I can think of nothing more moving to the human spirit than the beauty of transformation. Whether it be a lowly caterpillar bursting from its chrysalis with wispy butterfly wings, or seemingly lifeless trees suddenly clothed with spring, or a darkened soul set free from despair, transformation on every plane leaves us captivated. Over the course of two years, I have found myself in this state again and again as I watch children receive the gift of a new heart. And while the privilege of witnessing miracles at Shevet may be replete, they are never commonplace. Rozhgar's story is one such example.
This lovely twelve-year-old girl walked through our doors two months ago. Characteristic of a heart belabored with defects, she came weak and cyanotic. Her lips appeared as though she wore a persistent shade of purple gloss. A short walk found her catching her breath and looking for a place to rest. Upon studying her initial echo results, one Israeli doctor even asked how Rozhgar was still alive. All this to say, the future looked bleak. But as we rallied in prayer and watched the cardiac team provide scrupulous care, the tables began to turn.
A palliative surgery to generate better circulation was completed. This was followed by four difficult weeks of recovery. Excess fluid build up and chest tubes dampened spirits and were the cause of many tears for Rozhgar and her mother. But God was faithful to heal, and the manifestations of a heart change began to surface. Rozhgar returned to us in Jerusalem full of joy, to continue her recuperation at home.
These were sweet days, punctuated by laughter, cookie baking, and outings to the park. Her oxygen level rose, pinking her cheeks and reaching to the periphery of fingers and toes. Rozhgar's personality blossomed as well. The once quiet and subdued girl charmed us all with her quick wit and antics. She called all of us older girls, "Dada" (big sister), and loved just being with us. Before we knew it, Rozhgar was ready to return to Kurdistan.
On the eve of her departure, Rozhgar and her friend, Sara, helped me make sugar cookies for the farewell party. With our faces and aprons christened with flour, cut-outs of Christmas trees, hippos, cellos, and sea-horses emerged from the dough. Unorthodox cookie shapes, I know, but delicious just the same.
Once the finishing touches of icing and sprinkles were added, it was time to celebrate! Our entire community gathered upstairs in honor of Rozhgar and Ramyar. The staccato blend of guitar and drumbeats reverberated against the stone walls as we sang praises to God, the Faithful Healer. Gifts were given along with words of love and affirmation to Rozhgar and her mother. We recounted the Lord's grace in the midst of hardship and the way He healed Rozhgar from the inside out. While her primary surgery is still forthcoming, she already looks and lives like a brand new girl. Her beautiful smile lit up the room as we ended the evening with a commemorative DVD starring Rozhgar.
Blustery wind and rain greeted us Friday morning as we prepared to say goodbye to our dear friends. I noticed both mother and daughter were crying as they gave each person a hug and kiss. Though only twelve years old, Rozhgar is well on her way to becoming a graceful young lady. She smiled bravely behind the tears. Then, just before leaving, a prayer of thanksgiving was offered for all of God's blessings, accompanied by a burst of sunshine.
And God's grace shone down again the next day in Jordan as Rozhgar and her mother boarded an airplane for the last leg of their journey home.
Truly, He has preserved Rozhgar's life and given us the joy of witnessing His redemptive work. And I am captivated once again. May her heart beat to the rhythm of grace found in this timeless promise: "Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.'" Revelation 21:5a
Rozhgar and her mother today with a nurse at Wolfson Hospital
Several times I looked over my right shoulder at Rozhgar this morning, sitting behind me in the van. Her legs were propped up, and she seemed content with dreamy expression on her face. She would offer a small smile and a warming of the eyes. But I wouldn’t look too long over my shoulder; the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv requires the driver’s attention.
It was rumored that today would be Rozhgar’s last heart echo. She came to Israel from Kurdistan with four distinct heart defects on October 21st. The surgery was conducted on November 5th. It was followed by a very long hospital stay. Her mother, a gregarious and moon-faced woman, was at her side every minute.
Now the mother’s heart was racing with fear in the echo department, as she later told my coworker Donna. “What are the doctors saying, what are they saying?” she asked. Doctors continued looking at the black and white computer monitor, conferring with one another, and rubbing the probe over Rozhgar’s heart. “What are they saying!”
The answer finally came, the mother now at a breaking point of suspense: “Rozhgar is very good, and she can go home!” An eruption of celebration, with huge smiles, out-loud prayers, and hugs all around. On the way out of the echo department, Rozhgar turned to Kelsey, a Shevet volunteer, and said in her best English, “I’m so happy!”
Before leaving the hospital, Rozhgar had a quick blood test.
If nothing changes, a farewell party for Rozhgar will be later this week, and afterwards she and her mother will take the victory lap home to Kurdistan.
No one really likes waiting. Waiting before heart surgery can be intense, especially for worried parents; waiting between hospital appointments can be frustrating, especially for healing bodies who want to go home. So while Rawand and his mom wait to be called for surgery, and Rozhgar, Ramyar and their moms wait for a final echocardiogram, we sought a special outing to keep everyone encouraged. Much to our joy, last Friday presented just such an opportunity. On a sunny day in the Tel Aviv area, Rozhgar, Ramyar, Rawand and their mothers had a picnic outing to the Mediterranean Sea. It was delightful - we'll let the pictures tell the story! We hope you will pray for these children as you read, and enjoy the waves, smiles and seashells.
