Gaza Clinic Day in the third week of November started with a sputter as Colin, Yousif and I tried to start our road trip out of Jerusalem. There had just been a terror attack earlier in the morning and roads were jammed going out of the city. The unfortunate part was that we had a guest coming along for the work today that we were scheduled to pick up soon. As our time dwindled we prayed for a breakthrough. God delivered us out of the city, and just outside of the Judean Hills, we picked her up and started south toward the Erez border of Gaza.
Our guest, Cathy from New York, is a registered nurse who helps run a Catholic soup kitchen in the States and has visited and spent years in frontier countries ministering. She was an amazing presence of peace for the families who came out of Gaza, even in these days when tensions are high between Jews and Muslims.
At the border we made contact with Maziona and Yhia (pronounced Mahz-Yoonah and Yahya). Three-year-old Maziona (pictured left) came with her father.
She had surgery for Tetralogy of Fallot within a year of her birth and has been having periodic check-ups since.
Seven-year-old Yhia also had two prior surgeries for DSS, an obstructing lesion of the heart’s left ventricle outflow.
He has had two surgeries because this condition is one that often returns as the heart grows. Because of this, he needs check-ups every three months in Gaza, and every 6 months at Wolfson Hospital, and he must avoid strenuous activities and competitive sports. I was able to speak a little with our families and hear about their lives. Their children are the joy of their lives as they work out a living where they are.
Tuesday’s check-ups showed that the children are doing well and will not have to return until their next check-ups. Time with the hospital’s staff seemed a little tenser than normal, but the medical workers’ professional care was steady throughout. Thank God for those who put His life-giving work ahead of personal opinions and feelings.
We had the privilege of helping a third family from Gaza and a grandfather from Betlehem return with us.
Kristina also reports: about a sweet citizen of Gaza named Wasam: he is recovering quite well in Wolfson's pediatric ward after an open-heart operation last week. His beautiful green eyes shone bright beneath a mop of brown curls.
Wasam's mother, likewise, was full of joy and thankfulness for her son's healing. When I said goodbye to this sweet boy, he was quiet and content, catching up on an interesting read.
Another encouraging story of the day is the miraculous progress of a small baby named Dana.
For the last several months, he has been in critical condition in Wolfson's Intensive Care Unit, undergoing a series of four operations. All the while, his faithful and loving grandmother has been by his side. The last time I saw her, she was a broken and weeping woman, fearful for her grandson's life and longing to go home. But today, she was completely transformed. As soon as Dana's grandmother saw me, her face lit up in a joyful smile. Relief was written all across her face. She quickly beckoned me to see Dana who, only yesterday, had been transferred from the ICU to secondary ICU. The day grew even better when Dana was then transferred to the children's ward in the early afternoon. I couldn't hold back the tears as I beheld this baby, who has overcome so much for one so young and fragile.
Praise God for His faithful love towards the people of Gaza. Rejoice with me in the beautiful gift of life that He has given to Wasam and Dana. "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things! Psalm 72:18
Konrad and I had the privilege to bring Deia Harazin up from the Gazan border to Wolfson Hospital today, upon hearing that he was to be admitted for surgery tomorrow. Heading out of Jerusalem, we prayed for a safe and smooth day. Once on the road we heard that Deia would only have a check-up and would return to Gaza that evening along with two other families. Deia is an active 7-year-old with a fun smile and one of the sweetest mothers. Her gentle, kind spirit was a grace throughout the day. Deia’s complex heart is a puzzle the doctors are still working through to decide how to complete. He has already had more than three surgeries and five catheterizations!
At the ward, Israeli Doctor Sagi performed a detailed echocardiogram and with his Arabic language skills was able to explain to Deia’s mother that they are hoping at this point to do a hybrid operation. This would include some actions that they cannot perform with a cath, can be done while his chest is open for the other surgical operation. This is because of the complicated, inaccessible structure of his heart, specifically one stenotic (constricted) artery which will be dilated. To do this operation they will be purchasing some specialized equipment from Europe or America and it will take a few weeks to arrive. His mother was hoping that the surgery would be soon and this was hard for her to hear; his oxygen level is currently around 80%.
