Aryan and his mother arrived on November 11, 2011 as strangers to our community. Today, they departed from us as family. Their absence feels surreal, as I keep expecting to see their faces or hear their voices echoing through the house. It's not so much the length of their stay that left a deep imprint on my heart, but rather the intensity of their struggle and triumph. You can "know" someone for years and not really know them. But a friendship forged in the midst of crisis, inevitably knits hearts together. This is how I feel in regards to Aryan and his mother, as do those who also grew close to them.
To consider the transformation in both mother and son over the past five and a half months is to recognize the handiwork of a faithful God. Gone are Aryan's golden curls and baby fat as well as distinctly blue skin. In their place is a handsome little man with a chic haircut and robustly pink skin. Beneath the exterior, a once perilously malfunctioning heart now beats steady and strong. (More details along these lines shortly.)
Aryan's mother experienced a heart makeover of a different sort. I watched her go through a gauntlet of anxiety, fear, anger, bitterness, and grief before finding joy on the other side. Sharing in this woman's burden has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.
Yesterday was the last time Aryan and his mother set foot in Wolfson Hospital. We approached the day thirsty for a good outcome, hope suspended in our hearts. With four new children needing to be examined, Aryan's echo was delayed, creating heightened expectancy. Every so often, Aryan's mother and I exchanged glances. Without a word, I could read the longing for home in her eyes.
Three hours later, Aryan lay sleeping in the echo room. Dr. Alona had decided to sedate him in order to ensure perfect quiet. No shortcuts were taken in this meticulously thorough exam as Efat, the echo technician, viewed and reviewed every facet of his heart. Aryan's pulmonary artery and aorta, the previously transposed great arteries, are functioning beautifully. Additionally, every post-op complication has fully resolved. A strong whooshing beat resounded through the ultrasound like a church bell announcing good tidings: Aryan's heart is healed!
Then suddenly, Efat looked right at his mother and said, "I can't believe he's going home...Bye! Kurdistan!" Tears rolled down his mother's cheeks as she gathered Aryan in her arms and held him close. I embraced them both, overcome with joy. Perhaps in a state of disbelief, she asked me several times if it was really over. "Yes," I replied. "You're going home!" Dr. Alona stood beside Aryan and mother for one last commemorative photo before leaving the hospital.
Later that evening, the Shevet community came together for a time of celebration to express our sincere affection for Aryan and his mother.
We shared memories tracing back to their first introductions in Israel, acknowledging God's healing and perfect love towards them. Aryan's mother expressed the bittersweet reality of leaving friends she has come to love while returning to those she loves more still. Special gifts were then presented including a photo DVD Madelyn created, seamlessly documenting their journey in the land. Each image captured something raw and real about Aryan's and his mother's experience here.
As difficult as they may be, goodbyes do come. Thankfully, Aryan and his mother did not depart until mid afternoon today, affording us a little more time to enjoy their presence. All I could think about was how beautiful the reunion in Kurdistan will be for them. A husband and three other children have been waiting at home all this time, facing their own struggles, and missing those they love. Aryan and his mother will soon be in their arms and shedding tears of joy.
Before leaving, we prayed that both mother and son would continue to experience God's perfect love for them and their entire household. Their wait is over, and the battle has been won for Aryan's heart. "It will be said in that day...this is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation." Isaiah 25:9
Aryan, our sweet Kurdish prince, has now been with us for nearly six months. While the road has been difficult, the finish line is at last in sight. His mother daily expresses her longing to return home with tears and today was no exception. The good news that Dr. Alona shared today was music to her ears.
As Aryan cried at the very sight of the echo room, the exam itself was brief. Each cry causes the lungs to close over the heart, making it very difficult to get a good viewing via ultrasound. Nevertheless, Dr. Alona skillfully navigated the echo probe, demonstrating years of past experience. His heart was sound enough to eliminate one of three medications and presented no deviations of progress. Aryan's TGA repair is meant to last a lifetime, according to Dr. Alona.
At the end, she announced that he only needs one more exam next Monday before going home! Tears gave way to smiles for both Aryan and his mother. The two made a happy pair! Phone calls began pouring in as one family member after another anxiously asked the consensus of today's hospital visit. After weeks of ambiguity, the countdown for Aryan's return has officially begun.
While dancing with and holding Aryan today, I began to think about what our home will be like without him and whether or not he'll remember his time here. I also tried to imagine the extreme joy his family will have upon seeing him again.