It was an exciting day for Rozhgar, her mother, and our staff who accompanied them to the hospital in Tel Aviv. After a quiet ride in the van, we picked up Rozhgar’s and Ramyar’s charts from the pediatric ward, and expectantly went over to the echocardiogram lab. It was Rozhgar’s first echo appointment since being released from the hospital last Sunday after surgery. Hopes were high as the technician observed Rozhgar’s heart from many angles. After a few minutes, we heard the news we eagerly awaited: there was remarkably no fluid buildup around Rozhgar’s heart and lungs. There would only be need for one further echo the following Monday, and then she and her mother could return home to their family. This was such good news that the atmosphere radiated celebration. Doctor Alona concluded that the second surgery should take place in one year in order to let Rozhgar’s body adjust and become stronger, allowing the initial improvements of the first surgery to take hold. Rozhgar and her mother exchanged looks of satisfaction and relief, seemingly quite pleased with the results of this process.
Even before the affirming news, in the hallway prior to examination, Rozhgar had greeted Doctor Alona with visible joy that seemed to erupt boldly out of a so far reserved and quiet demeanor. Doctor Alona was pleased to see Rozhgar in her improved condition since surgery; it was a happy reunion. Finally, at the end of the visit to the hospital, Rozhgar had to endure one more trial, but one that marked a significant milestone -- it was time to remove her stitches. Rozhgar was incredibly brave and patient as the nurse removed each one of her six stitches.
One fun moment as Rozhgar and her mother waited for the stitches to be removed was a chance to enjoy a sufganiya, a traditional Hanukkah doughnut, kindly delivered by a hospital staff person, which added to the afternoon’s celebratory mood. On the way back to Jerusalemthere was much thanks to God for such a smooth visit to the hospital, for the good news of successful response to treatment, and for great medical staff. Gratitude with an increased peace was the theme of the day.
The weather was simply beautiful when we set off to collect Rozhgar and Ramyar from Wolfson hospital earlier today. We could not believe how lovely and warm it was in
When we arrived at Wolfson, we were immediately greeted by Ramyar’s overjoyed Mum who had been eagerly awaiting us by the entrance. I had the pleasure of meeting this sweet little boy for the first time, as my co-workers expressed how well he looked. Soon after we were able to share our joy with Rozhgar and her Mum, too. When I first met Rozhgar last week whilst she was still in the hospital recovering after her surgery, she struck me as a quiet, even shy, girl, but with a beautifully gentle and content spirit. This impression was only confirmed today, when Rozhgar gave us her trademark smile in which sweet shyness and sincerity meet, as we hugged and congratulated her on her release.
Although not expressed in a loud and jubilant way, her joy was apparent and deeply reflected in her gleaming eyes. Her mother, too, was beaming with happiness and gratitude.
After going over some details with the nurses about the numerous medications that Rozhgar will have to take over the next couple of days and weeks to help her complete her recovery process, we were ready to go home. It was a real joy for me to witness Rozhgar, Ramyar and their mothers’ return to the Shevet Achim community. The house was full of love, joy, laughter and gratitude as everyone welcomed them back. Many hugs and kisses were exchanged, as people expressed how much they had missed these sweet children and how good it was to have them back. We give praise to God for Rozhgar’s release from hospital and for how well she has recovered after several ups and downs over the last few weeks. Please continue to pray for her complete healing. We trust that, as she is resting with us in Shevet Achim, she will grow stronger and healthier and soon recover entirely. We thank God for the privilege of sharing His love and healing power with this beautiful young lady.
Today's visit to Wolfson was short and sweet. Short because of a massive traffic jam which kept us sitting in traffic instead of visiting with Rozhgar and Ramyar. But very sweet indeed since we found Rozhgar free of both her chest tubes and her antibiotic drip. She and her mother were both beaming, and we gave thanks to God for this day's arrival. She is encouraged by medical staff to walk, to keep her strength up and the fluid build up away, and she was happily compliant to this direction. Earlier this afternoon she had been out walking, and struck out again after nurses took her vital signs and gave the green light. Besides this great news, there was even more to be thankful and joyful about: If her echocardiogram looks good in the morning tomorrow, she is likely to be released to Jerusalem, praise God! Keep her in your prayers as her healing progresses.
It had been awhile since I had seen Rozhgar. But today I was able to spend some quality time with her and her mother as she continues to recovery in the children’s ward at the
Not long after this, Rozghar’s mother got up and what I thought was going to be an affectionate pat on her daughter’s head turned out to be her flipping over some of Rozhgar’s hair to reveal a small bare patch on her scalp. My first thought was, “...did she have some sort of test or exam like an
The rest of our visit was spent trying to do just that, as we spent the remaining portion of the afternoon with Rozhgar enjoying the quiet rhythms of the afternoon. Please continue to pray for this sweet girl’s expedited healing in addition to a peace provided by God which can cover and drive out any worry or anxiety she or her mother may be feeling.
