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Pediatric Neurologist Bingham Blogs about Fulbright Scholar Experience in Armenia

Peter Bingham, M.D.
University of Vermont Associate Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics Peter Bingham, M.D. (Photo by Raj Chawla, UVM Medical Photography)

In February 2013, University of Vermont Associate Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics Peter Bingham, M.D., traveled from the relatively “new” United States to the ancient Armenian capital of Yerevan to embark on a Fulbright Scholar project designed to improve access to and systems involving referrals to pediatric neurologists. To chronicle his experience, he created a blog, titled “Parpetsy Neuro-Log,” on which he shares not only clinical, but also social and cultural, observations and information.

Bingham joined his wife, Dana Walrath, Ph.D., a UVM research assistant professor of family medicine and medical anthropologist who is of Armenian descent and came to Yerevan in August 2012 as a 2012-13 Visiting Fulbright Scholar to work on her project, titled “Narrative Anthropology and Healing at Home and in the Homeland.”

His sabbatical, though purposely-timed with his wife’s trip, was prompted by Bingham’s discovery that Armenian and American pediatric neurologists face many similar access issues related to their clinical specialty. He incorporated this issue into a Fulbright proposal and was awarded a 2012-13 scholarship in late 2012. For the past two months, he has been collaborating with the pediatric neurology department at Yerevan State Medical University to develop an educational outreach program, including a novel “docudrama” to improve the delivery of subspecialty child neurology services.

As a pediatric neurologist in Vermont, Bingham sees a broad range of patients that includes those with epilepsy, headache, genetic and inflammatory diseases of the nervous system (including muscular dystrophy), autism, developmental and learning problems, tics and Tourette syndrome. His research includes National Institutes of Health-supported work on developmental assessment and promotion of feeding by premature infants, as well as studies of therapeutic applications of breath biofeedback-focused computer games for children with cystic fibrosis and asthma, which have been funded by both the NIH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. His research programs have led to two patents in the field of pediatric neurorehabilitation.

Armenia has a long, turbulent history that includes horrific genocide resulting in more than 1.5 million deaths during World War I. Founded in 782 B.C., the Southwestern Asian city of Yerevan is located on the banks of the river Hrazdan in the Ararat valley, and did not gain its independence until 1991. In the “About Parpetsy Neuro-Log” page of his blog site, Bingham explains that “The descendant’s sense of belonging can be an infectious thing, and may also flow upstream. Though I will never be an Armenian, I somewhere believe that I am from Armenia, and that you are from Scotland, and … So I have moved to Parpetsy Street, with the help of Fulbright (your tax dollars at work), with cultural exchange and pediatric neurology systems on my agenda.”

Bingham’s blog posts are poignant, comical, honest, and insightful, and offer the reader a peek into the daily interactions of Bingham’s life in this city of a little more than 1 million residents, and its surrounding region. In his “Early Milestone” post on February 2, 2013, Bingham writes I’ve passed several milestones of Yerevantsi citizenship: a second, 2-hour Armenian lesson with the wonderful Anahid (everbody is a “the” in this language–these folks are the definite article).” Several days later, his blog post, titled “A Little Test of Time,” recounts a patient interaction: “A 6 year old boy with speech delay sits by his mother through a 25 minute interview about his epilepsy. Normally he is pretty hyperactive at appointments, yet today he is somehow unusually quiet. He and I are joined in a silent movie, for the talk is going over our heads. Not a bad way to relate to someone though, to be restricted to their actions rather than their words. Back home, I will often introduce the notion of “Theory of Mind”– what autistic individuals lack – by asking a student to picture a silent film: see how the players anticipate each other’s action, as though they are judging each other’s intention.A later post, in March, shares some facts about the Armenian culture: “In a society where newly-weds typically move in with the husband’s family of origin, it is the relationship between mother and paternal grandmother that is most notoriously strained. The assertive grandparents at the visits I’ve witnessed do indeed tend to be fathers’ mothers.”

Bingham will remain in Armenia through the end of June 2013.

Link to Walrath’s blog.

(Some of the information in this article was adapted from a posting on the American University of Armenia Newsroom website.)