It has been one of my greatest delights to be with Ayad during his time in Israel not only once, but twice. A year and a half ago, he was a shy and serious baby boy. But when he returned, I discovered the baby had become a strapping toddler with a personality as colorful as his wardrobe. He brought me joy every day with his sing-song voice, unexpected affection, and GQ poses. There is no denying that he held my heart in the palm of his little hand. But it wasn't just me who fell in love with him. He had special friendships with many in our community who found his charm equally irresistible. Some children have a lovely way of making people feel special, and this was certainly true of Ayad.
From a medical perspective, Ayad's heart is healing flawlessly. His body responded well to the initial operation and followed suit with the complete repair. The four defects, which existed within his diagnosis of Tetralogy of Fallot, no longer inhibit his well-being. The evidence of this restoration lies in the pink flush of his skin, in his giddy and zealous play, and in his sound cardiac images on the echo screen. We are all thankful for these things and likewise, his mother. The weight carried through constant fear for her son's life has been lifted.
In order to celebrate God's grace in Ayad's life, we hosted a rather large and festive farewell party last Thursday evening. This event was particularly special because two other boys, Mohammed and Mubin, were also ready to return home. The atmosphere was full of warmth and laughter. Joy was pervasive. Ayad, the clever boy that he is, seemed to recognize right away that he was one of the guests of honor. He also recognized a large bag of gifts on the opposite end of the room waiting to be opened. Before receiving his treasure, our community spent time expressing our affection for him and his mother. "I hope you will always look back at your time in Israel and remember God loves you and Ayad so much," I shared. "So so much!" Ayad's mother agreed emphatically. Jared spoke of our amazement in Ayad's impeccable style every day. His mother smiled proudly. We also recounted God's faithfulness in strengthening her son during the interim between two surgeries.
Finally, the time arrived for Ayad to receive his long-awaited presents. As I began to slowly remove the first gift, Ayad did not hesitate to jump right in and hijack the presentation – as you'll see in this amusing video clip above. Bubbles turned out to be his favorite, with which he proudly demonstrated his blowing skills to everyone. Afterwards, we gathered to watch his story told through a DVD photo collection. I wondered how much Ayad understood of his experience as these images flashed across the screen. He seemed to be watching them with utmost concentration. Regardless, Ayad fully enjoyed being the "man of the hour" as we rejoiced in his new heart.
Friday morning arrived all too soon, and it was time to kiss my little friend goodbye. Ayad, however, was playing hard to get; and made me chase after him in the courtyard laughing. He and his mother were so joyful that day, you couldn't not share in their excitement. Still, a twinge of sadness welled up inside as the car pulled out of our lot and out of sight. While I hope and pray to see him one day in Kurdistan, I will cherish the sweet memories I have of lovable Ayad always. May God grant him the gift of health and life for years to come, and may Ayad ever know God's love for him.
It was with high expectations that Ayad´s mother departed for his echo appointment today. She knew from Ayad’s last echo that his heart was healing well. The only question now was when her son would be allowed to return to Kurdistan.
Ayad cried softly from time to time during his echo, but overall, it went quite smoothly. And the results were beautiful: Ayad’s heart is healed and he can return home at week’s end! This was wonderful news for his mother, and for all of us at Shevet Achim. But before we could leave for the beach, Ayad had to endure one last traumatic event at Wolfson. One final suture needed to be removed. Kristina was with him and told me afterward that he screamed and even needed to be held down. This wasn’t easy, as our little friend has a surprising amount of strength! But once the suture was out, he went back to normal and everything was fine.
We had a delicious picnic lunch at the beach, and afterward everyone waded into the cool water. Ayad showed no fear as the waves bathed his small feet and legs. He had so much fun playing in the water, as did everyone else. It was the perfect little beach party. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the water refreshing. It was a joy to be with three happy mothers and their children who - God willing - may all be leaving Israel by the end of this week. We praise God for His wonderful work in Ayad´s life.
Stylish and full of personality as ever, Ayad was ready for his next echo appointment this morning. He enjoyed the car ride down the mountain to Tel Aviv, content just to sit beside his mum. Upon approaching the hospital, however, his expression turned grim. "What are we here for?" he asked concernedly. Everyone chimed in to say that it was nothing more than a simple test, the emphasis being that no needles would be involved. Needles, you must know, are Ayad's arch nemesis. Fears were assuaged momentarily as he hopped off to the cardiology department with two other Kurdish families.
