"Once upon a time..." This is how many stories started that I read and listened to when I was a young girl. I was eager to see good overcoming evil, hearing at the end: "And they lived happily ever after."
During the past five months of serving at Shevet, I have hoped and prayed for many children who came to Israel for heart surgery. My biggest wish has been that they would return home to their families completely healed and would live “happily ever after.” And most of them did. But there have also been some children who fought a hard fight, which affected, of course, our Shevet community. These precious children are not simply patients to us. No, we built a relationship with them and their mothers, and trust and love grows on both sides. Each child’s story is unique. Coming alongside these children and their mothers means sharing joy and pain with them. Sometimes it means praying fervently for improvement, and clinging to hope that they will win the fight. And sometimes it means sharing the grief over the loss of a child.
Ayman’s stay in Israel was during such a difficult time, when life at Shevet was anything but usual. A few days before, Essa had had a cardiac arrest and his condition was so severe that no one could tell the outcome. Rotating teams of two Shevet members stayed with him and his mother at the hospital 24/7. It was physically and emotionally draining; and a spiritual battle.
I still remember the day when little Ayman entered the scene. He and his mother arrived at the end of September on a Sunday evening in Jerusalem. Although it was already late, I went upstairs to learn about Ayman´s health history before his first hospital appointment the next day. I had heard that Ayman´s mother is from an area in Kurdistanwhere the Sorani dialect is not spoken – the dialect I am trying to learn – but the Badini dialect. So I wondered how we would communicate.
Everything went better than expected. Ayman had made himself comfortable already, lying stretched out on the cushions watching Tom and Jerry, his little hands cupping his cheeks. We were fortunate to have at this time another Kurdish mother who could speak, in addition to Kurdish, also Arabic and English, and she helped me to gather all the information I needed. Ayman´s mother appeared to be a quiet but gentle and strong woman. It was obvious that she loved her son deeply. And how excited I was when I found out that Ayman and I share the same birthday!
Over the next couple of weeks I got to know both of them better. We became friends quickly and my love for my little friend grew daily. Ayman showed his affections through blowing kisses and gently stroking my face with his little hands. He always made me feel special and loved. His mother showed her grace by finding ways to understand my few words in Kurdish and not giving me the feeling that I had said everything wrong. Their friendship helped me to continue faithfully my duties at Shevet. After a first catheterization to evaluate Ayman´s heart defect they had to wait several weeks for his surgery, owing to holidays in October. I admired Ayman´s mother for patience and strength she showed during that time. She never complained nor stopped encouraging her son.
Both Ayman and his mother helped me through a really difficult time in October, when Sana, one of our beloved children, lost the fight for her life. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. Ayman was too little to understand what had happened and continued to be the boy he had been: playful, blowing kisses and bubbles, and enjoying life in general. At some point he was the only child at the house, and so I stayed with them during the nights. Ayman and I would lie closely on the carpet, our heads on a pillow, watching Tom and Jerry. I am thankful for the quality time I was able to have with my little friend and his mother, which helped me in my grieving process and to find my way back to normal life.
Two weeks later Ayman was called in for surgery. It had been my wish that I could be at the hospital with Ayman´s mother during his surgery. She carried him into the Operation Room and then our long wait began. On that day I saw her for the first and only time desperate and in tears. We had to wait ten hours until we were allowed to see him. At that point he was not stable, due to a severe bleeding. The surgeon had to open his chest again. Together we cried, prayed, hugged, and paced the floors of the hospital. Our bond grew stronger. And then we heard the good news that the bleeding had stopped. My heart was full of thanksgiving and joy. God had held His hand over this little boy. Little did we know that evening that a long and steep road still lay ahead of us.
A few days after the surgery the doctors evaluated Ayman´s neurology because of strange movements. They diagnosed multiple infarcts in Ayman´s brain which had led to a stroke. Over the next couple weeks we could see his faithful mother finding her own ways of challenging him to use his left side, which was weak after the stroke. She never faltered or grew tired. Her son’s improvement was what really mattered. And then the day came when we could take him home from the hospital.
Ayman´s last two weeks in Israelwere not always easy for him and his mother. She had reached a point where she only wanted to go home to Kurdistanto be reunited with her family. But the doctors strongly recommended physical therapy. Therefore we took Ayman for one week to a rehabilitation center to equip her with everything she needed to know to effectively instruct Ayman in Kurdistan.
