Since the time she arrived in Israel two months ago, Vina has carried herself with the poise and essence of a princess. Princesses, as we all know, can be very particular about what they do and do not like and have no qualm in making their desires known. I remember one of my first encounters with Vina was attempting to give her medicine for a fever. Her little face turned into a scowl, and with hands on her hips, she announced indignantly to her mother and me, "Naxhom!" ("I'm not eating it"). I knew at once I was living with no ordinary child.
She was also not bashful to express outright boredom, as if to say,
Today's visit to Wolfson Hospital was special for several reasons. First of all, Vina was scheduled to have her final echo appointment with Dr. Alona. Though she is only three-and-a-half, Vina fully comprehends the excitement of returning home and has been reminding me all week. "Dada ("big sister") Kristina, one more echo and I'm going home on a plane!" Every time a plane flies over the Shevet house lately, Vina runs to the doorway, pointing to the sky and jumping up and down yelling, "Tiara! Tiara!" ("plane" in Kurdish). This precocious girl has also offered us a few tips in planning her farewell party. Her wardrobe and entertainment have already been arranged, including piano selections by Ryan on Shevet's new piano.
Another reason which made Vina's hospital visit significant was the joy of having Dr. Kirk accompany us. Dr. Kirk is an American cardiologist and long-time partner of Shevet's, who oversees heart screenings in Kurdistan several times a year. This past January, Vina came to a screening in Sulamaniyah where both Dr. Kirk and I were present. Now, four months later we were all reunited in Israel to witness Vina come full circle. The timing could not have been more perfect!
Both Dr. Alona and Dr. Kirk remarked how well Vina's operation turned out. "She has a beautiful repair!" Dr. Kirk added. Along with the closure of a large ASD, a complete reconstruction of Vina's mitral valve was made. The echo showed sound results for a strong, healthy heart. This was wonderful news indeed! If you have read Vina's previous blogs, you might recall her strong disdain and objection to these exams. This afternoon, however, Vina lay completely still and quiet as a mouse. When I commended her for her good behavior, her mother explained it was due to Vina understanding their journey home tomorrow depended on it. This is one smart little girl!
Congratulations were offered as the echo concluded, and the doctors gathered around Vina and her mother for a commemorative photo. We praised God for giving them their hearts' desire in more ways than one. Physically, Vina has been granted life and health. Beyond that, she and her mother have experienced the tangible love of a heavenly Father. In receiving this love, Vina has also extended her irresistible child love to me and the rest of our Shevet community. May I continue learning to do the same. Tomorrow, the lovely twosome will travel to Jordan and be one step closer to boarding their own "tiara" bound for home!
There's been ongoing discussion among the mothers and Shevet staff about how many echoes Vina will need before returning to Iraq; typically a child will receive at least two or three follow-up appointments, at minimum. Vina's mother insisted continually that Vina would need only two echoes, and today's visit proved the accuracy of her idea.
We didn't have to wait long for Vina's turn in the echo room, but fears led to tears as the echocardiogram got underway. After a not-too-lengthy but thorough exam, we got great news from Dr. Alona: "Excellent! One more echo and she can go home." While these words brought a huge sigh of relief and a big smile to Vina's mother, Vina herself seemed just as relieved to be off the examining table.
Her change in mood was short-lived. We entered the nurses' station to have her final stitch removed from the chest tube placement, and we had to hold Vina down while the nurse quickly snipped the tiny suture which remained.
At last Vina was free of medical obligations for the day and could eat her lunch and play on the courtyard playground.
We were thankful to have a chance to spend some time visiting Fatimah during her slow recovery, but Vina seemed a little shy about getting too close to her suffering friend today. I conjectured that she empathized, but had only her three-year-old memory of recent experiences in a similar bed.
Vina napped as we traveled home, and she and her mother were both beaming as we entered the courtyard of the Shevet house. The next week should go quickly as we pray and wait for Vina's final echo, for total healing, and for smooth travel plans home.
Seeing Vina today, I was full of joy to find her up and moving around. She seemed to be already back to her former energy, if not yet quite as mobile: while she can walk, she is not back to running. When we arrived, Vina
Upon entering the ICU this morning, I was delighted to see that Vina was already extubated, wearing an oxygen mask instead of breathing by ventilator. Her mother sat beside her, peaceful and grateful. She was taking pictures with her mobile phone and sending them back to the family in Iraq so they too could see Vina's progress. I could see that Vina's lips were rosy pink, and commented to her mother that Vina was blue no more.
Vina then began crying because, upon awaking, she discovered she was very hungry and thirsty, and was begging her mother for milk. To prevent her post-operative tummy from being nauseated, the nurses started her off with water; but when her stomach tolerated the water and she continued to cry, she was soon allowed a drink of real milk.
Satisfied for a while, the child fell asleep. Her mother went to visit Sarina's mom, who was waiting during Sarina's catheterization, and I stayed by the bedside. That was fine until Vina woke up crying, unsatisfied with anyone but her mother. Mom came back and comforted her until she got a phone call from home, and went out of the ICU so as not to be a disturbance. Again, little Vina would not be settled by anyone except her mother. I left for the cath lab when Vina's mother finished her phone call.
As I was heading back toward the ICU around 10:30, I got a big surprise: Vina was doing so well she was being moved to the secondary ICU! We thanked God together for her quick recovery, and left Vina sleeping peacefully with her mother by her bed.
