Today five families were waiting for us at the Gaza border. Most of the children were scheduled for follow-up echoes, which meant we got to see familiar faces. It’s exciting to get an update on the families’ conditions and lives in Gaza, along with seeing how the children’s siblings are doing (though I must admit it can be difficult to keep track of names and family members).
When we entered the echo department, a large group of Americans were visiting the clinic and receiving an introduction to the charity work taking place there. Another group of young Israelis and Arabs came to entertain the kids with coloring sheets and other toys. I think our families felt valued and loved.
Said (first from the right) has already had one operation and two caths in his short lifetime, and today it was confirmed his latest cath has repaired his heart. He is scheduled for another follow-up echo in one year.
Bissam (in the middle) is half a year post-op and has been coming regularly for follow-up echoes, as she still has fluids around her heart. But today she and her mother were told her next appointment will not be for another six months.
Haya’s (on the left) echo revealed a heart the doctors would like to look more carefully at. As a result, she has been scheduled for a cath later this year in May.
Nizaar (pictured below) went through his surgery two months ago and had a long recovery time, spending as much as three weeks in the ICU alone.
Today he went back to his ‘second home’ for his first follow-up echo post-op. He is doing well and is coming back to Wolfson in six months.
Kawshar (not pictured) is a teenage girl who today was told one of her valves is leaking a tiny bit, meaning she will probably have a surgery within two months or so to repair the damage.
The children often receive a drug to calm them down before going into their echoes, and it often results in rather weird behavior (if you scroll down a bit, you can watch this live in a former blog post’s video). I watched Bissam suddenly fall over at least five times today while walking around. This medicine stays in the children’s bodies for some time, and we had sleepy children in the van on our ride back to the border.
Our trip back to Gaza was relatively uneventful, except for a stop for the parents to buy some Israeli goods inside a mall. Said’s father bought a bag full of loaves of bread—difficult to get a hold of in Gaza and cherished greatly by his children.
Though nothing hindered our journey to the border, a beautiful opportunity of sharing arose as the trip went on. Bissam’s little brother is called Younis (this translates to the name Jonah in English). Our co-worker Yousif took this opportunity to share the story of Jonah, which is found in both the Bible and the Quran. Just like Jonah chose to be thrown overboard to save the lives of his friends on the boat fighting against the storm, Jesus chose to give his life on the cross so we should not meet eternal death. Just like Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale, Jesus spent three days in the grave to defeat death and give us life. Pray these words will stay with our Palestinian friends.
Kamal from Gaza is back for a third surgery! Yousef and I headed down to the border to pick him and his grandmother up this morning. His grandmother has one of the biggest grins and some of the rosiest cheeks! We pulled up in the van, and she was ready to go. Kamal, on the other hand, let us know right away he doesn’t like car seats. He cried for a while as we headed north to Tel Aviv, but eventually settled down with Yousef talking to his grandmother in the background.
At the hospital, they were soon stationed in their room for the night. We helped them through some of the health checkups as an Arab-speaking staff member took Kamal’s vital signs. Laughing and holding Kamal, we gave our support the best we could.
We hope this will be the last surgery for Kamal and look forward to his heart finally being at its best.
For three weeks in a row we have had a small Gaza clinic of two or three children at the most (as some of our Gaza families don't always get permission to come to Israel). But today was a happy day as all six of our families had permission to come to Israel to be checked by Wolfson doctors.
So three volunteers from Shevet and I went to Erez crossing to pick up our precious Gaza children.
We took them to Wolfson Hospital to be checked, and we spent a long day waiting for the results. But this was an opportunity for us to get to know the families better and spend some time with the children.
Five of the families came for post-surgery follow-ups and received the good news that their children’s hearts are doing well. One child, however, was new, and he will be invited for surgery soon. His name is Ali, and his mother was blessed by the care our team gave her and her child. At first she was afraid and stressed to come to Israel, but when she saw we would take care of her and Ali, she was comforted.
Please pray for Ali's upcoming heart surgery and for more opportunities for Gaza children to come to Israel for life-saving operations.
I have during my time here at Shevet had the privilege to witness what beauty comes out of seeds already planted and how relationships with our neighbors really matters.
Our involvement with the people of Gaza is more than just helping children to come for surgeries and bringing them for follow-ups on Tuesday clinics at Wolfson Medical Center. Steadily old patients call us and ask for help or a piece of advice connected to medical treatment. At Shevet we seek as far as possible to accommodate needs for help from people who have found trustworthiness and love in us inadequate servants of the Lord. The lesson for us is to see these requests caused as opportunities to serve and value the uniqueness of an individual created in God’s own picture. Below you can read and share in the lives of a little fraction of those who come to us:
This little boy, Barra, had his heart surgery at Wolfson around a half year ago. In addition to his heart defect he was also born with a cleft palate, and the Wolfson cardiologists themselves arranged for him to go to a hospital in Haifa for a potential facial surgery. We have several times taken them from the Gaza border to Haifa and spent the day with them there and helped out with translation, navigation and killing long waiting time. During one of his first examination before surgery, we shared lunch together by the sea and shared life together.
