Doaa's time in Israel feels somewhat like a dream. She came and went so quickly, bringing us kisses and laughter and leaving behind sweet memories. Her surgery to repair Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) was a mere three weeks ago. Nevertheless, Doaa is running and playing as if this new heart has always been hers.
In keeping with her quick recovery, Doaa's last day in the country was a whirlwind of momentous events. We began at Wolfson Hospital in the early morning for her final echo. Her face lit up when she walked into the room and saw Dr. Alona. "Halloo! Ser Chava Dr. Alona," ("Hello! It's good to see you Dr. Alona).
After an exchange of pleasantries between doctor and patient, Doaa's heart was carefully examined. The ultrasound revealed continued strengthening and restoration in Doaa’s heart. It didn't take long for Dr. Alona to announce that Doaa was finished with treatment and free to return home. Her mother, who initially felt unprepared to leave, accepted this news with joy and agreed it was time to go.
Before leaving the hospital, Doaa was also seen by a plastic surgeon for her right ear. In addition to TOF, Doaa was born with an incomplete formation of her right ear and infused vertebrae in her neck, all characteristics of what is called Goldenhar Syndrome.
The surgeon advised that no repairs be made until Doaa is at least seven years old, giving the cartilage of her ear more time to develop. He then invited her to turn once again to Israel at that time if she desires.
As we waited for final discharge papers, a suggestion was made to visit the nearby Mediterranean coast. Ten minutes later, balmy weather and bright blue waters welcomed our spunky five-year-old. Her first taste of the sea was an experience of pure delight. As she clung tightly to my hand, her screams became interspersed with giggles. Pretty soon, she ventured further into the waves, joy pouring out. I saw God's love for her like the great expanses stretched out above and below; neither can be measured for vastness. What beautiful love is this? When it was time to leave, Doaa reluctantly said goodbye and blew kisses to the sea.
Within an hour of reaching Jerusalem, a group of us, including Doaa, walked down to the Garden Tomb. Here we found the truest symbol of life redeemed from the grave. As Doaa walked out of the empty sepulcher, her story echoed that of Christ's resurrection. Beauty has risen from ashes and life reigns triumphant.
The evening concluded with a celebration of Doaa's miracle. Our community surrounded her with gifts, music, sentiments, but most of all, with love.
She was ready at every opportunity for a photo, giving us her very best smiles and poses. What little girl doesn't enjoy being treated like a princess for a night?
A short film was prepared by Shevet volunteer Madelyn remembering Doaa’s time in Israel. The party moved onto the couches, and Doaa reveled in being the center of attention as the movie played.
We wanted her to know how special she is to us and what a beautiful heart God has given her. And when the flurry of excitement abated, sleep came quickly to Doaa.
With the first hints of sunrise, she was awake once more as she and her mother prepared to begin their journey home. The Shevet community gathered in the lovely old courtyard that has sheltered countless children over the years. Once more, we praised God for His perfect healing and asked His blessing over Doaa and her mother.
It has only been a few hours, but I already miss her presence. What joy she brought to our home! My hope for Doaa is that she will continue to grow in grace and beauty – the beauty that flows from a broken heart made new.
Doaa's bright strawberry shortcake outfit matched the summery Tel Aviv weather this afternoon. She was dressed and ready for her second follow-up echo at Wolfson Hospital. Dr. Alona confirmed that the future holds much promise for a healthy heart. Doaa's heart continues to mend well, with medications being further reduced. Her lungs are also clear, having no trace of pleural effusion (excess post-op fluid). Next Monday, we'll see Dr. Alona for what may be Doaa's final echo! What a blessing to witness yet another work of God's healing in her. As Doaa's time in Israel draws to a close, I want to enjoy each remaining day that her laughter fills our home.
Evidence of new life is springing up everywhere around Shevet. With the season's equinox upon us, our garden is brightened with fresh blossoms, and our home is full of children with new hearts. Yesterday, our community celebrated the Kurdish New Year (Nowroz) with four of our Kurdish families. Just before leaving for the park, Doaa came out dressed in a beautiful sparkly red jili kurdi. These traditional dresses are typically worn by Kurdish women for special occasions. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Doaa was the "belle of the ball."
