This Tuesday the clinic was full again with Gaza children: ten families arrived to Wolfson Hospital for heart treatment. Among these was a young lady from Gaza named Souzan who is nineteen-years old. She was evaluated for heart troubles at fourteen. At first doctors declined to do the surgery. It was not feasible. But when she was sixteen, something changed, and her heart was healed.
I had a phone call from her mother a month ago to remind me of Souzan’s follow-up appointment in Israel. The mother seemed to have combined feelings of joy and worries: the worries were because of Souzan's heart situation, and the joy because Souzan is getting married and going to live in Dubai.
As an Arab lady I would like to give you a little hint about marriage in our culture. The lady must be without disease to get married. I always hear the mothers from Gaza so worried about their daughters not getting married, and some of them ask for plastic surgery to hide the scar from surgery. Marriage in Islam is so important for the woman, and the woman who is not married, she's a shame for her family! So I was so happy to hear about one of our patients getting married, because I know that the man who's going to marry her knows exactly about her situation and will take good care of her.
Souzan came yesterday (Tuesday) to be checked in the hospital, and to inquire if she could marry and have children and live a normal life. I had a chance to translate for the mother what Dr. Tamir said: Souzan can get married, but before becoming pregnant she has to have an echo, and again during her pregnancy she must have a several check-ups. She must rest whenever she's tired, and she needs to do a follow-up every six months. Souzan might need another surgery in the future because she has regurgitation in one valve of her heart, and might even need an artificial valve in the future.
The mother went home sad at this news. She was hoping to hear that her daughter is completely fine and will not need any further treatment. She was also sad because her daughter will live in Dubai after the wedding, and they will not often see one another.
Please pray for Souzan's marriage, that there will be no health problems, and that her husband will fully understand her situation. Also pray for Souzan's mother, that she will have rest and not to be worried all the time. Lastly, we can extend this prayer for Souzan to all the little girls receiving heart surgery… they all have the same dilemma.
Ten days ago we wrote about Walid and the hope for him to be released soon. Today we are proud to announce the following news: Walid was released in good health and Yousef and I helped his grandfather pack up their bags and gather all their things for the trip south to Gaza. We were also able to bring him a bagful of a special medicine, Clexane - a blood thinner, for him to use. While a three month supply had been requested, we could only requisition one month’s worth. Ruth had printed out some photos of Walid and his grandfather with Shevet Achim volunteers that they had special relationships with, and it was a joy to show these around to the hospital staff before we got ready to go.
Walid’s grandfather and I talked a bit about the helpfulness of facing up to the challenges of life with patience and faith. Building up our trust in God by prayer, meditation, and/or reading not only strengthens our mind to handle the spectrum of life situations, but also gives peace and assurance in our actions enough to relax and be playful.
Walid looked around wide-eyed all the ride to the Erez border and barely made a peep. His grandfather had a few conversations with Yousef and another Gazan father-son duo that were returning this evening as well.
The other boy was Mohammed, a smiling young guy who was happy to make thumbs-up signs and shake hands with me in the hospital for photos. They were very ready to get home and waited outside the hospital for a while as we gathered Walid’s papers and medicines.
Firyal, the precious little Gazan girl that came as an emergency case and had her surgery 10 days ago was in the ICU up to yesterday. Today I got to play with her in the children’s ward and see how strong her grip is. She held onto my finger with determination for a while till I gave her a baby rattle. This she swung around while her mother and I laughed.
Serving with Shevet Achim has stretched me in my ability to handle sudden changes in scheduling and being flexible. We are not working with dead matters here, but with alive, precious children in need of heart surgery.
This past Friday was the day that Atwar, our mischievous three year-old from Kurdistan, was supposed to be admitted for heart surgery on Sunday morning. But late in the evening Thursday we received the news that his surgery will be postponed. It seemed that a little baby from Gaza, who was an emergency case, was to take his surgery spot instead. So we started our morning meeting Friday by interceding for these little lives that God has entrusted us with. For if that child from Gaza was to have their surgery scheduled first, he or she had to be in a precarious condition.
Later on Friday morning, Muna and I left for Wolfson Hospital to visit the current Gaza children and their families, including the "emergency case" child. So we went to the children’s ward first and spent time with baby Monsour and his loving and caring grandmother. Muna quickly sat beside Monsour’s grandmother and soon they were engaged in a lively conversation. Meanwhile, Monsour was sleeping in his bed with a nasal tube providing him with supplemental oxygen.