Last Thursday we celebrated Ayman´s official discharge – and his new life. God had kept His loving eye on little Ayman and had brought him through serious situations. For me this farewell was bitter-sweet. Out of selfish reasons I would have loved to have Ayman and his mother longer with us. We grew close and shared deep experiences. Saying goodbye to someone you love hurts badly, but real friendship is not defined by physical closeness but by closeness of the hearts.
Ayman was excited at the thought of flying home to his father, and exclaimed in his thin voice each time he saw an airplane in the sky on the way out of Israel. Imagine his joy when he saw a giant model plane hanging in the office of the airline when we went to update his tickets:
And then while shopping Ayman demonstrated the tenacity and determination to walk which has led to amazing improvement following his post-surgery stroke:
Ayman and his family have yet a long way ahead of them and will need encouragement and perseverance. My prayer for them is that they will not give up, but “live happily ever after,” and put their hope and trust in the One who says of Himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
The day dawned for Ayman’s final echocardiogram. Leaving in a hurry we made our way towards Sheba Hospital in Tel-Aviv.
Before the echo, we had a great time in the play area. Ayman felt so comfortable walking around and interacting with me, it was so much fun to be able to laugh with him and make him laugh. I took it as my liberty to imitate Ayman using some of the props, and not accounting my size compared to his, I toppled over, to everyone’s amusement. At that time I felt it was my greatest privilege to make him smile and laugh.
The echo was extremely successful. No whining or crying, and we promptly received discharge papers for Ayman! How thankful we are that he has been given the all clear to return home. His mother was so happy and thankful for this great news. Before leaving the hospital, the staff in the ICU at Sheba wanted to say a final goodbye and watch Ayman walk a short distance. They rejoiced with us and it was a powerful moment to see the people who had worked hard day and night for his survival to join in the celebration.
When we left the hospital we headed for the beach. Both Essa and Ayman have been in Israel for many months but haven’t had the opportunity to see the sea. When we arrived the sky was dark with magnificent clouds, the sea roaring at incredible speed and the scenery was no short of furious. Kristina simply stated that it looked dramatic. My mind immediately felt that was perfectly fitting to describe Ayman and Essa’s journey. Both had very complicated surgeries and recoveries. I saw the relentless love of God depicted in the huge foaming waves coming towards us.
I saw the mixture of awe mixed with a bit of terror on Ayman’s face as he watched the new phenomenon before him. I ran out towards the waves and he shouted to me “Come, come!” I ran away from the waves coming towards me and he screamed. When we made him stand on the sand, he looked with terror and pointed and just said over and over again how afraid he was. When we started walking away he was pleased and willingly said “Bye-Bye” in English to the sea. On the way back to Jerusalem Ayman enjoyed watching a video on repeat his mother had taken of me running away from the sea and laughing at his own reaction. Now it didn’t seem so scary anymore.
I am positive Ayman enjoyed his day thoroughly and might even remember this day in the future.
Ayman and his mother visited the
Today we first went to the speech therapist after filling out forms in the nurses’ office. The speech therapist coached him in a few different methods of breath and mouth exercises and he nonchalantly cooperated most of the time. He blew notes on a flute for at least five minutes! We were scheduled to visit a few different rooms, and soon we had overstayed our time with the speech therapist.
Walking down the hall, the nurse for occupational therapy told us we were late and would have to postpone the session until later. So we headed further down to the physical therapy room, but when we arrived Lucy was just heading out on her break. So we went out to the hall to wait. There we had a few snacks and spilled a few drinks and went for little walks down the hall. On the last of these walks Ayman fell heavily on his left knee and started favoring it. But soon it was time, and we entered the room. Here Ayman let us know that he did not like walking anymore or even doing any of the other activities that he had been happy to do the day before. He did go up and down the balance beams a few times but then he had had enough. He began crying and louder whenever we pushed him on so we soon left off in that room.
Next up was recreational therapy where the nurse managed to get him moving shapes and colors and then helped him into a plastic ball pool. He enjoyed playing around in it. Last was the occupational therapy we had missed earlier. Here we studied his tactile sensing in a kiddy pool partially filled with dry white beans, rice, and lentils! I did some imaginary cooking with him as we filled pans and cups with the legumes.