The spirit of celebration continued into today as we traveled to Wolfson Hospital for Doaa's first follow-up echo exam. While waiting for her appointment, I noticed that this little girl has an eye for beauty. She gently held a pink rose bloom in her hand, examining the petals up close and drinking in the fragrance. Afterwards, she put on a mini fashion-show for Madelyn and I, wearing my sun glasses, making sure her hair was just right for a picture. Her playful giggles and smiles simply add to her loveliness.
What I saw next leads me to consider where true life and beauty flows from. Dr. Alona guided us through an ultrasound tour of Doaa's mended heart. Every repair that was made during her surgery remains perfectly intact. Both the VSD and ASD patches are holding fast. Moreover, the pleural effusion (excess fluid around her lungs) has drastically reduced, making Dr. Alona exclaim, "Yofi!" (literally “Beauty!” in Hebrew). A second echo exam has been scheduled for next Monday.
Praise God for His perfect healing. A healthy physical heart sustains a human with life-giving blood, transforming the body from the inside out. We've certainly seen this in Doaa! In the same way, a heart that beats with the love of God creates a beauty that is beyond compare. May Doaa's heart beat strong and true, growing more beautiful by the day.
There she was. Dressed from head to toe in bright purple and wearing her charming smile, Doaa was waiting. It was time to take our "sugar plum fairy" home. Just one week ago, her heart was opened for an intensive reconstruction. However, as Shevet volunteer Hannes noted, "It looks as though nothing ever happened to her." We see a happy little girl with boundless energy; but the skin that was once blue is now pink. The source of this outward transformation is like a hidden treasure. Beneath delicate layers of muscle, bone, and tissue lies a perfectly mended heart.
Dr. Alona said Doaa has a small amount of pleural effusion (fluid surrounding her lungs) that is being treated with medication. On Thursday, she will return for a follow-up echo at Wolfson. This exam will mark Doaa's progress over the next few weeks, helping doctors to gauge her readiness to return to Kurdistan.
Just before leaving today, a local journalist came to interview Doaa's and Aryan's mothers for a feature story on their experience in Israel. She also wanted to learn their perspective on having children who needed life saving heart surgery. Doaa's mother shared that although she was not afraid to come to Israel, she did fear for Doaa's life "like any mother would." She then repeated several times how thankful and happy she is now, praising God for helping Doaa in Israel. A special picture was taken with three of Wolfson's senior physicians: Dr. Alona, Dr. Sasson, and Dr. Houry.
This evening, the Shevet community celebrated Doaa's return with music and a plate of homemade brownies. Once Doaa finished her dessert, she curled up in Madelyn's arms, swaying to the melody, and feeling quite at home.
We praise God for His grace toward this precious girl and for using us to be a tangible expression of His love for her. "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." (Deuteronomy 33:27a)
A troupe of yeshiva students entertaining children at the Wolfson Medical Center after the end of the Sabbath seemed genuinely moved and intrigued when they encountered precious little Doaa from Iraq:
Several questions followed, allowing us to explain the Shevet Achim partnership between Christians and Israeli doctors, to love our neighbors by bringing their children to Israel for heart surgeries.
Just two days after surgery, Doaa is out of ICU completely and in a normal room. If I think that only two days ago they were operating on her opened heart, it is unbelievable for me!
She is in a bed now, resting, and after a while she smiled. I took a balloon lying nearby and began to play with her carefully. When I passed it to her, she transported it either with her left arm or right foot back to me.
Lilly talked with Dr. Alona, who came in perchance, and she said Doaa is doing really great: she will likely be released from the hospital on Sunday and then perhaps returning to Kurdistan in three to four weeks. I do not know what the shortest stay for a child at Shevet has been, but this could be a new record.