His grandmother told us that he should be able to return home soon and that the doctors were only waiting for his blood-oxygen saturation to stabilize. Just yesterday Monsour’s grandmother was informed that there is nothing more the doctors could do for her grandson. However, she refuses to recognize that fact, and is still positive that he can be healed. When I heard this I was hurting for Monsour and his family. Please pray for the whole situation, and for peace and comfort for all people who love Monsour. He is precious in God´s sight, and I want to trust that His ways with that little boy and his family are the best.
In the same room we met a lovely ten year-old girl named Ala who had come to the hospital past Tuesday accompanied by her father.
Ala has thick and beautiful brown hair and is fond of coloring books and jewelry. With Muna’s translation help, I found out that Ala has lived with her heart defect her whole life. Over the past year she has grown more and more tired, and after an echocardiogram last Tuesday she was admitted for heart surgery in the near future. There is not a set date yet, but of course she and her father hope that it will be soon. It was a pleasure getting to know her a little bit and to spend some time with her. I pray that she knows without any doubt how precious she is, and that in God’s perfect time she will have her surgery.
We then left the children’s ward and headed towards the ICU, where we found the two other children we had planned to visit. I had heard yesterday that Walid was back in the ICU and that this had been really hard for his mother. Walid had slipped into respiratory distress the previous day, and had to be intubated. By the time I saw him was already doing a lot better and had been freed from the respirator. His mother was happy about our company and told me how much she longed to see her other two daughters again. She is hoping that it will be possible for Walid’s grandfather to be with him in the hospital, so that she can spend time with the rest of her family in Gaza. These past weeks at the hospital have been long and challenging, and I pray that she will daily be encouraged to continue as long as it is needed.
Thank you for your continuous prayers for precious Walid. He is a little fighter, and by God’s grace he will hopefully be back home in Gaza soon.
The last child we visited was the emergency case mentioned above. She is a little four-month old named Firyal. She is in a precarious condition that has already made it necessary for her to be in ICU. Firyal is accompanied by her grandmother. When we approached her and talked to her for a while, it was obvious that she appreciated our conversation. She could not give us much details, but told us that they had come to the hospital two days ago and that Firyal needs heart surgery as soon as possible. She is scheduled to have her surgery soon. Please enclose this precious little girl and her family in your prayers, as they are facing a challenging time ahead of them.
With a thankful heart I am looking back at Friday’s visit. God cares for each child and family deeply, and by spending time with them He has blessed Muna and I in a special way.
"The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." Psalm 145:9
While driving to the Erez border crossing of Gaza from Jerusalem, I'm always curious about the families coming out. Today, were traveled there to pick up two families and escort them to Wolfson Hospital. We had to wait about thirty minutes for them, but in no time we were on our way up north to Tel Aviv. Every time we make this drive, we pray and trust God for a safe arrival.
The families we transported are staying for surgery or other medical help at Wolfson Hospital.
We also used our time at the hospital to visit with and see the other Gaza children recovering from their heart surgeries. We saw Walid and Munsour who were waiting to be released.
A few days ago, my co-worker Muna gave me a lovely stuffed sheep to give to Monsour.
It was fun walking in the hospital with it. Many people stared at this small animal and some were laughing at me too. All I could think to say was, “Yom tov!” (Good day).
I could see Munsour was happy with the sheep. His grandmother was as well and wished peace to me and Muna.
After out visit, we began our journey home. Going up to Jerusalem is always special.
A “Gaza day” at Shevet Achim usually includes being a part of the transportation process in shuttling up to 10 mothers and/or fathers - each with a child - to Wolfson Hospital in Tel Aviv where they run a clinic for them every Tuesday. The clinic includes echocardiograms, heart monitoring, and a number of checkups for children before and after surgery. It takes place in several rooms off a crowded hallway on the second floor of one wing of the Wolfson Hospital building. This past Tuesday, we brought two families with us in our vehicle while another five went by a special taxi service we often call for.
