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, â€œThank you for your concern, but Iâ€™m not interested.â€
This same charisma also found expression through Vina's unbiased affection. Princesses have a special way of making people feel esteemed. It wasn't long before she won the hearts of our Shevet community, both young and old. Babies Aryan and Rahand were particularly the subjects of her sweet kisses.
It's hard to imagine that several heart defects threatened Vina's life since the day she was born. Now, by the grace of God, her heart has been fully restored! In honor of this great occasion, the lords and ladies of Shevet gathered yesterday evening for a great celebration.
True to her word, Vina was dressed from head to toe in her finest royal attire. Her mother beamed proudly at her daughter's beauty. Lively music filled the room as we presented gifts and endearing words to each of them. For a girl who loves jewelry, a bright pink bracelet was perhaps her favorite memento.
The festivities concluded with the presentation of a photo DVD, featuring none other than Vina. While watching the film, I noticed her earnest expression, as though she were studying each frame and recalling the details of that moment. Many times, I wish I knew what she was thinking. This was one of them.
Vina has surely learned the graces of a princess from her kind and gentle mother. Tears rolled softly down this woman's cheek as she bid us farewell this morning. She has been an example to me of selfless love and sacrifice. The way she cares for Vina has been beautiful to observe.
Just before leaving, mother and daughter knelt down in the courtyard for a very important goodbye. Four-year-old Sarina, who has been with Vina from the start, came close to kiss her friend on the cheek.
My prayer for Vina is that her heart would beat ever stronger and her capacity to love and be loved would never cease to grow.
"And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May He, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen." 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
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, Vinaâ€™s mother was ready to leave the hospital, and let me know it as soon as possible. Fortunately today was the day!
As I spoke with the nurses they told me that Vina only had one last thing to do before she could exit. She needed two wires pulled out of her chest. As we waited for the doctor to come do this we played around in the nearby kidâ€™s area. Within ten minutes a nurse came and called for her and we went in. As soon as Vina saw what was happening she began crying and didnâ€™t stop till afterward. The Doctor snipped two tie-offs and then drew the wires out. It only took about a minute total. A minute later and Vina was almost back to normal! She bounces back quickly.
In the hall a boy had left his child-size wheelchair and I invited Vina to take a seat in it. She smiled grandly as I took her slowly up and down the hall. It proved to be such good entertainment that when I stopped, her mother took up the reigns and wheeled her around even faster than I had!
As we drove home Vina slept, and I wish her mother could have as well. I think she was even more tired than her daughter, but the habit of looking out for her daughter 24/7 wasnâ€™t broken easily. She continued watching the road and now and then straightening her daughterâ€™s clothing. When we finally pulled into Shevetâ€™s office and walked up the stairs, they were greeted with a resounding array of welcomes, hugs, and even tears. I think they both will get some good rest now.
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, Vinaâ€™s passionate personality swung in the opposite direction when a woman suddenly walked in and handed her a gift â€“ a new toy monkey. She couldn't have been happier.
Perhaps it reminded her of the real monkeys she saw at the Jerusalem Zoo earlier this week.
At one o'clock, the wheels started turning when Vina was taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to be sedated and prepped for surgery. Two hours later, the much anticipated operation commenced. The farewell from mother to daughter was a tearful affair.
As Vina's gurney rolled out of sight, her mother buried her head in my shoulder, sobbing. Sometimes, words just don't suffice and all you can do is hold someone and let them cry.
Before leaving the OR department, the head nurse approached us, concerned for Vina's mother. Her interest grew when she learned this woman was from Kurdistan. Pulling another nurse aside she said, "Listen! This is very important!" Two more nurse stopped from a full stride walk to listen as well. They couldn't believe that Iraqi families were able to come to Israel for heart surgery. "How is this possible?" one asked. When I described it as a miracle, they nodded their heads in agreement, echoing my words. "God is so good!" I concluded as we said goodbye.
Vina's mother and I rejoined other members of our community upstairs in the waiting room, including my sister Natalie and Sarina's mother. The presence of friends seemed to ease Vinaâ€™s motherâ€™s burden, along with a comforting cup of hot tea. Her vigil continued into the afternoon as heartrending pleas ascended heavenward. We watched and waited, till Vina came into sight at 6 pm. The outcome of the surgery brought welcome relief: An ICU doctor reported that a full repair was made of Vina's large ASD in addition to a partial AV canal. With both of these defects corrected, the issue of oxygen-poor and oxygen-rich blood mixing together is no more. Lovely Vina should now enjoy a healthy heart for years to come.
At eventide, Vina's mother was reunited with her daughter in ICU. The shock of her daughter's fragile condition, mixed with overwhelming gratitude, aroused fresh tears. She studied Vina carefully, noting each tube and wire. She wondered if Vina was cold or hungry. After assuring her that all was well and the surgery went beautifully, her countenance grew calm. I love this woman and her little girl for many reasons, and I cannot help but praise God for His outpouring of grace today in their lives. The tediousness of waiting has faded into the joy of completion.
"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him" (Lamentations 3:25). We rejoice in God's blessing and pray that Vina will experience a smooth recovery in the coming days!
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 Vinaâ€™s room is a wonderful playground. Complete with slides, swings, and climbing ropes, Vina jumped right on in! She and Fatima (also being admitted for heart surgery) explored to their heart's delight. And like tradition has it, Vina made another friend! Abdul of Tanzania was healthy and strong after his recent heart surgery and ready to play. His mother spoke English, and it was a pleasure to get to know her and her son.
The day was not all fun and games though. Vina had to undergo blood work and face the dreaded needle for the IV. Many tears were shed as it took the doctor four attempts to find her veins. It was a difficult time for both her and her mother, who clearly aches when her daughter is in pain. But when all was finished, the playground was once again a welcomed environment.
I admire Vina and her mother for their courage as they prepare for tomorrow's big day. Please pray that God would go before us in all things and bring His peace which surpasses all understanding. Pray that as Kristina and I leave for the hospital at 6am, that He would use us to bring the families comfort. And finally pray that God would direct the surgeon's hands and ultimately bring healing to Vina's heart.
May God, who desires to know and be known by man, display His love and affection to Vina and her mother, and be the Friend that will truly extend comfort and healing.
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.