We are thankful to the Lord, and go on accompanying Doaa with care, until she is completely stable again.
Less than twenty-four hours after open-heart surgery, Doaa was taken off the ventilator and is fully awake! This step of being extubated (breathing tube removed) is a huge indication of progress. Her lungs are working independently once again while her "new" heart gets settled in. Doaa was sitting up in bed this morning with a frown etched on her face. Perhaps it feels like she's in a bad dream and can't wake up. I held her hand in mine as I talked and sang, hoping for some kind of response. She didn't say anything, but her small fingers wrapped around mine. Eventually, Doaa spoke with her mother in a moaning sort of way. Clearly, she is uncomfortable but trying to be brave.
Dr. Alona told me today that the surgery results were beautiful. Doaa had her first sip of water this afternoon (her only request) and by this evening, she should be able to try some food. Her mother could not be happier with the situation and tries to boost her daughter's spirits with love and patience.
Something else that brought joy to Doaa's mother was the personal messages written by friends of Shevet in the U.S. to her blog posts. When I translated them for her, she smiled and said how great God is and how wonderful it was that Doaa has "sisters" in America who wrote to her. Thank you so much to those who gave them the gift of encouragement.
Please continue to pray for Doaa as she endures these difficult post-op days. May the Lord renew her strength and increase her joy as well.
Surgery days are typically the most highly anticipated days for our Kurdish families, aside from the day they return home. They are also emotionally amped as mother and child come face to face with a life and death experience. Each operation has its own set of variables, and each successful repair is a unique and beautiful work of God. Five-year-old Doaa was the recipient of just such a miracle today as her exposed heart met the surgeon's scalpel.
I met Doaa and her mother downstairs in the OR department when Sophie and I arrived to the hospital early this morning. Doaa was lying down with a leery expression on her face. This unfamiliar environment did not peak her curiosity for exploration as I've seen before. Rather, she kept to her bed as if it was an island surrounded by shark-infested waters. Every nurse or doctor who entered to ask questions or check her medical report made her whimper and tense up. What provoked the most tears was the removal of her precious gold earrings. Hearing her, you would have thought the world had ended...at least, hers had. Her mother and I worked hard to calm her and were finally able to encourage a slight smile.
When the transport crew arrived to escort Doaa to the operating theater, she was perfectly calm. And so was her mother, surprisingly enough. Not one tear was shed between the two of them. I was asked to accompany Doaa into the OR where the anesthesia would be administered. Tears fell hard once more as Doaa's small arms wrapped around my waist, squeezing hard. I held her close, stroking her hair until her arms fell limp under the effects of anesthesia. She was asleep almost immediately. Just like clockwork, doctors and nurses fell into perfect synchrony, preparing her body for surgery. I took one last look at Doaa's small frame surrounded by this grand medical stage, before slipping out to rejoin her mother.
Doaa's mother spent the next four hours in unflustered repose. She conversed happily with me and two other Kurdish mothers present. I had expected even more tears then yesterday, but such was not the case. One phone call from her sister brought tears to her eyes, but she composed herself quickly, saying, "God is big! God is big!" The hours seemed to pass quickly, and I enjoyed spending time with this woman who is light-hearted in nature and quick to make one feel loved. As a mother of nine children, she is both strong and affectionate.
Around noon, a doctor finally emerged to announce that the surgery was complete! We raced towards ICU to get any further news on Doaa's well-being. A team of doctors then exited the ICU, and I stopped one to ask for more details. "The surgery went very well, and a full repair was made," he reported. Our team of Shevet volunteers and Kurdish mothers celebrated together in the waiting room, praising God for this good news. Aryan's mother was quick to take Doaa's mother under her wing, showing her where to sleep and what to expect in the ICU. It was beautiful to watch these two women come together through shared experiences.
As we waited for permission to enter the ICU, Doaa's mother trying was peeking through a tiny hole in the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of her precious daughter. At 1:30pm, the door was opened to us, and we made our way to Doaa's bedside. Seeing a child directly after surgery continues to be a riveting moment. Everything is extraordinary, from the machines and wiring one can see externally, to the new heart beating internally. Doaa's mother gently held her daughter's now pink fingers after checking her from head to toe.