At the hospital I met a father and son that I had seen once before; they’re from the city of Rafah on the southern border of Gaza. The boy, Abdul Aziz, had heart surgery 12 years ago in Saudi Arabia and has since been able to grow better - but has another body ailment. It was first thought to be Ehlar-Danlos syndrome, an inherited connective tissues disorder. You can see from the picture the way this medical condition is affecting his appearance. However, what you might not be able to discern from the picture are his weak joints and muscles that make walking difficult. He has already had surgery on his knees and shoulders. Abdul’s Dad described the continuing severity of his son’s condition aptly when he told us that Abdul tires quickly after about 150 meters and is prone to falling or having a joint twisted. With three older siblings who are doing well, this son also has told his Dad that someday he would like to be a pilot! Last time I saw this father and son, they were at Wolfson for checkups so the doctors could figure out what they could do to help them. Today, Abdul had an echo and was also checked by a doctor who is now of the opinion that his condition is Cutis Laxa, another disorder of the skin where it loses its elasticity.
Abdul kept a good attitude through the day at the hospital and seemed ready to smile whenever someone reached out to him in some way. We made faces at each other to pass the time and I talked with his dad about their life in Gaza. We joked about him hiking in the hills and mountains of Gaza (there aren’t any), and I heard him reminisce about a trip he made to the states in 1990 to Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Abdul and his father are planning to be back in six months or so for further work and hopefully help from the hospital. You can see the father’s love and years-long care for his son in all the ways he provides and protects. From giving Abdul a hands-up when sitting, walking beside him with a supporting arm, answering staff’s questions patiently, and quietly waiting with him through the various check-ups and tests, all display the touching love in this father’s heart. I pray he realizes how our Father in Heaven could not be less loving to His children than he is to his son Abdul.
Yesterday we brought baby Jamil, less than three-months-old, back to the Erez border crossing of Gaza.
Jamil still needed several medications, which his mom was able to take with her into Gaza.
She also collect a lot of yoghurt, coca-cola and candy in Israel so that might be used for a party back home. We wish for health and safety to continue to be with this small boy.
And finally, there have been some recent photographs of Gaza children taken at Wolfson Hospital by various Shevet Achim volunteers which are just too good not to share. Here they are, enjoy!
Jamil (mentioned above) while he was recovering in Wolfson Hospital
Jamil and his mother
Little Mahmoud clearly enjoying his time in the spotlight
The closest anyone came to snapping a picture of Mahmoud smiling - look at those eyes!
Mahmoud and his mother about to start the journey across the Erez border to Gaza
Mohammed A. takin' a snooze
Mohammed A. recovering at Wolfson Hospital
Mohammed H., quite possibly the cutest boy to ever look so unhappy in a festive hat
Just hanging out with Mohammed H.
Walid vs. his congenital heart disease
P.S. Walid seems to be winning
As Yousef and I pulled up to Wolfson hospital in Tel Aviv today to transport a Gazan child to the Erez border, I was wondering if I would recognize the mother or child. I hadn’t heard the name of either yet. I stopped to wait at the entrance for ambulances as Yousef went in.
He believed he could bring them out soon, a rare occurrence at the hospital. Paperwork, medicines, and baggage collection usually slows the process down, even when we call ahead and ask for them to be ready. Today it went relatively quickly, maybe only twenty minutes. As the mother and son followed Yousef out of the sliding glass doors I did recognize her, but surprisingly not the boy. “Salam Alaikum!” came the exchange of wishes of peace to each other.
I found out later that she had been in the hospital since Monday, explaining the few times we had exchanged cheerful greetings during the week. Her son, eight-year old Mohammed, enthusiastically ran out of the doors, looked around inspecting where Yousef was going, and followed his gaze from the car to me. Often the children appear different when they are lying in bed or have oxygen masks on, but I still wondered why he didn’t seem familiar.
After we got their bag in the trunk and strapped Mohammed in, I got out our camera and took a picture of him (above) seated and staring deeply into the lens. The drive south was quiet and smooth. Yousef put on some Arabic music and talked a bit, but soon we all joined the silent serenity of the beautiful sunset. Thinking about writing this blog, I realized more information would be helpful and called Josh, our office administrator and a Arabic speaker, to ask if he could translate some information through Yousef to Mohammed’s mother and back to me.
This is what we found out. This week Mohammed had endured his second catheterization, the previous one being done a few months before. This was also his second time out of Gaza into Israel. His surgery date had been postponed due to its risk and related complications and is now tentatively set for sometime this upcoming May. His heart has several holes and his circulation of oxygenated blood has consequently suffered.
Finishing the drive to the border, we unloaded their things and gave them an enthusiastic farewell. Mohammed’s mother was characteristically joyful and energetically waved goodbye with a beaming smile. As we spoke the traditional “Alaikum Salam” goodbye, I reflected on the meaning and hope of this phrase once more. Today I believe we made one more step towards bringing this dream of peace among the peoples of the earth to life.