Update by Kristina Kayser from Thursday, May 10, 2012:
My eyes scanned the rooms of Wolfson's pediatric floor today, searching for Vina. It had only been two days since I last saw her, but I missed her already. Her mother called me en route to the hospital, and hearing Vina's sweet voice made me all the more excited to see her. I along with three other Shevet volunteers, turned a corner, and there she was!
Vina was in a normal recovery room, having just transferred out of secondary ICU two hours prior. Her chest tube was also removed today, and her oxygen measured 100% on room air! All of this is indicative of steady progress. Vina wasn't her bouncy, bubbly self, and seemed rather fatigued lying in bed. She was not in pain though, praise God! It was obvious that Vina was just responding to her body's need for rest. Her mother was full of joy on account of her daughter's well-being. She smiled warmly with every word of thanksgiving.
When I pulled out some bubbles from my purse, her face lit up. Using all the strength she could muster, she blew her first bubble after several tries. Then she smiled her beautiful smile. While bubbles are a wonderful diversion, they also are a great way for Vina to exercise her lungs with deep breaths after surgery. We left Vina and her mother in good spirits, rejoicing in God's faithful healing.
At long last, Vina's season of waiting was over. Her surgery day dawned full of hope and promise...and more waiting. Because her operation was scheduled for the afternoon, the morning hours passed slowly for this little one. Hunger pangs from her pre-surgery fast subsided into sleep momentarily, but grew stronger with each hour. This made Vina grumpy and restless, but who can blame her? After rejecting every measure of consolation that Vina's mother or I could think of, Vina
The beautiful thing about a child choosing you to be their friend is the reminder of how simple and gratifying friendship really is. It causes us to look back on our own childhood, which more often than not holds our fondest memories.
Vina, our lovely three-year old from northern Iraq, is a friend to all. From the moment I arrived in Jerusalem and was introduced to her and her mother, I saw her gentle and giving spirit. She held out her hands to be seated beside me and nestled in close.
But this inviting personality is not solely extended to me or the community at Shevet Achim, but whoever she happens to meet. Yesterday we had an exciting outing with the families to the zoo! They absolutely loved seeing all the animals and delighted in the whole experience. At the end of the day as we were waiting to be picked up, I noticed Vina making some new friends! Despite their difference of culture, language, and religion, she was eager to play. Really, children do not have those lines. They see a playmate, they make a friend. It is that simple.
It was also yesterday that we received some amazing news from the hospital: Vina's surgery was moved forward! It will be taking place tomorrow afternoon to repair the ASD and VSD of her heart. Her mother was filled with immediate joy as she smiled and raised her hands in thanksgiving. It truly is a gift from God.
So today began the journey of being admitted to the hospital and settling in for their stay. Around the corner from Vina
I first met Vina at a heart screening this past January in Kurdistan. I remember her distinctly. Small but strong, she braved her way through the exam. At the end, the visiting cardiologist, Dr. Kirk, announced she would be heading to India for heart surgery. I thought that was the last time I would see this lovely girl and her mother. Providentially, Vina came to Israel instead after an unexpected visa change and has already won our hearts. She calls me Dah dah (meaning "big sister" in Kurdish), and wraps her little arms around my legs to hug me when I walk in the door.
Monday was a big day for Vina as introductions were made to the hospital and the doctors who will be caring for her heart. As daunting as initial visits can be, I was impressed to see this three-year-old handle it so well. Tears were shed at the beginning (along with frightened screams), but with time, she grew calmer. Preliminary tests including a chest X-ray, vital signs, an EKG, and a TB skin reading were completed one by one.
When Dr. Alona arrived to perform the echo, she prepared a sedative for Vina to take beforehand in order to ensure a quiet exam. Knowing her daughter's disdain for medicine, Vina's mother persuaded her to be as quiet as a mouse. Both Dr. Alona and I were surprised to find how compliant Vina was for the entirety of the exam. With the help and convenience of an iPhone, she happily watched cartoons, squirming uncomfortably only now and then.
In the end, Vina's primary diagnosis was confirmed as an ASD (Atrial Septal Defect). This breach between her upper heart chambers (atria) is so large that the dividing wall is almost non-existent. Consequently, oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood mixes freely in her heart, jeopardizing her life. Vina's operation in the coming weeks will serve to correct these issues and give her a healthy new heart.
I am so thankful that God brought Vina to us. She brings warmth and laughter into our home just as Jerusalem's spring days grow brighter and warmer. Vina and her mother are biding their time in anticipation of surgery, which we hope will be soon. In the coming days, may our community be a blessing to them in every way, surrounding them with comfort and unconditional love.
Little Vina stepped off the plane from Iraq to Jordan on Wednesday, cute as a button, and was soon playing with the water cooler in our Amman office. The next day we set out with three other families on the eight hour journey to Israel, stopping for a sandwich break at the Jordan River border crossing.
Friday night Vina delighted us with her Kurdish costume worn to our Passover meal at Prophets Street:
And the weekend of redemption was capped off with a short walk to the Garden Tomb to share in the Resurrection morning celebration.
Because Passover continues all this week, we anticipate Vina's first hospital exams will be early next week.
Three-year-old Vina was seen over a year ago by American cardiologist Kirk Milhoan on a screening trip to northern Iraq.
He found that she suffers from Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, which often causes Vina's heart defect, a hole between the atria of the heart.
With surgery Vina's heart can be healed. We hope to apply for her visa this week and have her in Israel by the start of April, Lord willing.
She is the youngest of four children, and coming to Israel with her mother will keep them both away from family for weeks or months.