His mother was very delighted that day after starting the process of her son’s facial repair, and for her it was very special to be in Haifa for the first time in her life. Her name is Haifa just like the city! We rolled out that morning with perhaps an ‘another day at the office’ attitude and got to share in a big moment of her life. That was a good eye-opener for us and caused to reflect on what kind of significant occasions we come to be part of.
In the beginning of this year Barra underwent his surgery, and last week this picture was snapped of him when he was taken for a follow up.
It has been a long and exciting journey to be alongside him – first to get to know him before his heart surgery and then be able to report today what beautiful transformation has taken place.
Shevet workers started building relations to Ayman Al Kurdi (portrayed in the picture below) when he accompanied his little grandson for heart surgery at Wolfson hospital years ago.
He was foremost a loving caregiver to his grandson, who sadly didn’t survive after surgery. Veteran volunteers report how he was of great help to many other families in the hospital helping out with translation. And having met him myself, it is very easy to imagine what warmth and joy he must have brought into the hospital environment. When Shevet teams have been inside Gaza, he has equally been of much help opening up his house and helping making contacts with hospitals.
This very afternoon I escorted him and his mother back to Gaza after she had completed a knee operation in Jerusalem. Having dealt with a lot of pain and even fallen to the ground several times, she now received a piece of artificial bone which should make her gain strength and motivation.
We had a smooth and fun trip back to the border and it's obvious that this family loves fellowship and sharing life with other people. In fact they are four generations living together under one roof. According to my Scandinavian understanding of privacy this should cause a lot of frustration, bitterness and withdrawal from people, but their joy and uncomplicated nature made a huge impression on me. There is something really precious about sharing life together. We can learn so much from these people who have nothing but each other!
Once in a while we get contacted by people we don’t have any relations to. By unexplainable reasons families hear about the work Shevet does and ask for help. In recent months we have had some cases with cancer. I would like to share one of them briefly with you all. (Sadly I didn’t have my camera at hand that day).
Not long ago we got contacted by a woman from Gaza who needed to go for an MRI scanning in the Tel Aviv-area. We waited at the border one early morning and to our surprise we found that we were going to take a middle-aged blind woman and her escorting mother to the hospital. Once again I was struck by the appetite of life this family had. The middle-aged woman had recently been diagnosed with cancer in her stomach for which reason she needed an MRI scanning. As she shared her life story I quickly found out that this was not the only hardship she had faced. She had seen nine siblings pass away in her life. She also lost her sight around ten years ago, and with that loss she suffered an even deeper loss as her husband through many years divorced her because of her new handicap and found another wife. Though she is still sorrowful from that painful rejection she still has strength to keep on going and we spent a wonderful day together. She was in good spirits and joked a lot with me – especially about her blindness. She is a very fascinating woman with a very impressive memory. Somehow she got hold of our office number and our manager passed on a phone number of one of our Arab coworkers. That number she memorized just as it was given to her quickly over the phone without writing it down. Days after the arrangement was made and we picked her up she could still remember the numbers!
Praise God her cancer is discovered at a rather early stage. Please pray that God will bring healing and redemption to this woman. Healing comes from Him, to which she strongly agreed.
Nissan and Yara were waiting for us as we pulled up to the Gaza border this morning. Both were coming back to Wolfson hospital for follow-up echocardiograms after their surgeries. Their mothers recognized Rahel and me as soon as we arrived, and we soon had them aboard the van and on the road north.
Nissan is currently on medication and will probably need a second surgery because of some regurgitation through a prolapsed mitral valve (one of his heart valves is leaking blood flow backwards).
His first surgery closed a VSD hole in 2012, and he’s scheduled to return in three months for another operation.
Yara is a shy three-year-old who dislikes seatbelts.
With one surgery already under her belt, she is looking at two more operations to bring her heart up to speed. Though the VSD hole in her heart was closed, she still has a shunt set up, which will be replaced in a future surgery. She also has a valve needing replacement.
Both children did well throughout the day and made new friends along the way. Nissan held very still during his echo and made his mother proud. Yara needed some sedation to calm her during the echo and was a bit woozy afterward.
We thanked God for giving us a good day and progress in the children’s schedules.
Today Ibtisam, a three year old girl from Gaza, received a follow-up echo at Wolfson Hospital. She had heart surgery two years ago, and the results of her echo today were so good her family was told no further follow-up echoes are necessary. What a relief for a family who two years ago had to give their daughter into the hands of Israeli doctors to save her little heart! Her mother was extremely pleased, as were the two other Gaza mothers who had come to Wolfson with her in order for their children to also receive echoes.
Although Ibtisam remained relatively calm all day, she began to cry shortly before the echo. Nurses administered a drug designed to quickly put upset children to sleep. Ibtisam was resilient, however, and after sleeping only a short while, she woke up and drowsily attempted to operate a toy car (with varying amounts of success).