While waiting for his appointment, Ayad amused himself in a miniature house with playmate Mohammed. He also found time to bake me a cake in a conveniently located plastic kitchen. He was a picture of health, full of smiles and lots of energy. I hoped his joyful spirit would carry into the exam, but alas, it did not. For the duration of the echo, Ayad cried and moaned, big crocodile tears rolling down his cheeks. Though we tried hard, no one could convince him that needles were not in the mix.
The good news for Ayad, aside from not needing any shots, is that his heart is doing quite well. At just two weeks post-op, doctors felt confident enough to discontinue his final cardiac medication. The surgical repairs are holding fast, providing oxygen rich blood and added strength to Ayad's body. We will return for another echo next week, trusting that God will continue to heal Ayad day by day.
In the morning it was confirmed by the hospital what we had hoped for: Ayad would be discharged and be able to return to Jerusalem in the afternoon. When I arrived to pick him and his mother up, Ayad was ready to leave the hospital. He changed from the hospital pajamas into his personal clothes, and then we waited a few minutes for the nurse in charge to supply us with the necessary information and the medicine he would need. Once this was done, we walked to the car, and soon were on our way to Jerusalem.
God has held His hands over our sweet friend and his mother, and we are rejoicing in having him back with us.
On Thursday we received the wonderful news that Ayad was well enough to be transferred from secondary ICU to the pediatric unit. And this is where Jared and I found both him and his mother on the eve of Shabbat. The hospital's tranquil ambiance seemed to put everyone at ease, including our Kurdish friends. Ayad was full of joy and energy and had many things to say. It was obvious his recovery was going splendidly. While he was back to his "old self" with regards to personality, he was also a new "man" with the vitality that springs from a healed heart. As we played games on his bed, I thought about far he has come and how much I have grown to love Ayad. My heart melts every time he says my name or gives me a big hug.
When the nurse came in to check Ayad's vital signs, I couldn't believe my eyes. The monitor showed an oxygen saturation of 100%! This is such a gift from God, considering his pre-op levels were usually in the low 70's. His mother would ask me every day the state of her son's oxygen and look so sad when I gave her the results. Together, we held onto the hope that we would see Ayad restored. And now that day had come!
Ayad was not quite ready to come home with us, but I told him it should be very soon. His mother chimed in with "Inshallah!" (God willing). Both mother and son are eager to be reunited with our community in Jerusalem. To my delight, Ayad put on his fashionable sandals and escorted us down the hallway to say goodbye. I hope and pray that within the next day or two, our home will once again be filled with his cheerful presence!
Ayad has now moved out of the main ICU to a secondary ICU, thank God for this progress. Mum was happy to see us. Ayad was all wired up and it was unusual to see him just lying there as Ayad never stops running around at Shevet. (Fluids are still draining from his chest tube.) We all interacted with Ayad but I think he just wanted his Mum.
The doctor came in whilst we were around his bed to do an ultrasound on his heart after the surgery closing the hole in his heart and opening his plenary artery. The doctor explained the different colours on the screen and said that his heart was beating perfectly and that there was no fluid surrounding his heart which was a good sign. She stated that if he continued to improve he could be out in five days.
Jessie did some translating to Ayad’s mom, just to let her know that Karen and I would be leaving Shevet and returning to the UK and that we came to say goodbye and wish her and Ayad well. I would like to thank Shevet for having Karen and I – we will keep you all in our prayers and do our best to share about the work that you all do. May God Bless you all.