Relief and gratitude graced her countenance as she sat contentedly at Doaa's side. Dr. Iyal was present to say that the VSD was closed and the right ventricular defects were repaired without any complications. Oxygen-rich blood is now coursing through her body, bringing with it life and color. As you read this, I pray that you too will be struck with the wonder of this miracle and rejoice in the faithful love of God towards Doaa today! Truly, in His "hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind." Job 12:10
It hasn't taken long for me to start falling in love with Doaa. She is an affectionate little girl who loves to be hugged. Doaa is also extremely curious and on the move constantly. I could liken her to a butterfly flitting from place to place with hardly a moment's rest. Just two days after arriving in Israel, Doaa had her first appointment at Wolfson Hospital today, for what we thought would be standard pre-surgery visit. It turned out to be much more...
Generally, the initial visit calls for a range of tests from an EKG (which measure's the heart's electric activity), vital signs, X-ray, an echo, and blood tests. Doaa was smiling and cooperative at the beginning, taking everything in. But then came one of several traumatic events that turned her smiles into tears. Small veins and big needles did not pair up well as medical staff attempted five times to get a blood sample for lab work. The whole ordeal left her sobbing uncontrollably with a very sore hand. While most children cry for their mothers when they're afraid or in pain, Doaa kept calling for her father. "BABBA!!!" She screamed over and over again, hoping he would come to her rescue. By the end, her mother was crying as well. But a hint of a smile returned once Doaa had calmed down and we headed to the echo department.
Dr. Alona confirmed that Doaa's heart is, in fact, on the right side of her chest. This is unusual but not a deterrent for surgical repair. Her diagnosis is simple Tetralogy of Fallot, which means that she only has three out of the four classic cardiac defects for this condition. There is a hole between the two lower chambers of her heart and her right ventricle has hypertrophied (overdeveloped) muscle. The right ventricle is also divided into two spaces, called a double chamber. While this may all sound complicated, Dr. Alona explored the anatomy of her heart with confident finesse. A few minutes later, she looked up and said, "Okay! I think she will have surgery tomorrow if everything is fine with her chest X-ray!" Talk about a big surprise! I had just been explaining to Doaa's mother the day before that it could be weeks before a surgery date was scheduled. The X-ray did turn out fine, and suddenly, Doaa was first on the list for a March 13th operation.
Her mother took the news more calmly then I expected. "This is so fast!" I reiterated to her. "It's usually not like this. God is good!" Soon after, we were back in the children's department to face Doaa's greatest foe once more...a needle. Three attempts produced a successful IV line. This nearly finished Doaa, whose face looked nothing short of miserable. It had been an exhausting day for her, and she was ready for it to be over. I wanted so much to make everything better and to see her smile again. Seeing her daughter in this state made her mother burst into tears again.
Please pray for Doaa to feel comforted and safe tonight, for her joy to return, and for her tired body to rest well. Also pray for her mother to be a source of strength and security for her daughter tonight. The two have experienced a rapid turn of events with challenging days ahead. I praise God for His favor toward Doaa and that the door has swung wide open for her heart to be healed. Just as Doaa cried out for her father today, I am asking and trusting that our Heavenly Father will to come to her rescue in tomorrow's surgery.
Five-year-old Doaa seemed shy and reserved when she flew into the Amman airport on Shabbat together with two other children, but by the time we reached the Jordan River border crossing she was starting to smile and peek out from behind her mother. The staff at the border went the extra mile to rush us through just before closing time, and a warm welcoming crew was on hand when we reached Prophets Street in Jerusalem.
Today is day of rest and acclimatization, building trust and relationship with our community before we venture to the Wolfson Medical Center tomorrow for Doaa's first exams. This morning Doaa has been joyfully running in and out of my office, and throwing a stuffed animal at me. We once thought she was shy!