We went for a late lunch and then had tea with some other Arab families. One of our Gaza partners from Save a Child’s Heart, Fatima, was hosting a meeting we joined and met up with 14-year-old Yasmine and 5-year-old Dima who were going with us to the Erez border. Yasmine had had a catheterization measuring pressures in her heart with no interventions found necessary. She has only one right kidney and is being tested for DiGeorge’s syndrome. She will return in about a year for her next check-up at Wolfson. Dima had a successful catheterization to dilate her left pulmonary artery, and also one surgical operation and a catheterization prior to this.
Wasam’s mother was at the meeting also, showing that her child had successfully completed his surgery. With tea and cookies in-hand, the families heard about the different people who come together to make the charity heart-surgery system possible. Our group is known as the “Messihi” one, meaning Christian. After some questions and answers we thanked Fatima and got ready to go. Our three families were so excited to get out of the hospital and they wanted to stop at a store and buy some gifts but we didn't have time. At the border we paused for a group photo before saying goodbye.
It was a cool fall morning in Israel yesterday as we set off toward Gaza's northern border. We met three families who were coming to Wolfson Hospital for this week's Gaza clinic. They were a talkative bunch in the van on the way north. I felt the Lord's warmth in the vehicle, and I knew in my heart that He was preparing to move in each of these families' lives.
The echocardiogram ward was abuzz with action upon our arrival. Little Mohammad stood shyly at his father's side for a couple moments.
After deciding it was safe, he dove right into a group of children already playing in the waiting area. A group of four Israeli volunteers from an organization called 'Seeds of Peace' was camped out in the ward entertaining the children from Gaza, as well as the Save a Child's Heart patients from Africa and the West Bank. They invited Mohammed to color with them, and it was not long before he laughing and running circles around the ward. Do not lot his Louis Vuitton pullover fool you, he was there to play! His follow-up echo results were good, and we dropped him off on the curb at the border smiling.
Jasmine was the oldest of the children on the ward yesterday. She first selected an interesting book to read from the shelf and quietly sat in the corner of the waiting area closest to the windows. After the atmosphere calmed down she found a deck of cards and quietly played a solitaire-looking game by herself.
She was receiving an echo yesterday before being admitted for a future operation. Regardless of this fact, she was a perfect illustration of calmness. May God be guarding her as she moves forward in her healing.
Lastly was beautiful Deema. She was a bit shy; trying to get a photo of her made me feel like a child chasing a butterfly around a garden! She may have been good at hiding her face behind her father's arm, but she could not hide her gorgeous smile.
Deema was also scheduled to be admitted yesterday. It is not very often our Gaza families get admitted, so two in one day made the van heading back to Gaza feel a bit empty. No matter what came her way, I never saw that smile leave her face.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." -Matthew 13:31-32
The Lord provided abundantly for five Palestinian families yesterday, three from Gaza and an additional two from Bethlehem. They all converged on Wolfson hospital in Tel Aviv for the weekly Gaza clinic, and the echocardiogram ward hallway overflowed with the children’s playing and cheerful laughter. I, along with another volunteer, Dany, drove to Gaza’s northern border in the morning and picked up the Gaza families. We prayed on the road there for God to bless these families through us; and considering we only spoke a couple dozen Arabic words between the two of us, we prayed for full reliance on Him to do so without words.
I opened the van door upon arrival; all the families were waiting on the curb, and Selmi was not at all pleased about it.
He exclaimed in Arabic that they had been waiting over a half hour, and I stumbled over my Arabic to beg is pardon as I opened the van door for him and his father. He was mostly silent the day through; I heard him in the waiting area complain that this was taking too long. I glanced at him across the hall and whispered a prayer of thanks that God had preserved him in life and grown him into the strong-willed man sitting in front of me today.
Dina was next, and she was a beautiful, timid young woman. She had a slightly crossed right eye, and so when I asked her if I may take her picture, she elegantly posed sideways and looked into the lens, smiling confidently.
She was the standard of patience the whole day, tolerantly enduring the smaller children’s rowdy playing. Her follow-up echo result was good, and I still remember her soft smile and bashful wave farewell when Dany and I dropped her back off at the border crossing at the end of the day.
