977 and eventually to the capital Lusaka where he taught at the University of Zambia School of Medicine. While mentoring thousands of surgery and anatomy students, he carried on his practice as surgeon. He came to be known as the father of Zambian surgeons.

He was appointed professor of surgery at the University of Zambia in 1999 and  became president of the Surgical Society of Zambia. He published more than 50 articles in peer-reviewed medical journals and presented scientific papers at more than 35 international conferences.

Perhaps his greatest professional achievement was his drive for the creation and establishment of the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA). Erzingatsian served as COSECSA’s chief examiner, president, vice-president and registrar. He was also instrumental in developing a relationship with the RCSI that provided staffing, resources, curricula, educational tools, accreditation, and quality assurance processes to the college. His contribution was recognized in 2012 when he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by COSECSA.

President Jimmy Carter (2007) – Honorary FRCSI for the President

Erzingatsian’s paternal grandfather had fled the Hamidian Massacres of 1894 and settled in Ethiopia. His mother, Hripsime Kalfayan, had left Constantinople in 1915 as a 7-year-old on the eve of the Genocide of Armenians. Dr. Erzingatsian’s heritage remained dear: he spoke of moving to Yerevan and living out his days there as recently as a few weeks prior to his passing.

Since 1992 he had spent his annual four-week vacation in Artsakh, carrying out operations, consulting and treating patients free of charge, including citizens of Armenia. Because of COVID19, he was unable to travel to Armenia for two years but was back last September to carry on what he felt was his duty.

Befitting his spirit and commitment to helping the neediest, he also  volunteered his services and expertise one day a week at the Egyptian Coptic Hospital in Lusaka on condition that his patients not be billed, even paying for their medication and use of specialized diagnostic equipment. The week day that he ran his clinic was the busiest at the hospital. The outpouring of love and gratitude on Zambian social media on his 80th birthday and on that of his passing are testaments to his lifetime dedication to helping those in need of medical service.

UTH Masters Anatomy Students

At Erzinganian’s passing, his university, hospital and COSECSA peers delivered speeches celebrating his life as a unique, compassionate, altruistic professional and, in the words of his students, a ‘’father’’ who will be sorely missed.

A church service was also held at Lusaka’s Coptic Church. It was conducted by Archbishop Ashod Mnatsaganian of Cairo, accompanied by Zambian Coptic and Ethiopian priests and a magnificent choir.

Krikor’s final wish was to be buried in Armenia, near Khor Virab with a view of Ararat. Arrangements were made by his nephew Raffi, and a funeral service was held in Yerevan followed by his burial near Khor Virab.

(The article was edited by Keghart for brevity)

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