I praise God for the ways He has blessed my life through Aryan and his mother. To those who have known and supported Aryan and his mother from the beginning, thank you! Your prayers have availed much. It won't be long before we'll be rejoicing together for Aryan's homegoing to Kurdistan!
"This is the best I've ever seen him," the echo technician announced once Aryan's exam was complete. Her statement was certainly the climactic point of a day that brought both good and challenging news for Aryan's mother.
One week has passed since Aryan was released from Wolfson Hospital, at which point he was still congested and recovering from pneumonia. I praise God for the remarkable progress I have seen in him, for the way his lungs have cleared up in the past week, and especially for the return of his cheerful personality. Time at home is also helping to tempt his appetite into regaining the weight he lost in the hospital. I felt confident that Dr. Alona would be pleased with what she found today. Sure enough, after a careful review of the echo results, she said, "I am very happy with Aryan!"
The ultrasound showed excellent cardiac functioning. He is medically sound with an untangled heart that is beating strong. Occasionally Aryan's mum will stop and say, "Look, Kristina! Aryan's fingers are so pink!" She is delighting in her son's health, and so is everyone who knows how far this boy has come. Her spirits rose further with today's good report, only to have the doctor's next comment cast a shadow on her happy countenance.
Due to Aryan's post-op complications and significant post-op weight loss, Dr. Alona is in no hurry to send him home. She wants to feel absolutely confident that not only is his heart mending well, but his whole body. This means that Aryan will be in Israel for at least two more weeks, during which time his health indicators will be closely watched.
While his mother assured me that she was thankful and happy for her son, silent tears fell all the way home. The ache for home grows stronger with each passing day. It is beautiful to share this season of Aryan's life with him, to watch him heal, and to see God's hand in His life. He and his mother have become family to us, and we love them deeply. But as you rejoice with us, please continue to pray that true comfort and strength be found for them both in the coming days.
"Behold, the Lord shall come with a strong hand...He will gather the lambs in His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young." Isaiah 40:10b,11b
On March 5th, Aryan underwent his third and final open heart surgery at Wolfson Hospital. The medical outcome was successful, despite the great complexity of the repair. Three weeks of a roller-coaster recovery then ensued, and everyone's hopes hung in the balance. By God's grace, Aryan overcame several obstacles and was finally able to come home today!
His mother called me this morning to share the good news long before the hospital informed us. I had to ask several times to make sure I understood correctly. "Today? He's coming home today?!" Receiving this answer to prayer was truly a surreal experience. We waited several hours to receive confirmation from the doctors, but our wait was rewarded with a happy little boy and an equally happy mum bound for Jerusalem.
Aryan has been weaned off of all supplemental oxygen and requires only three cardiac medications. With heart, lungs, and body on the mend, Aryan may very soon be reunited with his beloved family in Kurdistan.
Our community was joined by a visiting church from New Jersey to give Aryan and his mother a warm and joyful reception at the Shevet house. Our evening concluded with a song that echoes Job's ancient words of praise, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21).
In this, we recognized the faithfulness of God towards Aryan through every hardship and triumph. Blessed be His name!
It was lunch time, and the halls were filled with the hustle and bustle of distributing meals as we arrived at the hospital. The first baby we encountered was Aryan. He was in the hallway with his mother. What an improvement! Last time I saw him he was in the ICU, connected to a maze of tubes. This time, he was smiling, animated even.
A nurse came upon us in the hallway, and asked us to take him outside for a few minutes. He had a lot of fun, and seemed to really be enjoying the little excursion. I left him there with one of the other members of the team, and went to see the other families. Later on during the visit, we saw him having his lunch, and he was even playing with his food.
Let's thank the Lord for bringing Aryan through this difficult period, and giving him a new heart. We can also believe for protection against infection or other complications before Aryan is completely recovered.
When I arrived at Wolfson this afternoon, I was greeted with the pleasant sight of Aryan sitting in the children's department. He was transferred out of intermediate ICU and is improving daily. Dr. Alona said the antibiotic treatment for his pneumonia will continue for at least another week. At that point, Aryan should be ready to return to Jerusalem.
That day could not come soon enough for his mother. While she is thankful that Aryan's appetite is increased and he is breathing easier, she longs for the simple comforts of home. Thank you for continuing to pray for this mother and son. It encourages them to know that people around the world care deeply for them! You can communicate with them through the comment option below. Praise God that Aryan is gaining strength and giving us more of his beautiful smiles.