Ayad has a very strong presence about him when he enters a room. He walks around with his head held high, paying attention to everything and everyone. He seems to be a very smart little boy, and even if one don't understand his language it is easy to understand that he has a good vocabulary. Yesterday I was blessed to be at the hospital for his surgery, and today I got to go back and visit him in the ICU. I am so excited to report that he is doing really well. They extubated him this morning, and by the time we saw him he was awake and talking. I stood next to the bed for a good while just watching him and his mother talking quietly together. When the nurses worked around him he would fuss a little bit and his mother would encourage him and support him through it. It is wonderful to see how quickly he is healing and how brave he is through it all. Even though he was more quiet than he would usually be, I could still sense that his strong personality was returning and it truly gave me such joy to be there. While I was with them early in the day, his mother tried to give him some milk, which he really did not want, but by early evening she was able to report back to the nurses that he had eaten a good bit of food. His mother, who was so worried yesterday, was full of joy today. She spent most of the day by his bedside just getting out for a short while to spend some time with the other mothers. By the time we left it was already getting dark outside, so we said goodbye to our little hero and headed back for Jerusalem. While yesterday was an extremely intense day with so many things happening, today was truly peaceful and quiet with many wonderful moments to add to our memories. God's grace has been evident throughout it all, and His love is visible in the miracles of healing that we see every day.
The first morning light greeted Eilin and I as we departed for Wolfson Hospital for Ayad's surgery. On the road down to Tel Aviv, we prayed for wisdom and steady hands for the surgeon as well a peaceful heart for Ayad's mother. While expecting today to be one of emotional and physical intensity, I felt it crucial to surrender all that lay ahead into the Father's hands. Only He could provide the strength and comfort needed for all that lay before us. And He did just that.
Ayad and his mother were sound asleep when we arrived on the pediatric floor. It wasn't long, however, before the transport team came to escort Ayad to the OR. Though less than three years of age, this toddler is exceptionally articulate and perceptive. As we headed downstairs, his mother reported him having said last night, "We need to call Kristina to come and take us home." Apparently, he had had enough of this hospital business. Ayad continued to chatter along until we reached the pre-op waiting room. "Where are we going?" "Are we going outside?" "What is that?" etc., etc. He then fell silent as nurses made final preparations. I believe he knew something big was about to happen. His mother was then able to walk with Ayad into the operating room and stand beside him until he fell asleep under anesthesia. I was thankful for the nurses' consideration in assuaging fear for both mother and son.
When Ayad's mother rejoined Eilin and I after saying goodbye to her only son, tears spilled down her cheeks. The tears continued throughout the morning and afternoon as the clock ticked on. Morning turned to afternoon, but not before a historical and poignant moment passed. Today was Holocaust Memorial Day, where the nation of Israel and people around the world stopped for a full minute of silence to remember. Just before the siren sounded, I tried to explain to Ayad's mother the meaning behind this day. She nodded her head in understanding. Perhaps she was reminded of her own people's tragic past, including a mass genocide in her hometown of Halabja, where over 5,000 fell dead in 1988 in a Saddam Hussein-led chemical attack. As the haunting siren pierced the air, everyone in the lounge stood together, shoulder to shoulder--women of Norway, the U.S., Kurdistan, and Israel. No one moved. No one spoke. The hospital froze in somber recognition, and I wondered if scalpel and suture stopped in the OR as well.
It was nearly six hours since we bade Ayad goodbye that his mother began to panic. The presence of other Kurdish mothers had distracted her for a time, but now she distanced herself, pacing the halls, willing his gurney to suddenly appear around the corner. And when her hopes failed to materialize in that moment, she sank slowly to the floor sobbing. All I could offer was that God was with her son, guiding the surgeon's hands, and helping them to be very careful. Eilin and I sat down beside her as curious and concerned onlookers stared and walked by.
Ayad's mother composed herself once again, but an expression of deep concern remained etched on her face. Three o'clock came and we found ourselves waiting outside the elevators. Suddenly, the doors opened and Ayad appeared! We raced to keep up with his gurney as the OR team led the way towards the ICU. I think each of us breathed a huge sigh of relief, but especially Ayad's mum. We waited for permission to enter the ICU, while rejoicing in God's faithfulness and blessing in this long awaited gift. Ayad's mother shared that all of the weeks, and months, and hours leading up to this day were worth the beautiful outcome of her son's new heart.
Another hour passed before we stood beside Ayad's small frame. Dr. Jenny said that although the operation was very complicated, with at least one unforeseen abnormality, a complete TOF repair was successfully accomplished. Essentially, a breach between his lower heart chambers was sealed, the narrowed pulmonary artery was widened, and alterations were made to enlarge his lower right chamber. This was welcome news indeed. While the next seventy-two hours are considered to be a critical post-op period, Ayad is resting in stable condition. Please join us in giving thanks to God for His faithful love and healing for Ayad today.