Since I started to serve with Shevet Achim almost six months ago, I was naturally more involved in the care for the Kurdish children who live with us in Jerusalem, and did not spend much time with the Gaza children. From time to time I would meet some of them at the hospital, but usually I would not get he chance to know them well. This started to change when I met the grandfather of Walid several weeks ago. I was asked to take a picture of Walid and because of that I had to introduce myself to his grandfather. Fortunately for me he speaks English, which helped with the communication. During my next visits at Wolfson I tried to stop by and check on Walid and his grandfather regularly. These personal encounters helped to form a relationship, and it is my wish that I can more and more have the same with other families from Gaza.
Yesterday an opportunity arose as Gerret, Mikaela and I went to Wolfson to pick up little Shaida from Kurdistan. Before we went, I talked with Lina, our Gaza coordinator, and asked her for the names of the children who are currently at the hospital. She gave me three names, including little Walid, and with the names on a piece of paper we left for Tel Aviv. We arrived during a busy time at the children’s ward and so I could not ask any of the nurses where to find the children. So we peeked into the different rooms, trying to figure out which are the children we were looking for. Finally we entered one of the rooms and asked one father for the name of his child. It happened to be one of the children we were looking for. We conversed for some time, and since the families get to know each other well during their time at the hospital, he could tell us where to find the other two children. Seeing these children and talking to their parents, I understood the importance of our weekly visitations. Each parent we talked to was happy to give us an update on his or her child’s condition.
Leen is a ten-month-old girl who is currently accompanied by her father. She already underwent two surgeries, and possibly will have to have another one. A catheterization she was supposed to have for further diagnostic investigation was cancelled last minute. Leen’s father explained the reason for this recent cancellation is her poor health status. Her next catheterization is scheduled for Thursday of next week.
We found one year old Bana in secondary ICU. Last Sunday she underwent the first of a two part surgery, and a shunt was successfully created. Her recovery has been really smooth so far, and her mother’s hope is to return to Gaza soon. A second surgery might be performed after one year. I told Bana’s mother that there are many friends of Shevet praying for our little patients, and she responded with much gratitude. She shared with us that five years ago she had already lost one child with the same heart defect Bana has, and expressed several times how thankful she is for the help she receives through Shevet Achim.
At last we went to see Walid in ICU. I was a little bit surprised when I heard that he was there again, because the last news I had heard was that he was continuing his recovery in secondary ICU. Before Gerret and I entered the ICU, Walid’s mother came into the waiting area. I had not met her before, and was introduced by Gerret. She gladly let us join her when she went to see Walid and told us on our way that he had been extubated today. A little later I talked with a doctor who gave a short survey over the last days. Walid’s condition had been deteriorating and so the doctors had to perform another surgery. By today he was stable enough to be extubated, but still needs some support through an oxygen tent around his head.
Our visit touched my heart and I feel honored that I was able to visit these families. We only spent a couple of minutes with each family, but we could tell that it meant a lot to the parents. By sharing in their fears, concerns, and joys, we grew close within a short period of time. Would you please enclose these precious children and their families in your prayers?
For the third consecutive week, the clinic at Wolfson experienced a large number of Gaza children coming to be evaluated by Israeli doctors. I had a busy day helping, translating, chatting with the mothers, and hearing some stories about their life in Gaza. One of the stories that touched me the most, and even made my co-worker Fatima cry when she heard it, was the story of little Doa.
Doa is a five-year-old girl from Gaza who comes from a very poor family. Her family’s house was destroyed during the Gaza incursion in 2009, and her father tried to garner support from organizations in Gaza to help rebuild his home. But when no help came, he started re-building the house anyway. That’s when the government stopped him on the grounds that the land was “government owned.” He and his family were made to move and there was no one to help him secure another house. Doa’s father is very sick and can't work, though their immediate family is sometimes supported financially by the extended relatives of Doa’s mother. Because of their financial situation, Doa's family lives in a tent at the moment. Doa’s mother shared her burdens by expressing how hard and cold it gets in the winter because the tent can't truly cover them from the rain. As a result, the children are sick most of the year.
Though no help has come for Doa’s family in terms of their housing situation, Israeli doctors at Wolfson are doing their part to help better Doa’s health by treating her congenital heart defect. Doa has been diagnosed with an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD), which causes oxygen rich blood from the right atria to mix with oxygen poor blood in the left atria of the heart resulting in lower-than-normal levels of oxygen in the body. This condition requires surgery to fix and Doa will return for this in April. Her mother was so touched by her experience at Wolfson and the way Gaza children were being helped that she told me, “I love you with all my heart.” But yesterday wasn’t just all about medical appointments. Doa also had fun playing with her mother and the other Gaza children at the Wolfson clinic.