Little Hayat, youngest of the Gaza bunch, was a true delight from the onset. The other families were content to stare silently out the window on the van ride up to Tel Aviv, while Hayat happily filled the van with her singing in Arabic. I silently envied her child-like confidence, and secretly desired to join in with her from behind the wheel. She was notoriously shy the whole day on the ward, but I was able to snap this shot with the late morning sun alighting the beautiful flowers adorning her head.
The two children from Bethlehem, whose singing I did not have the pleasure of beholding in the van, looked into my lens with the standard picture pose: deep eyes and expressionless faces (although the fathers were particularly keen to smile). They played with the other children while waiting for their echos, and endured their checkups without too many tears.
After dropping the families off at Gaza's border, as Dany and I drove back toward Jerusalem, we thanked the Lord for blessing each and every one of us. We had seen so many smiling faces and experienced so many beautiful stories.
Bara's continuing story saw a new portion added on Monday this week as we saw he and his mother up to Rambam Hospital in Haifa again. Konrad, Rebekah, and I joined them for the day and furthered our relationship with this special family. On the way to the Erez border crossing on the northern end of the Gaza strip, we received a call that another family needed transportation as well, but to Wolfson Hospital.
On arrival at the border, this other boy, Mohammed, was the first to walk out and greet us as we parked. We soon got everyone's bags loaded and Bara in his car seat. After helping the adults with their seat belts, we were ready to get back on the highway. Wolfson is in the southern part of Tel Aviv and on the way to Haifa. We made a short detour there to get Mohammed admitted for his CT scan the next day (Tuesday), and then were able to continue on to Rambam. Today, we heard that Mohammad's test went well and he was released to return home with Nick who was taking care of the Gaza Clinic.
When we arrived at Rambam, it was a bit of work getting Bara's mother the help she needed. With our limited Arabic skills and lots of patience, we moved forward step by step. First, his mother was trying to explain to us about waiting for a friend who was coming. We thought we understood that they would bring a suitcase to either leave with Bara's mother or to have us take back to Gaza with us. We found out later that it was both. As Konrad and I parked the car, Rebekah entered with Bara and mother. They started paperwork at the doctors office and by the time we went to meet them they had found out that they needed to talk with another office first.
We all went to look for this office but instead met up with an Arab man and his daughter that were friends, and they talked through the process with Bara's mother. By the time they were finishing up, we were receiving calls from Bara's friend with the suitcase. We all headed back to the first building and met her and her daughter and son by a gate. We still didn't know that she was also bringing a suitcase for us to take back, but as I figured that out, Konrad and Rebekah went with Bara and mother to continue their work. I helped move the luggage and then we went up to stay with Bara as his appointment progressed.
The doctor viewing him discussed his case with a fellow and we learned that Bara is scheduled for a CT scan in about a month and will be returning. Bara could possibly have a further surgery to complete the roof of his mouth. His development is moving along, we are happy to report.
Afterward we all headed to the food court for a late lunch while Rebekah met up with a friend in town for coffee. Soon we needed to go, and we started gathering.
We gave our friends a lift to nearby their house and then began the journey south to Gaza. Bara and mother soon fell asleep after the eventful day. The road down was punctuated by a beautiful sunset and some heavy rain while our driver Konrad kept a steady pace. Only his second time driving in Israel, he met the task with excellence and German precision.
At the border we helped them with their bags and said warm farewells. I know our God has special care for this family.
"For though the LORD is exalted, Yet He regards the lowly, But the haughty He knows from afar." Psalm 138:6
Today was my first time to go to Erez Crossing border in order to pick up Gaza kids for the Gaza Clinic at Wolfson hospital. Yousef informed us there was only one family coming out today. I was very excited to go with Yosef and Nick for this special mission to serve and bless a family from Gaza.
Imad and his mum were already there waiting for us when we arrived at Gaza’s Northern border. His mum immediately came to me and greeted me with a very warm hug. She spoke English very well, and was able to give me some of Imad’s medical history.
Imad had his first operation at Wolfson hospital when he was two years old; now he is seventeen years old, and is back for a cardio echo follow-up. He was a bit shy in the beginning, probably because we were strangers to him. But, after some conversing, he seemed a bit more relaxed, at which point he began to use his mobile phone to take photos while we were on our way to Wolfson. Praise God that although the echo hall was very busy and loud, we did not have to wait for too long to get his echo done.