The day started off with prayer as Ayad, his Mom, Ruth, Jared and Sonia made their way to the hospital. At last Ayad was on his journey to be admitted for his final operation tomorrow.
Ayad was in full conversation with his Mom for part of the way to the hospital, but they both fell asleep halfway through - both of their heads leaning against one another.
We arrived at the hospital and walked to where all the necessary paperwork had to be completed we were directed to the admission station where the nurse carried out an assessment of his vital signs. Afterwards, Ayad and his Mom went to have lunch outside in the play area. Ayad was full of life and having fun on the swing with his Mom at his side. Ayad then played on the climbing frames with myself and his Mom in pursuit.
After lunch Ayad was again taken to the admission station to continue his assessments. The nurse tried to take his blood and gave Ayad a syringe with water to make him feel more comfortable, Ayad drank the water from it but this didn't help.
The nurse found it difficult to find a suitable vein, so a doctor then intervened, and eventually located a vein in Ayad's left. Throughout the whole procedure Ayad cried. But he was comforted by his Mom, Ruth and myself. I understand how Ayad felt as I have the same problem with my veins, and it’s not a nice experience. To make amends for the procedure, the doctor blew air into a plastic glove and gave it to Ayad. Ayad was then taken to his bed where the doctor examined him.
After this, we had to leave. God willing, Ayad will have his operation tomorrow. I would like to say thank you to all of the doctors at the hospital for their kindness and patience, and also to the staff and volunteers at Shevet who go the extra mile, may God give you many blessings and favor in all that you do.
Time is a curious thing. On occasion, it flashes by with the rapidity of lightning bolts in a summer storm. And then there are those seasons when every minute feels like an eternity. I get the feeling that time for Ayad and his mother is passing at a rate somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Nearly one month has passed since they first arrived in Israel for the completion of Ayad's heart repair. Since the two of them were here in the past, Ayad's mother knew that waiting was to be expected. Patience, nevertheless, is beginning to wear thin as her son is now the only child in the home who is yet to have surgery.
Meanwhile, Ayad seems to be enjoying his excursion to Jerusalem immensely. And every day brings new adventures for him with a stylish outfit to match. His curious personality suits our little explorer who has most recently discovered the wonders of our downstairs offices and living quarters. The last two days, I've looked up to see him straining to open the front door on his tippy toes. With every successful entrance, Ayad strides in confidently, shouting, "Krees-tina," with a huge smile on his face. Later this morning, I went upstairs to do the children's assessments. As I sat down beside him, Ayad again shouted excitedly, "Fahez! Fahez!" ("medical exam" in Kurdish). It's hard to believe this charismatic boy is the same shy baby who used to cry at the sight of me with my stethoscope.
Ayad is an only child, so the fact that he is surrounded by playmates at the Shevet house is quite a novelty. He dotes on Shaida and Rand, stroking their cheeks and giving them lots of kisses. Sometimes, Ayad is Mohammed's little shadow and tries to keep up with or copy his older friend. Our staff have also become his adopted big brothers and sisters. It's not uncommon to hear Ayad calling our names from the rooftop or hear the "clomp-clomp" of his little feet walking in our oversized shoes through the house.
The last few weeks have afforded several trips to local playgrounds where the children and the "children at heart" have enjoyed Jerusalem's balmy spring air and sunshine's remedy. Our Easter picnic at Independence Park last Sunday gave Ayad the particular pleasure of its running streams. He rolled up his pants and waded right in. The next moment Ayad was fully soaked, having bent down to pour handfuls of water over his head. No matter that he was decked out in a classy blue dress shirt. His mother just smiled and shook her head as if to say, "Boys will be boys."
It's true that Ayad has stolen my heart once again. His sweet hugs have comforted me on difficult days, and listening to his piping voice speak with such earnest just makes me smile. Hope is on the horizon for Ayad and his mother with the possibility of surgery as soon as next week. While visiting the Garden Tomb this afternoon, I shared with his mother the hope that Messiah's resurrection brings with the gift of new life. I went on to say that Ayad was precious in God's eyes and that He wanted to give her son the gift of life also. Please pray that Ayad and his mother will experience the constant richness of God's love for them, however slowly or quickly time passes.