Ayman and his mother will probably only be in
Right after we exchanged Shabbat Shalom’s together on Friday, Ruth, one of our nurses, got a call from the hospital. Earlier that day, Ayman's mother mentioned that Ayman had pain around the scar from his surgical incision. He was also not acting like himself, so our nurses spoke with staff of the hospital and waited for response after photos of his chest were sent to his doctors. Ayman’s scar was inflamed and the doctors from
But just before we went to go for a visit to the hospital today, we got a call that Ayman might be released! We went in the afternoon to Tel Aviv to see him in what we hoped was a better condition. Today, he was laughing and walked a few meters himself. It was a blessing to see him driving the train to
We were able to take him back to
Psalm 91:2 "This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him."
This morning as we were preparing to take Essa to his echo appointment, we got a surprising phone call from
It was obvious upon entering Ayman’s room that he'd improved significantly since we’d seen him last. He looked at Ruth and I, smiled, moved his hands and legs and looked towards his mother with another smile. We congratulated them and rejoiced together over this special day, noting how much better Ayman is doing. His mother shared that he could stand up now, and even walk a little bit. At this point I went to find Dr. Amir to get more information about the physiotherapy Ayman will need to continue the progress he's made so far. I didn't find the doctor, and as I returned to the hall towards Ayman's room, noticed a new sign: "TO PROTECTED
I was immediately struck by God's ability to give such beautiful care to these families, for it felt to me like an answer to my prayers taken from Psalm 91. This psalm speaks of God's protection, and we're seeking him for it as we travel the highways while rockets are falling, and while our patients are in hospitals near some of those rockets. To find that Ayman was in the set aside "protected area" of the ward spoke to me of God's faithful awareness of every need and detail of life.
We had to wait quite awhile for Ayman's dismissal letter to be prepared. During this time, we communicated with doctors about his need for more physiotherapy. His doctors feel that he needs two to three months of treatment in order to re-learn some of the things he is struggling with following his stoke.
His mother and the physiotherapy staff who come to him daily have made a good beginning, but he now needs intensive professional attention to have permanent excellent results which will restore his speech, and strengthen the use of his limbs while returning proper coordination. We're hopeful for the best treatment at the best price available. The choices before us so far are to transfer him to the rehabilitation portion of
Once we'd covered the information about physiotherapy, we only had to wait a short time longer till the report was ready, and we could take Ayman and his mother to the Shevet house at last. I could hear him trying to form words to his mother as he observed all the cars and trucks on the way back through heavy traffic. When we arrived we took them upstairs to their Shevet home, and after settling them in, left them preparing to eat the delicious Kurdish food the other moms made for them.
Thank God with us for His protection of Ayman, and his continuing improvement. Pray for discernment over the best treatment option so that physiotherapy can continue regularly, and this little one be healed quickly. Pray for his lovely mother's perseverance as she continues caring for her precious son, and willingly stays as long as necessary for his optimum care.
By all looks and appearances, Ayman seemed to be doing better when we visited him and his mother at the Sheba Medical Center this past Friday. He was able to grasp his motherâ€™s phone as he watched cartoons on the tiny screen and was giving simple consents to questions his mother asked him. But since we have come to learn that looks can often be deceiving, we checked with his doctors to learn the latest on his medical condition. Ayman has had his MRI, the results of which confirmed that he has had a major cerebral infarct, (when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or damaged) leading to a stroke. Despite the severity of this news, his doctors are optimistic that Ayman will be able to have a full recovery. But his ability to recover depends on something very important: physiotherapy. His doctors have told us that it might be possible for him to receive this therapy at Sheba Hospital, although it would be very expensive. Because of this, another option was presented. There is the possibility that Ayman could continue his recovery at our building in Jerusalem while receiving physiotherapy at an outpatient facility nearby. Both options are currently being discussed. In the meantime, please continue to pray for Aymanâ€™s recovery and his motherâ€™s morale as they wait in the hospital.
Ruth and I arrived at Sheba in the early afternoon so we could sit with Ayman's mother while he underwent a diagnostic catheterization to check the pressures in his heart and pulmonary artery. We were all surprised last night to receive the call about today's procedure, and looking forward to finding out the results. Thankfully Ayman's sweet mother was not an anxious woman, as we had quite a long wait for Ayman's turn in the catheterization lab. While we waited Ruth and I enjoyed entertaining him with bubbles and silly games, helping him exercise, and observing the range of his abilities as he continues to slowly recover from what doctors suspect was a stroke suffered either during or after his surgery. Tomorrow an MRI of Ayman's brain is scheduled, followed by a meeting with a neurologist who will examine him to determine more details about his condition. So far the most notable part of Ayman's condition, in my opinion, is his visual attentiveness to what is happening around him as well as his spontaneous smile and laughter in response to something he likes. Yet much of the time, he also seems detached, as if pondering how he would like to respond, but cannot. But thankfully, his mother never wavers in her zeal and determination to encourage him in every way, an exemplary model of pure love towards her child.