The battle for Aryan's future moved back into the ICU this week, as doctors battled against pneumonia with intensive antibiotic treatment. By the end of the Sabbath there was a significant victory: Aryan reaching for his bottle and once again able to drink:
By Sunday there was more hard-fought progress, as Aryan graduated to the intermediate ICU and even showed his mother the first smile she's seen since his surgery two weeks ago. Let's keep supporting Aryan and his mother in prayer; it means much to them to know they're not alone in this struggle.
I sat beside Aryan and his mother today, my eyes filling up with tears. Over the last two days, I've been as optimistic as possible, trying to encourage Aryan's mother as her son's progress took another step back. But this afternoon, I suddenly felt some of the weight she has been carrying for so long. Aryan has not eaten well since Monday, due to a viral infection that has produced painful sores on his lips and tongue. It hurts him too much to eat, and only water and milk via syringe is bearable for him. Moreover, doctors believe that Aryan has also developed pneumonia. A fever and labored breathing contribute to this difficult situation. Plans are in motion to treat both the virus and pneumonia, in hopes that both problems will resolve quickly.
My heart simply hurt for him today. His mother and I held hands and cried together, knowing everything theyâ€™ve been through over the last four months. Their time in Israel has been filled with challenges, but God has been faithful. Later, I shared, "You're not alone. You know this, right? You are my sister, and I love you. God is with you and Aryan. He loves you both so much." It was a moment of being raw and real in the face of pain with someone I truly love. In this, I am reminded of one of the most profound ways Jesus demonstrated His love toward us. As Isaiah writes, "Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows...The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed." (Is. 53:4-5) May Aryan and his mother find in this their greatest comfort and hope for tomorrow.
Last Thursday, Aryan's recovery took a big step back when he was re-intubated for several more days. Since Sunday, however, he has made one stride after another of steady progress. It began with the ventilator being disconnected on Sunday and Aryan being transferred to intermediate ICU. This was a significant indicator that he had passed the critical post-op stage. I expected to find him still in intermediate ICU today, but this was not the case. Minutes before my arrival to Wolfson, Aryan was moved to a room in the children's department! I couldn't believe it when the nurse told me where he was.
I raced down the hallway to see this good news for myself. Aryan's mother greeted me with a huge smile and a hug that said, "I've missed you!" Although we've talked on the phone every day, I could tell she was craving face to face interaction. She was also hungry for the latest update on her son. Our attention turned immediately to Aryan as we praised God for his improvement and graduation to this room. He lay in bed with his big eyes staring up at me, his tiny hands cupping a bottle of milk. One look at him, and I could tell he was not quite himself yet. Aryan looked tired, not just the sleepy kind of tired, but a deep bone tired. Despite this, he was still fighting to keep heavy eyelids open.
I stepped away to help another mother and child, but promised that as soon as I saw a doctor, I would ask for today's report on Aryan. Not long after, I spoke with a pediatrician who had hopeful things to say. When I asked her how Aryan was doing, she responded, "Well, he's here!" referring to his being in the children's ward now. She also said his echo went well this morning and his medications have been reduced. Aryan's mother noted that he is also drinking without the strong cough he had prior to surgery. It seems as though his damaged vocal chord is healing as well!
The ultimate satisfaction came for Aryan's mother when she heard Dr. Alona's report later this afternoon. "He is much better now and the echo was great!" she said with enthusiasm. Dr. Alona's words are the gold standard for Aryan's mother, so hearing this, made her day. She was laughing and almost jumping with joy. Shortly after, she voiced her desire for Aryan to share in this joy with her. "He doesn't smile at all! He just frowns." I encouraged her that this will change soon, even by tomorrow perhaps. Just as God is able to strengthen Aryan's body day by day, I trust that He will also restore a smile to his face.
Today Muna, her son Munthur, Rachel and I visited Aryan. He is intubated once again in the ICU, but looks well, and his mother too. The nurses were not very talkative today, so it was a short visit. But here is what we know: on the day that Aryan’s breathing tube was removed earlier this week, it was reinserted again. The medical staff in the ICU feels that his body is not ready for sustained independent breathing. The plan is to reassess on Sunday, and hopefully remove the respirator then. Over the weekend, we can be praying both for Aryan’s recovery, and for his mother’s endurance and frame of mind in the ICU, as she waits at the bedside of her unconscious son and keeps a phone line to family in Iraq close to her ear.