The day of departure from Jerusalem to Amman is always filled with a mixture of emotions for the mothers. They are experiencing the joy of their child's healed heart and new life, as well as anticipating the return home to their families in Iraq. They are feeling the the desire to comfort and encourage the mothers and children still waiting for their release, and the sorrow of parting from their now-like-family of other mothers and friends among the Shevet staff and volunteers. Almost twelve days ago now, that Friday departure seemed to produce those exact feelings for Mohammed and Hani’s mothers. Our trip to the border was like many we'd taken to the hospital as far as the babies were concerned, as it involved confinement to a car seat for far too long. Snacks and toys only partially satisfied their desire for freedom, so arrival at the Israeli border terminal was a joyous event for the little ones. We had a quick lunch from our snack bag, and had no problems making our way through customs on either side. While we waited for final approval from Jordanian authorities, Mohammed fell asleep as he watched his friend Hani playing nearby.
Finishing the security check of our luggage and boarding the taxi was only a minor interruption to Mohammed's nap. Later, a simple dinner together was a sweet time of reflection for all of us as we recalled our first meeting in Amman just over two months ago. It was an opportune time to talk of God's love and nearness in all things. We got news that Saturday's flight had been moved to an earlier time which was another source of joy for us all.
Things began normally enough, but Saturday's reality turned out to be quite different than the anticipated earlier departure. At the airport, we were filled with thanksgiving as I was permitted to escort Mohammed and his mother through the customs process, helping them find the gate area where they'd wait for their final security screening and boarding.
We enjoyed dear moments of mutual affection and farewells when their flight was called, and Mohammed was delightfully oblivious to the source of his mothers tears as we bade one another a final goodbye at the gate. Walking away from this exchange, I thought I'd seen the last of those sweet faces apart from, God willing, a future visit to Iraq. Little did we know that the plane on it's way from Kurdistan was experiencing a sandstorm and emergency descent into Baghdad at about the same time the attendant called them to the gate. Since I was waiting for the arrival of that plane, carrying three new patients coming in with Jonathan, I went downstairs to the arrivals hall for what would have normally been a rather short wait. Today however I received several messages from Jonathan letting me know that their takeoff was delayed, and then later, about the emergency landing. The monitor with flight info hadn't changed it's message, so after a while I went to the information desk to check on the expected arrival of the plane's precious contents. My question was met with a shocked response, for the airport had not yet been notified of the changes, and a flurry of communication activity began while I, and another woman who'd also gotten a message from family on the flight, was asked to sit and wait for more news.
As I sat, I realized that the current delay could impact Mohammed, Hani and their mothers. Because if the outgoing flight back to Kurdistan was cancelled, I wondered how I'd reach my Iraqi friends upstairs to take them back home with me. I further realized that one of baby Mohammed's medications required refrigeration in order to remain stable, so there was already an impact requiring action. With new urgency I went back to the desk to ask about a way to get some ice to my friends to protect the medication required for Mohammed's healing heart. After explaining the dilemma and requesting assistance to get back to my friends, a lengthy process unfolded by which I was allowed to go again to those I'd left several hours earlier. With an airport security escort, I found them in the waiting area outside the gate again, where I found ice at one of the nearby restaurants. Besides the relief of solving Mohammed's medication problem, this brief time together allowed me to explain what I knew about why they were delayed, and settle them about when to expect the incoming flight. Although we would have enjoyed spending more time sitting together as we waited, I didn't want to take advantage of the unique willingness of security to help this family. So we said more sweet goodbyes, and I rejoined my watchful escort back downstairs to the arrivals hall. Even though they were delayed by four or five hours getting home, there was comfort in knowing the medication crucial to Mohammed's continuing recovery was available for use as prescribed by Dr. Alona when he left. And I'm sure the party was just as joyful as Mohammed and his mom rejoined their waiting family. I praise God for bringing them into our lives, and all the ways he joined our hearts as he began healing Mohammed's! We look forward to their return in seven or eight years, when the final repair will be done, holding them in our hearts and prayers until we see them again.