The report from Dr. Alona suggested that he has to come back again for another echo in four months’ time because he is a candidate for pulmonic valve implantation. In another words: after his next echo, the decision will have to be made whether he will receive another heart surgery. My prayer for this young man is this: dear Lord Jesus, please heal this young man completely; show your miracle to him, let him can experience your miraculous power without going through another heart operation. I pray in the name of Jesus, Amen!
This week Shevet managed to help two families travel from Gaza to Wolfson Hospital in Tel Aviv to receive follow-ups! The Lord gave us safety on the road and some quality time with both families during the course of the day.
Little Wasam and his mother were early coming through the border. They sat patiently as we waited for the other family for almost an hour. Wasam perched up immediately as I pulled out my camera and snapped a photo. He looked into the camera with slightly crossed eyes as the shred of a smile crept onto the corners of his lips.
He endured his follow-up echo with minimal tears, his mother silently guarding his bedside throughout the process.
Mohammed and his father were a bit late coming out of the border crossing, but we managed to meet up with them in time to make it to their appointments. Mohammed is a quiet and reserved young man. He sat patiently and endured his follow-up with silent obedience. He softly smiled for a photograph without a word.
This week’s Gaza clinic saw five children up to Tel Aviv for echocardiagrams. They arrived a bit later than usual, and the hospital staff was getting anxious as they finished with children who had come from the West Bank, Haifa, and Jerusalem.
Simcha arrived with her father from Gaza, and her grandfather also came from the Jerusalem area to give her support. She was a little shy; she held tightly to her dad and hardly looked around. Her guardians had carefully made their way to the clinic, asking directions through the hospital. In the clinic hall we encouraged her to walk around and make some friends before her echo.
Mohammed Inahal, a young man, sauntered into the waiting hall and sat down listlessly. I do not know what life concerns beside heart problems he is going through, but it was a struggle to bring a smile to his face.
Fauzi came, bringing a laughter filled race with him as he joined another young boy from Haifa in running up and down the halls, and throwing toys around. It was good to see him so healthy, even though he is a handful.
Hajir Musri is a young watchful girl who got up to play a few times, but whenever a strange adult came by she would retreat to her mother. She was almost too bashful for a photo, but after a few attempts she put down her arm and made the connection.
A young woman, Yasmin, also came from Gaza. She is doing well and thriving in the support of her mother. She was dressed in the modest headscarf and a full length trench-coat Muslims often wear.
At the end of the day we were thankful to be a part of these children’s healing stories. Though we only see them usually a day every few months for checkups, we can still make an impact and share some kind care. The parents are glad when they see familiar faces, and often ask us to pass on their greetings
As Tuesday’s Gaza clinic started, we had a lot to make sure was ready and in order before we left Jerusalem on the road toward Gaza. Yousif had lovingly prepared each family’s transportation and arranged each permission so they could come out of Gaza and make their arrangements at Wolfson Hospital. Before leaving, we said a prayer for safety on the road and a Spirit-led day of ministry, thankful that our Heavenly Father was watching over us. On the hour-and-a-half journey to Gaza’s northern border, Yousef and I were able to sing some worship, find quiet time to listen to the spirit, and even practice some Hebrew together. We also met up with a representative from a donor group in Ashdod who had prepared a gift for a Gaza family.
Down at the Erez border crossing we met four-year-old Remas and her father. This child alone has been through two catheterizations, as well as a Glenn operation and a Fontan operation to repair her Tricuspid Atresia.
This heart condition involves the valve between her right atrium and right ventricle not developing or functioning properly, thus preventing a normal amount of blood to be directed to the lungs. Further complications usually arise from this abnormality. Remas’ heart has been fully corrected, and she is on the road to full health, requiring only periodic check-ups. She is an energetic young girl, and throughout the day we found her playing house in the play set at the clinic, posing eagerly for pictures, and rough-housing with another child, Mohammed.
Mohammed, is a bright -eyed young twelve-year-old with a mischievous smile.
His mother told us that he had surgery at three years old at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, and spent four months there before returning. Additionally, he had a stent, a tubular wire mesh, placed to aid his blood flow through a constricted pathway. Thank God, he is also doing well and growing strong.
Next up was a child who made it through the border too late to ride with us and had to take a taxi. Abdul Maxen, a 9-year-old from Jabalia City in Gaza, who is identified easily by his malformed left arm.