Even though Ibtisam’s experience with toys today was less than spectacular, she is an incredible miracle to behold. This young girl, who two years ago was afflicted with a bad heart, is today playing, laughing, and crying, all with a completely healthy and functioning heart. Praise God for His loving pursuit of the hearts of the people of Gaza.
Five more engaging little children were at the Gaza Clinic yesterday with their parents.
It was so good to hear the particular news about Doaa - a young girl who had had a hole in one of her heart valves. This hole has now been closed! Therefore she will not need to return for any further hospital visits for another year.
One year old Janna, pictured above, was also there with her father who took every opportunity to take as many photos as he could of his daughter. This was her second trip after her surgery and third visit overall to Wolfson Hospital. Looking at this lovely and playful baby girl, it was not hard to see how she was very much her father’s pride and joy. It was good to see her sparkling with life.
Naseem was a three-year-old boy. He enjoys interacting with other children and grown-ups alike. His first surgery was when he was eight months old, and he visits the hospital every six months with his mother.
Malak is now a three-and-a-half-year-old girl having her second visit to Wolfson after heart surgery. A more contented child would be difficult to find judging on how she appeared. Some might think this would be due to an individual child’s personality. But for those who know the value of prayer to the One Almighty God, we believe he can be working supernaturally behind the scenes and influencing health and well-being.
Lastly, it was good meeting two-year-old Rimas and her mother. She comes to the hospital every three months for follow-up after a very complicated surgery when she was just one year old. She may need further surgery at some point. Could we please pray specifically for this precious child and her family?
What a privilege it was for Ruth and I to spend time on Tuesday with the families from Gaza at the weekly clinic specifically arranged for Gaza children at the Wolfson Medical Centre. The courage and composure of the parents always amazes me, and on Tuesday we witnessed an exceptional example of both, as we sat with three mothers and their precious children, who had been invited for a review of their cases.
As each of the mothers chatted with us about their child's individual condition, we felt humbled that they bravely shared with us some of their worries and some of their pain over the weeks, months and, in some cases, years. We sensed no desire for pity, despite the heartache and pain that the mothers must surely have experienced in caring for the children they love.
At such times one can feel inadequate to express one's sympathy and empathy; these are the moments in life that one relies and calls upon the grace of God to inspire us with the right words and His matchless compassion in order to comfort the hurting and the weary in our midst. Tuesday was such a time, as we sought God to graciously help us to show His compassion, comfort, and love.
Muna is a little 5 year-old girl who simply sparkles with mischief and joy. When posing for photos, it was like watching a celebrity photo session - she posed with such ease and finesse. She is one of three children, and her mother is expecting a fourth child, and shared with us that she does get tired. It had been a long day, but the results of the examination were encouraging. Muna's infectious big smile brightened up everyone, as we all patiently waited for the other results.
Baby Kissam's results were also encouraging. By the time we received the news, Kissam was fast asleep in his push-chair, totally oblivious of the anxious waiting time his adoring mother endured. Earlier he had delighted us with his cute and mischievous chuckling! He too seemed to be a seasoned entertainer, smiling beautifully for the camera! He was not quite so impressed with some of the medical procedures, but no one would have guessed when looking at his sleeping little form at the end of the day.
Mohammed is a 9 year-old boy, who is exceptionally polite and has such a brave and composed demeanor. He never seemed to complain and bore the long periods of waiting with such patience. His mother also shared the same dignified and patient composure, and we were able to share in conversation with the help of Yousef and Philip, as well as the other two mothers.
We were so honored on Tuesday to be able to share our time at the Gaza Clinic with our dear friend, Mary Dailey, who was visiting Shevet Achim for two weeks from the U.S. To be with her as she talked with the mothers and children was such a privilege, especially as she was to leave for home the next day. It was a special day for us, as we had first met Mary and volunteered for a short while alongside her some years ago. Mary served Shevet Achim for some five years with such devotion, grace, love and humility. May God bless you for all your faithfulness, Mary.
This was my first time to the Gaza Clinic. I was pretty excited as this is a big part of Shevet. We drove to the Erez Crossing at the Gaza border where four of the five families were already waiting for us. One was a mother with a child called Bara, who has had heart surgery but also has a cleft lip. He needed to go for an appointment at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, so today's trip was a juggling exercise.
Three of the four remaining families had echo appointments at Wolfson Hospital, and were put in a taxi while we waited for the last family to arrive. Just as we were about to give up on them arriving, they came, and off we went to Wolfson Hospital, together with Bara.
All the other children there had echo appointments and it was lovely to see how welcoming and reassuring the doctors were. It took me a while to work out which children belonged to our group, but our co-worker Lina was well known in the hospital and guided me to the right places while translating for the Palestinian people wherever she went. It was a blessing to see all the medical staff excited about the progress the children had made, and reassuring those mothers or fathers who sounded a bit concerned. Reconciliation is truly happening one child and one family at a time!
Good news also for Susannah, who got her next appointment in six months' time rather than three months, as before!
And lastly, a lovely photo of a very serious Motaz, who was waiting for another surgery, hopefully some time in October.
Let us not forget to pray for these children and for the medical staff who so selflessly give of their time and skills to bring them to full health.