While sitting at my desk this afternoon, Mohammed’s sweet face crossed my mind and interrupted my thoughts. It's been two days since his departure, and I already miss his cheeky smile and the way his nose wrinkled when he got really excited. At this moment, he and his mother are surrounded once again by their adoring family. Our community only knew them for two months, yet loved them deeply. And in loving deeply, saying goodbye hurts. I can only imagine the joy and outpouring of love they experienced upon returning home to people who have known them even longer.
On the evening before their departure, our house was alive with preparations. Mohammed's mother meticulously packed her suitcases, filled with gifts for her children and relatives. Meanwhile, a festive party was soon to be underway, complete with decorations, frosted cake, and farewell gifts. When we all gathered for tea and cake, Mohammed was less than enthused. Perhaps it was the hour or perhaps he just wanted to live up to the song, "It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to." However, our little guest of honor soon cheered and found himself entertained by the various toys he was given.
When we began to share with his mother how much she and her son have meant to us, she offered reciprocative affection. Madelyn and I both expressed how she was like family to us, to which she responded, "You're more than that to me." What a striking reply. What can be more dear than family? It seems as though she was looking beyond the tangible to the ethereal, beyond the visible to the unseen nature of love. It was like catching a glimpse of the kind of love Father God has for His children. Our celebration concluded with a special photo DVD, starring Mohammed and his mother. Every image captured a a different step in his journey here and served as a reminder of God's grace in this baby's life. We took one last farewell photo with all of us to conclude the night.
While Mohammed's mother finished getting ready on Friday morning, I got to hold Mohammed one last time. Our garden looked quiet and inviting, so we went outside to enjoy its beauty--just the two of us. I sang him a couple of songs about Jesus' love while he sat nestled in my arms. It was the perfect way to say goodbye. A couple hours later, the cobblestone courtyard served as the backdrop for prayer and farewell hugs and kisses.
Mohammed and his mother would also be joined by Hani and her mother in their return to Kurdistan. They were so delighted to travel home together as their friendship had its roots in their initial travels to Israel. As I mentioned earlier, pain is often a part of saying goodbye to someone you love. In this case, however, pain is accompanied by equally deep joy. What is more powerful than witnessing life restored and a new heart that beats with wholeness and strength? It is in every way God's handiwork. Thank you Father for giving us Mohammed as one more expression of Your great love!
This morning, Mohammed and his mother found themselves on their way to the Wolfson Medical Center for what was anticipated to be his last echo here in Israel before being cleared to return home. Always brimming full of kindness and hospitality, this time spurred on by the palatable hope of returning home, Mohammed’s mother shared her happiness in the car by pulling out a dainty, glass perfume bottle and giving each of us girls a quick spray on the insides of our wrists. I couldn’t help but look down at my wrist and make several connections about the wonderful irony of where the delicate scent had just been placed (right above a beating pulse). With each pump, the perfume wearer’s heart squeezes blood down through the arm with such a force that by the time it gets to the wrist, the faint and final notes of the perfume are launched into the air in tiny wisps. This thought kept returning to me throughout the journey to Wolfson every time I caught a whiff of the perfume. What a simple reminder of the complexity and strength that characterizes the human heart. This same incredible strength resides in tiny Mohammed’s heart now that he has had his surgery. Although, he hopefully won’t be wearing perfume in the future to remind himself and others of this. And soon, with today’s echo, we were to find out if his heart had completed the next and (for now) final stage in it’s recovery and healing.
We soon reached the hospital, and Mohammed was by this time in a full scale crying fit. But after a syringe full of a curious, orange sedative, Mohammed went right to sleep and stayed that way throughout his appointment.
The results of the echo revealed a clean bill of health for Mohammed. His heart has healed well from surgery, and he and his mother have been given the go-ahead to return home to Iraq. The surgery he received here in Israel should continue to support his heart for the years ahead. However, the particular procedure he underwent requires that he receive an additional heart surgery when he reaches the age of seven or eight. So, the goodbye our community must bid him and his mother soon is only temporary for now.