At the elbow it diminishes to a small hand. His mother told us he had surgery one year ago for a hole in his heart, but now he is returning regularly for checkups. He played a little with the others but I often saw him sitting calmly with his mother just watching.
One and a half year old Bara, from Deir al Balah in Gaza, came on Tuesday for an important pre-operation meeting with the doctors at Wolfson.
He has a cleft palet and will soon go for corrective surgery at Rambam Hospital in Haifa; his mother told us it will be in eight days. Also today he had a recalibration and resetting of his pacemaker that his mother said had shifted down in his chest. She was so humble and grateful for the care being given her son. I hope I will be seeing them up to Haifa in a few days.
After most of the day’s patients had been seen, Dr. Tamir called all the clinic's staff and volunteers into his office for a holiday toast and some party food. It was the Jewish New Year celebration of Rosh Hashana, and we ate apples dipped in honey to bring welcome sweet new-year. As we paused for a group photo, I wondered at our mix of Jewish doctors, nurses, doctors from other nations in training, including Arab translators and volunteers from Romania and around the world.
Thank God for bringing us together to be able to change so many young lives!
Driving back to Gaza was filled with tension as Yousif found his match discussing the Gospel with the three. Thankfully they would all pause and chuckle. We saw them to the border, said our “Ma-Salaamats” (good-byes), and headed home to Jerusalem.
Unfortunatley, Yousif and my Gaza adventures were not finished; the very next day we received word that a young baby had passed away in the ICU and needed transported back to Gaza. Young Renat, who had been battling for her life after complications arising from being weaned off of a special oxygen treatment post surgery, passed away after ten o’clock Wednesday morning. With some phone calls, pleas, patience, and prayers we received permission to deliver her to her family in Gaza, despite the border being closed for the Jewish holiday. As we prepared to part ways at the border, her father and I gave each other the respectful three kisses on the cheeks before we parted ways.
This Tuesday for the Gaza Clinic we were able to see 3 families through the Erez border crossing. Two came with Yousef and I in a Shevet van, while the third went by taxi. As we headed out in the morning, the words from Psalm 36 were rolling through my mind: “Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the oceans depths.” There is a band, Third Day, who has a song that uses this passage to make a song makes it easy to remember. Viewing the countryside around us as we drove along the road kept these songs going. We drove through the hills down to the Mediterranean coast and then along it south to the top of the Gaza Strip. How much greater is the Creator of this world than all the amazing things we see!
The world of each soul is fascinating as well. At the border we first met 6-year-old Salem Yonis and his mother as they walked to us out of the little shelter by the parking lot.
His personality soon showed, as he eagerly looked for a handshake and flashed a big smile. I helped him into the back of the van and sat him on a booster. Also coming with us was little Ahmed Saeed. At 1-year-old, he has been through a lot.
Along with a complicated heart surgery he has also battled recurrent chest infections in Abd Alazeez Al Rantessi Hospital in Gaza. His joyful mother sat him in the baby seat and I buckled him in with barely a protest. We all got strapped in and then got on the way north to Wolfson hospital.
At the children’s echo department we met up with Rozy Al-Khalili, her mother and grandmother, as well as her aunt who had come from her place in Tel Aviv.
Like the two boys with us she has already had heart surgery and was back for a checkup. Last time we heard from them was when Lina and Philip made a visit to their house in Gaza and shared a feast with the family. This morning she was sitting complacently in her stroller with her feet up on the food tray.
As each child waited for their echo, we found ways to help them through the day. Salem was non-stop playing, grabbing, climbing, laughing, running and probably everyone in the room had a part in reigning him in and occupying him for a little while. Ahmed slept some and watched things around the room attentively. His mother put him in the hands of Salem’s mother a few times when she talked with the doctors. Rozy slept a lot and did not seem to think much of the fusses around her. Thank God, all these precious children had good post-op echo results! Salem had surgery about a year and a half ago, Rozy a year ago, and Ahmed about a year ago,soon after birth.
We returned with the same two who had come with us, this time with Salem actually sleeping part of the way. I held Ahmed for a little while at the border while his mother got things in order and held Salem’s hand as well to keep him from running too far. We watched the clouds as they folded into each other in the sky. May everything that breathes give glory to Him in the way they have been created to!