Kyle, Mart and I went to Wolfson hospital this morning to visit Abu Mohammed and Moman's grandfather. Initial reports from Moman's grandfather were mixed: that Mohammed had had a bad night, but Moman had been extubated (his breathing tube removed), and appeared to be doing well.
However, it took three attempts and a wait of one and a half hours for him to be admitted to ICU, where I was informed that both babies were unstable, and during the afternoon Moman was surrounded by medical personnel who were re-intubating him to begin respiratory assistance again. I was not permitted to photograph Moman, neither could we approach Mohammed, who we were informed was fighting another infection. However, I did get a photo of him from a distance.
As we returned to Shevet later in the day, we were praying for these precious little babies; and we would greatly appreciate your prayers in support as well.
Today we did not have our usual Gaza Run, as the doctors at Wolfson Hospital were attending an instructional course. Nevertheless, Mart (a recent volunteer from Holland), Yousef and I travelled to the Gaza Border with a sick lady who was scheduled to enter Gaza to visit her family there. It was our great pleasure to be able to lift this dear Lady to our Heavenly Father in prayer, and to ask Jesus to bring healing to her. Just as we were about to leave to return to Shevet Achim, we received a call that little Momen was to undergo his surgery this afternoon, and we drove to Wolfson instead.
Momen was taken down for surgery at 1:30 pm, and we waited with his grandfather (Salim) until Momen had been wheeled into the ICU after his surgery at 5:25 pm. I asked one of the doctors about his condition, and they confirmed he was ok and stable. It would be almost an hour before anyone would be allowed into the ICU to see little Momen, so we left for Shevet. Subsequently, Jonathan phoned Salim, who was delighted to have his little grandson back from Surgery, reporting that the doctors hoped to take him off assisted breathing tomorrow.
Momen's grandfather is a lovely and interesting Bedouin man with 6 children and 24 grandchildren. They all live together, along with his brothers, in central Gaza where they grow fruit on their land. He is an educated man who speaks and understands a little English, which was such a blessing.
Whilst waiting with Salim, we met Abu Mohammed Shazal from Gaza. He had been rushed to Wolfson Hospital by ambulance last Thursday with his little one-day-old baby, Mohammed. We were informed that little Mohammed is being treated with antibiotics for an infection, and will then receive his surgery. He is currently in the ICU.
Tuesday was a busy day at Shevet; Jesus had a lot to do through us. Our first run to Gaza’s norther Erez border was a quick turnaround: we collected baby Yazan, a 5-year-old girl named Nesmah, and a 6-year-old boy named Said, and took them to Wolfson Hospital for echocardiograms and assessments.
After delivering them we were quickly under way again heading for the Gaza border a second time to collect a sister and brother: Doha aged 6, and Abd aged 4, whom we also took to Wolfson for their assessments.
Meanwhile, the second van met an ambulance at the border that had rushed a little baby named Momen to the border, who was in a very serious condition and required oxygen. Our van, with Ruth and Kyle onboard, collected him and then rushed him to Wolfson.
On the way to the hospital, Momen's condition worsened, and by the time he arrived at Wolfson he was in critical need of help. It was a tense few minutes as doctors and nursed rushed through the halls to get him the care that he needed. We left the hospital not knowing whether he was stable or not.
At the end of the day, the five children whom we took to Wolfson all returned to the Gaza border, together with a dear little 5-year-old girl whom we had taken to Wolfson from the border on Sunday for her catheterization; she was discharged on Tuesday. Additionally, our Arin from Iraq, who had been in the hospital overnight, was also discharged. There were potentially too many children for the two vans and the car to transport; that is, until the hospital decided to admit Inas, which released enough seats for all children and families to be transported. Our van took Yazan, Nesmah, and Saed back to Gaza border, Ruth's van returned Doha, Abd, and Hyatt to the Gaza border, and Jesse in the car returned Arin to Shevet.
The reports we received from the hospital were that, sadly, there is nothing that can be done for baby Yazan. Surgery will not make a difference, however medications were prescribed to help. Nesmah needs a catheterization and will be invited to the hospital in due course. Finally, Saed is doing well and will return for another assessment in a year’s time.
It was a wonderfully tiring and satisfying day to see just how much Father God did with a few helpers and all the vehicles at our disposal; we praise Him!
Two volunteers, Ruth & Nick, had the opportunity to visit Momen in the ICU today, and he was stable! Praise God! His grandfather was nervously sitting outside the ER entrance surrounded by bags and other belongings. He seemed calm, but at the same time concerned for his lovely grandson. Please shower these two with prayer in the upcoming days, as Momen is tenatively scheduled for surgery early next week.
Yousef and I set out quite early for Erez border crossing, expecting to collect up to six families; although we only had one van, which could only take three. Fortunately, arrangements were made for Konrad, who was already at Wolfson Hospital, to drive to Erez with an additional van. Miraculously, we met each other in a gas station on the way to the border, so we arrived together!
When we arrived, two families were waiting for us: Said (pictured below) and Shadi.
After waiting a while for more children to come through the Border, it was decided that Konrad would take these two families to Wolfson, and Yusef and I would wait for those who were having delays in the crossing process. It soon became apparent that the two children would be unable to get through the border, and neither was a third; however, a fourth child was being delayed as their visa was being questioned. We waited as long as we could, and after clearing a deadline with the doctors at Wolfson, we ultimately traveled to Wolfson without any more children.