Please pray for a complete healing of Doa’s heart, and for her family’s situation.
And while we were at the hospital, we had a chance to check in on our little friend Walid.
It seems that this past Monday, Walid underwent another surgery to install a pacemaker in his heart. Yesterday, I went to the ICU with our volunteers Gre and Gerit to visit Walid. At the entry door to the ICU, I rang the bell several times but none of the doctors or nurses answered, they seemed to be very busy! So instead of waiting by the door, we decided to go to the children's ward and visit the other Gaza kids that are staying in the hospital. While we were in one of the rooms, Walid's mother entered. I was so excited to see her and I told her that we came to visit but we couldn't enter the ICU. She replied with the good news that Walid is no longer in the primary ICU, he's been moved to secondary. This brought joy to my heart because it means that Walid is doing much better. After this, we went to see Walid and I asked the nurse about his situation. She replied by saying that he still needs supplemental oxygen, but he's doing better, and just needs time to improve. Thank you for praying for Walid's recovery, and please keep on praying for him and his family.
Our visit to Wolfson today brought opportunity to meet Walid's mother and chat with his grandfather outside the ICU. Yesterday's report indicated that perhaps doctors would be able to close his chest this morning, but Walid's grandfather stated with concern that such was not the case. It was clear he was feeling the strain of waiting for better news. I was not able to enter the ICU just then since Ramyar was on his way to the echocardiogram clinic, but looked forward to getting updated news later.
Garrett spent time with Walid's grandfather while the rest of us were pursuing the echo, and it was several hours before I was able to return to the ICU. When I entered, neither Walid's mother nor grandfather were there, but Dr. Alona was making rounds, and took time to give me the latest report on his condition. The news is good! Early this morning Walid's condition started improving when his kidneys began functioning well again. Thank God, throughout the day his progress continued, and currently the doctors have a plan to close his chest tomorrow morning. If his healing goes as hoped and expected, Walid will be well enough to be removed from mechanical ventilation on Sunday morning.
I didn't find Walid's mother and grandfather before it was time to leave, but telephoned our Gazacoordinator, Lina, with the good report so she could share it with the family. She said she'd just spoken with Walid's father, and would call him back with the encouraging news. Please keep Walid in your prayers, as well as his anxious family, as we watch together for this precious baby's healing to continue.
(This blog was co-written by Shevet volunteers Lina and John.)
On Tuesday (yesterday) we drove to Erez Crossing at the Gaza Strip. It was raining cats and dogs. At least it wasn’t raining rockets. Nine Palestinian families were waiting for us, waiting to be taken to Wolfson Hospital’s cardiology clinic. We drove the forty-five minutes between the arid border and metropolitan Tel Aviv.
Nine families is a big number. We haven’t had this many for months. The clinic was full of children needing a heart echo, or to be admitted for surgery. In the end, seven of the nine children were admitted for surgery. This was a number we didn’t expect! But we are glad because Gaza children can again be treated in the hospital. We left the hospital late yesterday, shuttling only two children back to their homes in the Strip.
We would like to take a closer look at two children, Rimas and Walid.
Some time ago we wrote about a little girl named Rimas. She needed a special milk formula – Monogen – to reduce the fluid on her lungs. She already underwent one heart surgery, and stands in need of a second. But the fluid on her lungs is dangerous, and the milk is critical. One doctor stated bluntly: “Without that milk, Rimas will die.”
She looked so cute with her new eye glasses. And a follow-up appointment more than satisfied doctors with her progress: the fluid on her lungs is gone! This news brought joy to the face and heart of her grandmother, who escorts Rimas to Israel. In four months time Rimas will return to Tel Aviv for another appointment.
Also yesterday, the child Walid had his heart surgery. His grandfather waited outside during the operation, and I could see the tension on his face.
Walid was in the operating room from 9am to 4pm, and during this time there was no information. Only waiting and praying. The words were on the lips: ”Inshallah” – our life is in God’s hands.
The surgery was completed, and the little information we received was positive. Walid survived the operation, and is recovering in ICU. We expect to hear more details in the days ahead.
Thank you for praying for and supporting Rimas, Walid, and all the children from Gaza.