It was around 3:30pm before Ayman was called for his turn with the doctors and his mother was allowed to carry him in to the catheterization lab. She remained strong for Ayman even though we could see her emotions bubbling up just below the surface, and were glad to keep her company after she released her precious son into the hands of God and the medical team. The nurse told us that the procedure would take about an hour, and if it wasnâ€™t finished by then, she would come and speak to us. Shortly after the hour began family members began to call, and they were instructed to call again later. Approximately an hour and a half later Ayman was wheeled into the intermediate ICU for the night.
The report was pleasing: the catheterization went well, and Ayman's heart looks good. But some of the news we received was unexpected: we found out that doctors were also investigating the possibility of a second surgery to widen Ayman's narrow pulmonary artery. Thank God, the results of today's exploration showed that Ayman could grow and have a good quality of life without surgery at this time. In a few years, however, such a surgery will be necessary. Ayman's mother was relieved to hear the news, sharing it with family members as the phone began to ring again. She carefully attended to Ayman as he awakened from anesthesia by giving him some water.
Soon afterwards, the nurse came in to verify that he was stable and brought in vanilla pudding for him to eat. Ayman ate the whole container, and we hope he is able to eat well this evening since he must fast again in the morning for at least six hours before his MRI.
Let's continue praying for Ayman as he heals. He is very weak due to the stroke and still unable to speak, but we see slow progress with each visit. Doctors believe he will recover, but tomorrow's MRI results should reveal the most appropriate therapy for him. As I spend time with Ayman and his mother, watching them together, seeing God's care for them, I think of these words in Isaiah 40:11 "He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young." In this reality I put my trust.
When we visited Ayman and his mother in the hospital today, they both seemed to be in good spirits. He loved it when Donna and Kristina blew soap bubbles for him, and we all got into the act. He has a wonderful smile and laugh. His mother is very attentive, and is very good at keeping a four year old content.
During our visit, Dr. Amir was able to shed more light on Ayman's present condition. It is supposed that at some point during or after surgery, Ayman experienced a stroke. While he is smiling, laughing, and tracking with his eyes, his motor skills are minimal, and he has yet to speak. The right side of his body is also weaker than his left side. The good news in all of this, however, is that there is hope for significant recovery. Results from last week's CT scan revealed that Ayman should be able to regain muscular and speech abilities. It will be a long and gradual process, requiring special rehab treatment. Dr. Amir explained that as a visiting patient from Kurdistan, Ayman does not qualify for Sheba's rehab services. Thus, the cardiac nurses have been asked to include exercises in his daily care. Meanwhile, his mother is a beautiful example of devoted love and patience. Her pleasant spirit and affection bring light to Ayman's eyes.
Rather than being discouraged by her son's losses, she is finding joy in every measure of progress, big or small. As we continue to pray for God's complete healing in Ayman's body, may we be encouraged by the scripture which says, "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin." Zechariah 4:10.
TodayÂ´s visit at Sheba Hospital was not as pleasant as I had hoped. I arrived just in time to find Ayman being prepared for transport to a CT-scan of his brain. The doctor told me that Ayman had over the weekend shown symptoms of neurological disorders (moving his arms and legs restlessly, not speaking) and they wanted to find out the reason. An EEG had already been taken, recording with sensors the electrical activity of Aymanâ€™s brain; results were not yet in.
Seeing Ayman lying helplessly in his hospital bed almost made me cry. He just was not himself. His mother remained calm and strong during the following hours. The CT-scan was done quickly. First results did not reveal any bleeding or brain damage. The next hours we spent together in his room. As I had done the last time I visited Ayman, I got out bubbles to entertain him. At first they didnÂ´t catch his attention, but in the end he even tried himself to blow some. Also during the time of my visit his uncontrolled movements became less. For dinner Ayman ate some rice and chicken.
When it was time to leave, the written results from the EEG and the CT-scan still were not available, so I spoke with the doctor later on the phone. He confirmed that the CT-Scan had not revealed anything that might have caused his symptoms, but to be sure they would have tomorrow a second neurologist evaluating his EEG and CT-scan. He also told me that Aymanâ€™s symptoms concern the doctors.
Would you please pray fervently for my precious little friend Ayman, his mother, and all the medical staff involved in his care? Our Shevet team appreciates your intercession very much!