Both children attended for regular check-ups, which included a heart echo, and both were told they are doing well. Said will need to return for another check-up in six months, and Shadi in a year (pictured below).
So, later in the afternoon, we returned both of the families to Erez, before heading back to Prophets Street.
Earlier in the week, on Sunday, we also had a special opportunity to serve our neighbors in Gaza. Daya had been born eighteen days previously, and on day two he was diagnosed as having serious trouble with his aorta.
When he was only four days old he, was rushed to Wolfson Hospital, and subsequently his heart underwent restorative surgery. Shevet was contacted in order to transport him from Tel Aviv back to the Erez crossing into Gaza so he could go home.
Konrad and I arrived at Wolfson that day and discovered that before he could be discharged, the doctor wanted to perform a blood test, and the result would need to be good.
We imagined a wait of many hours, but amazingly, it took only about five minutes to extract blood from this dear tiny little baby, and thanks to a running nurse, only about another five for the result! Daya was accompanied by her aunt, who was so thankful for us helping and transporting her that, despite not speaking English, she found out how to say "thank you" to us, which touched us deeply: God bless her.
How amazing it is to see and hold an 18-day-old baby who looks normal, fit and well, yet has already undergone serious and major heart surgery! We praised and thanked Father God for such a tremendous result, on our way home.
Shevet had the privilege of serving four families who came out of Gaza for this week's Gaza clinic at Wolfson Hospital in Tel Aviv. They had all made it through the border crossing by the time our vans arrived. They were a diverse group: children ranging from infants to young adults, accompanied by fathers, mothers, and even grandmothers. They all smiled and greeted us warmly, and we were quickly on our way to Tel Aviv.
The families moved into the echocardiogram hall and quickly settled in; many had done this more than one time before. The younger children quickly found the toys, but Sohip, who looked about eleven or twelve years old, preferred to stand silently with his father. They both adorned brown jackets and gentle faces with faint smiles.
I bent down and asked "shoo isma?" ("what's your name?") and he responded confidently. I handed him my notepad and asked him to write his name. His father smiled and proclaimed that Sohip's english is very good, and Sohip confidently wrote his name in english and arabic. I could see the pride in his father's eyes as his son read the other children's names I had already written in english.
Next was Ja'far, and he was a little bundle of energy wrapped in a puffy black coat. I could hardly get him to hold still for a photo, let along ask him his name!
He hardly stood still the whole afternoon, which proved problematic for the echo technician, however his echo result was good!
Ma'hal was a shy, young girl. I overheard her mother say that she easily became car sick, so I drove extra smooth on the one hour journey to Tel Aviv. However, she survived the drive without incident and quickly came out of her shell in the waiting area, jumped around on chairs and coloring vivaciously. She only became shy again when I pointed my camera at her, but she managed a sweet smile.
The fourth and final child was Nabil, who was accompanied by his grandmother. He is a beautiful infant boy, and he peacefully slept the day away.
I hardly noticed he was there, he was snoozing so peacefully. What I did notice was how his grandmother never stopped looking at his content, sleeping face. She seemed to be connected to him, and the love I witnessed between the two of them was the strongest I had seen in a while.
All of the children had satisfactory check-ups, and we dropped them all off at the border at the end of the day to go be with their families. A few of them had gotten check-ups in order to prepare for future cathederization operations; we can continue to remember these children and these future operations in our prayers. I felt the overwhelming peace of the Lord as we said our good-byes and our peace be with yous at the border. Praise God for a smooth clinic, and we continue to pray that these families will continue to have the freedom to come into Israel for future visits.
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
Yesterday, an elderly retired nurse from New York city, I had the opportunity to join the Shevet Achim team as they drove to the Gaza border to collect children and their parents from Gaza to take them to Tel Aviv for medical treatment.
“Now we will welcome the families,” Jesse said as we got out at the border control parking lot. That word, “welcome,” was befitting to the spirit that prevailed throughout the day.
Both the little 3½-year-old girl, Maziona, as well as 8-year-old, Yhia, visibly relaxed as we entered the waiting room at the hospital in Tel Aviv. They were put at ease by the warm greeting of a long-time staff member, a woman who knew them. She quickly brought photo albums for the children to page through, both of whom were there for follow up visits and echocardiograms. She later took new photos of the children.
The day began with the shocking news that earlier in the morning four people in a Jerusalem synagogue had been brutally murdered while praying. Another six were wounded. The vicious attack was carried out by two young Arab men, presumably cousins. Badly shaken by this news, I was glad to occupy myself with the children as we waited, drawing pictures on a tablet for them to identify (a car, a bicycle, an umbrella, etc.) and then have them tell me the word in Arabic. And so the ice was broken, and they could also draw whatever they wished. Little Yhia was proud to write the words out for me in Arabic!
I was struck by the kind and gentle attention shown to the Muslim parents and children from Gaza and Bethlehem by the hospital staff.
This dear doctor put a cartoon video on which calmed little Maziona. Almost immediately she stopped crying.
“What would we do without videos?” he asked me in English affably. And so we must take hope in such signs of human goodness, acts that heal and bind up. May God continue to bless Shevet Achim in their work.
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