We left Jerusalem this morning with three happy children and three anxious mothers, all headed towards an anticipated "echocardiogram marathon". At about the halfway mark to the hospital, Mohammed became unhappy with his confinement to a car seat, and was not easily satisfied the rest of the journey. Although he fell asleep just before we arrived, he was unsettled to be awakened and moved from his resting place. Once we made our way to the echo clinic, the distraction of all the people and movement kept him entertained as he waited his turn. The "marathon" never happened - today's wait was not a long one. Entering the examination room was acceptable to our little guy, but as soon as he was placed on the table and clothing began to be removed, Mohammed let us know that he was not interested in cooperating. Not even nursing with his mother would soothe his shrill cries of dismay over being forced to endure the doctor's ultrasound probe as she investigated his healing heart. Thankfully for everyone, the echo was short, revealing excellent progress. Dr. Alona reduced his medications and wants to see him for his final echo in one week, praise God! As soon as he was allowed to sit up from the echo, Mohammed's mood improved. He visited the outdoor garden, and back inside, played happily as his friends' exams were completed. We are delighted for this good report for Mohammed and his mother, and pray that the coming week will hold the healing needed so that traveling home is on their near horizon.
Having little Mohammed and his lovely mother back at our house in Jerusalem has brought much joy to all of us. Mohammed has one of the widest and most open smiles I have ever seen and this is a door opener to many hearts.
While his smile has been ever present within the past few days, today brought more tears than normal as we headed to Wolfson for his first echocardiogram after his discharge last Thursday. It seems that he, like Hani, is a bit traumatized by his time at the hospital. As soon as he sees a stethoscope or a syringe for his medicine, tears start running down his cute little face. Whenever this happens, Kristina and I are very thankful for his smart, wonderful mother, as she starts to nurse him, bringing peace almost immediately. Despite the many tears, we still found moments where Mohammed was able to relax and bless us with his precious smile.
The results of the Echo were really pleasant. The doctors assume that he will have to undergo a second heart surgery at the age of seven or eight.
After the Echo we had some free time before Mohammed would have his blood tested at the nurses station. We decided to spend our time wisely...and went to the beach. For Mohammed, the beach was certainly not love at first sight, but for his mother it was. Although knowing that her long dress would get wet, she walked deeper and deeper into the water, posing for pictures several times. Mohammed watched everything from his secure place on her arm, but as soon as she put him down to let him feel the water, the tears began to fall. It seems that the waves are one of the unpredictable things he doesn´t yet know.
When we came back to the hospital, Mohammed´s blood unfortunately had to be taken twice. His mom was sitting on the examination bench with Mohammed on her lap, holding him tightly and, from time to time, nursing him to calm him down. When she got up, there was a big wet spot on the examination bench; a result of her ocean soaked dress. Upon seeing the wet spot though, one nurse asked who had been using the bathroom on the bench. After we explained that we had been at the beach, the nurse joined us laughing.
Mohammed´s next Echo is scheduled for next week. We pray that God continues to heal him completely and that his whole family will soon be united in Kurdistan.
Mohammad was released to return home to Jerusalem today. The small welcoming committee that traveled to Wolfson was greeted by the smiling and exuberant faces of both Mohammad and his mother. I was touched and absolutely amazed at how this mother, who has been through so much watching her precious baby boy go through the process of heart surgery, extended such a warm and gracious welcoming of hugs and kisses to me, a new member of Shevet and a complete stranger to her. It was a testament to her warmth of character and her excitement over reaching such an important milestone in her son’s recovery process. More amazing still was to see the energy and life Mohammad exuded through his interactions with everyone so soon after his surgery.
With much laughter and happy hearts, we all started to make our way out of the hospital. Just before we exited, we visited with Ahmed’s mother briefly and were blessed with the news that Ahmed has been transferred to secondary ICU! Mohammad seems well on his way to an excellent recovery and a follow-up echo is scheduled at Wolfson for Monday.