Last night we got a call from Wolfson with the discouraging news that Rozhgar would probably need a second chest tube re-inserted this morning. She and her mother needed to know that she couldn't eat anything after four in the morning. This would allow her to be admitted directly to ICU if necessary after the morning echocardiogram. We were all hoping she wouldn't need to have a second tube yet again, but this morning's echo showed that she did indeed need the help that an additional drainage tube would provide.
I was informed of the situation by Dr. Houri in the ICU when he came to Ramyar's bedside to ask for help with translation. We walked to Rozhgar's bed in the small room adjacent to the ICU where minor procedures are done, and there he began by expressing that the staff was sorry that this was such a long process for Rozhgar. He explained that for children her age, with the specific surgery required to heal her heart, this was a very common post-operative condition. The reason is that her lungs are now receiving normal blood flow, carrying more oxygen to her body. While it seems logical that the body would respond by recovering quickly, in fact it is a slow process for the lungs to adjust to the change. He said that it was nothing to be worried about, that they are attending it with everything she needed. It is important for them to recognize the need for patience. Further, he commented that Rozhgar's mother's attitude made the difference in how Rozhgar herself responded to this challenge; it is important that she has patience for her daughter's sake. Then he shared the story of a boy from Africawho is the same age and had the same surgery, who had recently gone home after experiencing the very same problems and length of hospital stay.
As Dr. Houri spoke, I translated all these things to the best of my ability for Rozhgar's mother. It seemed she was encouraged to hear the doctor himself reiterating that this was not something to be fearful about, that it is very normal in cases like her daughter's. She asked how many times Rozhgar would have to have the tubes, and how long they'd have to stay in, and of course the doctor could not answer those questions. Rozhgar herself was not very tuned in to the conversation, as she was in pain following the procedure, moaning while waiting for the medication to settle the pain. Her mother became emotional for a few moments, but I reminded her of the need to be brave for Rozhgar's sake. She asked me again about the African boy who'd just gone home, expressing her understanding that this is a normal part of healing for certain children. Soon after we finished talking about everything the doctor had shared, Rozhgar fell asleep, her pain relieved. The ICU staff continued to monitor her condition a while longer, and then said she would be moved back to her room, where she could eat some lunch.
Please pray fervently for Rozhgar's healing to come forth speedily. Pray that her mother would be strengthened with patience in her mind and her heart. She is not taking her needed rest due to Rozhgar's demands when she is uncomfortable, which puts her mother in a difficult place of trying to meet her daughter's needs without a 'full tank' of energy herself with which to handle the circumstances. We're praying with you, trusting God's faithful care and perfect plan for Rozhgar's life.
I peeked inside Wolfson's secondary ICU this morning, expecting to see Rozhgar and her mother in their ordinary spot. But I saw an empty children's crib instead. My next thought brought a smile to my face: Rozhgar must have been moved to a room in the pediatric ward! My supposition was correct, as I soon found her and her mum in their newest locale. The best way to describe these two is that they are, once again, themselves. The lovely sparkle has returned to Rozhgar's eyes, while her mother is the calm and confident mother, without a trace of fear on her countenance. One remaining chest tube was discontinued yesterday with the plan of inserting a new one today. However, after Dr. Alona's exam this morning, this action was deemed unnecessary, as the excess fluid surrounding Rozhgar's lungs has continued to recede. So much improvement has been achieved that our beautiful girl will most likely return to Jerusalem by week's end. Praise God for His gift of perfect healing and restoration of joy.
Last Friday I had the chance to visit Rozhgar and her mother at the Wolfson Medical Center. It had been a few days since I last saw her and I was excited to be part of the visitation team. The previous days both Rozhgar and her mother had their ups and downs, calling Kristina frequently. To drain the increasing fluid around her right lung the doctors had decided to insert a second chest tube. This news was devastating for Rozhgarâ€™s mother, because it meant that they would have to spent even more time at the hospital.
When Donna, Kelsey and I arrived at the secondary ICU we found Rozhgar resting, while her mother sat quietly beside her bed. The nurse on duty informed us that Rozhgar was improving, but still had some pleural effusion which makes it necessary to leave the tubes in. She also encouraged Rozhgar by telling her that she can help to speed up her recovery by faithfully doing her breathing exercises. Then two new visitors arrived, whom Rozhgar and her mother had not yet met, but whose visit brought much delight to them.
Mazel, one of our Kurdish tranlators, came with her husband. Mazel translated the information we had received from the nurse, and also was able to encourage both mother and daughter. Before we left the hospital, Rozhgar did her breathing exercises without complaints, for which we were thankful. And yesterday we received the wonderful news over the phone that one of Rozhgarâ€™s chest tubes was removed, which of course cheered them up. We thank God that He has brought Rozhgar so far on her road of recovery.