After spending nearly one week in ICU, mostly due to a fever, Mohammed was transferred to the children's department yesterday afternoon! I found him and his mother resting in bed when I arrived at Wolfson this morning. His mother's face brightened as Donna, Catherine, and I approached them. Her kind and generous spirit is unabated. Mohammed looked as sweet as ever with his big brown eyes and soft curls. It was also apparent that long days and sleepless nights have been wearying on both mother and son.
Mohammed is making progress in his recovery, albeit a bit restless. IV antibiotics were completed today, and his temperature remained afebrile. Medical staff are monitoring him closely, however, after some difficulty in removing the internal wiring of a heart monitor. Alarm was raised later this afternoon when his heart rate rose to nearly 200 beats per minute. Initially, his nurse thought it indicative of a problem related to the monitor wiring or a fever. Mohammed was simultaneously screaming with all his might. After some time, we were relieved to watch his pulse decrease to normal limits while nursing. This baby is eating his way to health and has earned himself the reputation of always being hungry! He soothed himself into a deep sleep that no hospital raucous could disturb.
As we sat by their bedside, Mohammed's mother voiced her longing to return to Jerusalem quickly for some peace and quiet. Despite her noisy surroundings, she has been spending a lot of time thinking. Now it was time to share those thoughts. God was gracious to help us answer each of her questions one by one until her mind was more at rest. Most of her concerns pertain to Mohammed, naturally, because of her great love for him. We spent a lot of time discussing the likelihood of Mohammed needing an additional surgery before the age of ten. Last week's operation was successful, but in the future, surgeons will replace the current artificial conduit in his heart with a new one. Hopefully, this final repair will last long into adulthood. Mohammed's mother accepted this news graciously, gazing tenderly at her baby boy.
I miss Mohammed's big smile and his mother's warm presence in our home, and I pray it won't be long before they rejoin our community in Jerusalem. If all goes well in the coming days, we may be able to welcome them home by week's end! As we kissed Mohammed and his mother goodbye, she found one more way to demonstrate hospitality with a bag of ripe purple plums. Just as we all enjoyed the sweetness of this gift, may Mohammed and his mother continue to "taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34:8)
We came today to visit little Mohammed one day after his open heart surgery. In what condition would we find him? When I entered the waiting room in front of the ICU, his bright smiling mother came to me. Since Kristina was looking for a parking spot and couldn´t translate at that moment, I wondered how we would communicate. Mohammed’s mother knows as much German as I know Kurdish! But even with our language limitations I understood her perfectly. With her hands and her miming she told me that Mohammed was extubated and that he had opened his eyes. She looked as happy as a mother can look. Her shining eyes told more than words could have told.
One hour later we got to see Mohammed ourselves. He lay peacefully in his big hospital bed. In the late morning he had been extubated, and was receiving oxygen through a mask. His vital signs are good, and the medicine to stabilize his system is being reduced. Although Mohammed is still sedated, he opens his eyes for a short period of time once in a while. These moments are the special joy of his mother. She was especially grateful that she is able to nurse him. We thank God for our precious little Mohammed and that he is recovering faster than we could have expected or hoped for.
Our early morning drive to the hospital produced perfect timing to see Mohammed and his mother just before they left for the operating room. We found him sleeping peacefully beside his mother, who showed visible signs of tears before our arrival. We learned that Mohammed cried much of the night because he was not allowed to nurse after two o'clock, thus his mother was quite tired before this intense day began. The medical staff allowed her to carry him all the way to the pre-operation room where we waited for only a few minutes before the OR nurse came to take him from her arms. The tears were already flowing by then, and the swiftness of the parting was hard to bear.
Once upstairs, Mohammed's mother chose a specific waiting area and made herself comfortable as phone calls from family in Iraq began to punctuate the lengthy watch for Mohammed's reappearance.
After about an hour and a-half, Dr. Tamir passed through the room, and noting our group seated together, explained to Kristina that Dr. Sasson had decided which of the three possibilities was the best option for repairing the unique complications found in Mohammed's heart. As a nurse, she was then able to explain in simple terms to Mohammed's mom exactly how her son's heart was being operated on, using online images of heart defects for optimal understanding. The relief of more information brought with it more tears, but continued encouragement from those of us beside her, and caring communication from her home steadied her for the rest of the wait.
Around one-thirty I left for the cafeteria for two more trays of food so everyone could eat. I noticed Dr. Sasson approaching, and was anxious to ask him the outcome of the surgery. He said everything had gone well, and he believed Mohammed would be fine. Further, he stated that Mohammed should be upstairs in about fifteen minutes. With this news I changed direction and began looking for Mohammed's mother. My coworkers had coaxed her out-of-doors at last, and she hurried inside to hear the news of Mohammed's arrival. Already her expression was one of pending joy, and she was on the phone to her husband. Soon Mohammed was wheeled past us toward the ICU, and tears of relief and joy mixed with prayers of thanks to God erupted from her lips. Our hearts were filled with gratitude to God for His mercy, and we entered her joy as we followed the gurney to the door of the ICU.
Having seen her son's face again, knowing he had come through his surgery well, Mohammed's mother broke her fast soon after a time of prayer. We shared lunch together with Hani's mom while the ICU staff settled Mohammed into his initial recovery phase, and after about forty-five minutes we were allowed to see him. He had a peaceful look on his face, and roused at the sound of his mother's voice. As she laid her hand on his head and spoke to him, it appeared he was responding with a hint of his adorable grin, even though it seemed impossible to imagine! But there's no denying that this mother and son have a very deep love for one another, and the strength of that love brought forth a definite response between them. Praise to God for His marvelous design of the body in its responses to medical intervention, as well as its responses to the love language shared by those who fully love each other. Observing a life-saving miracle brought forth a response from us too, one also of love, directed toward our heavenly Father who showed His mercy by giving Mohammed a new heart today.
This morning we received a phone call with the following surprising news: "Please bring Mohammed immediately to be admitted for surgery tomorrow the morning." Joy quickly overcame our shock at this turn-around, since just yesterday we were told that the surgeon needed to study the in-depth echo before confirming Thursday's tentative surgery appointment. We rushed upstairs to tell Mohammed's mother, and found her seated happily in the kitchen preparing for a large lunchtime meal of dolma. Within twenty minutes she was ready to leave for the hospital with her son. She is a wonderful mother, and was able to gather everything quickly that would make their stay in the hospital as comfortable as possible, and didn't begin to let her emotions surface until we were on the road. At that time she sat quietly beside her little son and I could tell by her stillness that the well of emotions was about to spill over. I held her hand for comfort as she cried quietly for a few minutes. She told me she'd spoken to her husband and that he is very happy, and was going to kill a calf today in preparation for his son's surgery.
Soon her attention was turned again to Mohammed as he began to fret, having no fondness for car seats which separate him from his mother's lap. Balloons, bubbles and stuffed toys made the rest of the ride bearable until he fell asleep about ten minutes before we arrived. He was quite content through the beginning of his pre-op exam until he became a bit overwhelmed by an array of characters invited today by SACH (Save A Child's Heart), our Israeli partner organization. You can see why he was overwhelmed considering his bedside-view of the visitors!
Even so he was easily settled again until it was time for the blood specimens to be collected. It turned out to be very difficult to draw his blood, and took four "sticks" to get the needed specimens, and the IV cannula inserted.
This trauma was exhausting, and took a little time to get over. A visit to his friend Hani, who is recovering from last week's surgery, refocused Mohammed's attention, and his mother's as well.
The rest of the day was spent visiting Hani, or relaxing in the room assigned to Mohammed before his surgery date in the morning. The anesthesia department sent a doctor with consent forms for Mohammed's mother to sign. She was calm and peaceful as we left, though I suspect she will not sleep much tonight as she ponders yesterday's explanation of the difficulty of the procedure needed to repair Mohammed's heart. She knows we will be with her tomorrow to comfort and encourage her through the wait, praying and trusting God's perfect repair to come forth through the hands of the doctors. We trust the God of all compassion to work His healing.