Just think, I saw this boy resurrected! I saw him briefly before surgery. I saw him right after surgery. I stayed on a vigil with his grandmother one night, when he was under critical care. I watched his blood pressure waver, barely holding on to small strands of life. I first heard the news when his kidneys stopped working. I held his unconscious hand, speaking to him, praying for him, and singing. I saw him transition from bed to wheelchair, to difficult first days of walking with a walker, to jumping out of his wheelchair, to walking by himself, to smiling, to laughing, to a twinkle returning to his eyes, to even running and kicking a soccer ball. And finally, a special goodbye party for this miracle boy. Praise God!
Yaqoob’s final day in Jerusalem was an eventful one. On Monday morning we took him to the hospital for his final checkup in Israel. Although the wait to be seen was several hours, it was worth it – results showed a well healed heart and clean blood sample. Even after all this treatment, Yaqoob still cringes at the sight of needles.
Yaqoob said his final goodbyes at the hospital, not only to staff, but also to other families and patients, who find encouragement for their difficulty in the story of Yaqoob.
After the hospital, we went to the Mediterranean Sea. A picnic lunch seemed a great way to celebrate the occasion! It was the first time that Yaqoob or his grandmother has ever seen such a large expanse of water.
Leaving the beach, we drove back up into the hills and to Jerusalem. There, on the request of Yaqoob’s grandmother, we visited the Garden Tomb, a possible site of Messiah’s resurrection. A fitting place to visit, for there was a time not long ago that Yaqoob was essentially dead, only machines and medicines keeping him alive. What a joyous resurrection, to new life, future, and dreams!
Then yesterday evening, the Shevet community gathered to celebrate Yaqoob’s homegoing. Through cake, music, words of encouragement, and gifts, we wanted to express to him and his grandmother that we love them. Lily drew the below portrait of Yaqoob.
In a surprise to everyone, at the party Yaqoob pulled a harmonica out of my guitar case and began to play along with me. He is a natural musician! See the video below…
And Yaqoob got to keep the harmonica to take home to Iraq.
This morning, Tuesday, everyone rose early to wish Yaqoob and his grandmother off. Today they will make a connection by road to Amman, and sometime in the next day there will be a flight from Amman to northern Iraq and home. We prayed together and said final goodbyes.
Zack Miles, who has been a good friend and video game buddy to Yaqoob, stood with him for a picture.
At the car, and throughout the morning, Yaqoob’s lip could be seen trembling, and one could tell that tears were hidden behind his dark sunglasses.
Thank you to those who have been following Yaqoob’s blog, writing notes of encouragement to him and his grandmother, and praying. There is a lot of gospel in his story. Just when a situation looks most impossible and beyond hope, hope arrives. Yaqoob is someone that can find a permanent place within us, not only in sentimental memories, but in our broader understanding of the way that God works and moves. God cares greatly for the weak, for the defenseless, for the long shot. In this respect, Yaqoob’s story is like a parable filled with truth.
Yaqoob’s grandmother eagerly asked to leave at 8:30 am this morning for Yaqoob's echo. She wants to know how much time remains before she and Yaqoob can return to their family in Kurdistan. Even before we arrived at the hospital, family members called to ask what the doctors said and when they would be coming home.
We arrived at the hospital in time for Yaqoob's 10 o'clock appointment, only to find a waiting room full of people. The expected hour-long wait turned into almost two hours, but we found some creative ways to spend that time. We started with a hello to the Palestinian families also waiting for heart echoes, hearing from them many words of congratulations.
We headed to the ICU, where all of the nurses began to call out to each other 'Come, look! Yaqoob is here!' and they gathered together for a picture around little Mr. Celebrity.
Afterwards, we headed to the game room, to play air hockey and billiard. In such creative ways, Yaqoob gets his arm workouts for the day! (Especially holding that heavy, uncomfortable billiard stick.)
Finally Yaqoob was called in for his echo! Of course a 12-year-old is much more compliant than a baby during an echo, but even he could not help grimacing in pain at the necessary pressure the doctor needed for a good view of the heart.
Result: Yaqoob's blood oxygen saturation is at 100%! Just think, when he first came to Shevet, he was stable, though his oxygen levels were in the high 60's to low 70's range. And now he's perfect, like you or me – praise God!
According to Dr. Danieli, standing to the right in the above picture, the echo results are looking great. Some medications have been slashed in half. We’ll re-gauge progress again in one week, at which time Yaqoob may be able to go home! Please pray for endurance for Yaqoob and grandmother in the last week before seeing family. It could be the hardest wait.
"Say goodbye to the hospital!" I told Yaqoob as he left for the first time in over two months.
His grin was more than just a grin. Yaqoob was beaming with a smile that would have stretched ear to ear – had he a bigger mouth. The joy on his face has been very apparent, growing day by day, until yesterday the smile unveiled a deep dimple in his right cheek.
Upon our arrival at the hospital today, I found Yaqoob and grandmother peering through the glass at the goldfish pond. The boy was dressed in his suit, proudly demonstrating how well he is walking now.
As promised the day before (when his dismissal was abruptly postponed by a day as he sat dressed and ready to go), I treated him to two slices of pizza and he devoured the whole thing on his own! Yep, kids sure like their pizza.
He finished eating just when other mothers from the West Bank began to come in little groups to say their goodbyes, praising God that Yaqoob and his grandmother are one step closer to going home to Iraq.
During the long drive back to Jerusalem, Yaqoob peered out of the window, as if he was seeing outside of a car window for the first time in his life. His eyes never grew heavy, as they soaked up the surroundings that began to dim in the setting sun. Soon it was dusk, lights from homes, factories, street lamps, and stores sparkling in the dark.
At last we arrived! Yaqoob stepped out of the car, walking with his peculiar gait towards the door, as we helped carry bags upstairs. This led to a challenge that I hadn’t yet thought of. I was already up the stairs and through the door with suitcases when Yaqoob faced his first set of stairs in two months. The walking he has mastered is more a matter of technique than muscle. But stairs require muscle, and his ascent to his quarters on the second floor was slow, determined, and guided by several hands.
Yaqoob and his grandmother were received warmly, volunteers and other Kurdish families greeting them at the door. A hot Kurdish meal was already prepared. After dinner, they were surrounded with a formal welcoming party, complete with tea and cake, and accompanied with a guitar for music. Chatter rose and fell, and Zack and Yaqoob were able to play some video games together again!
I would say the mood of the party was joyous. We are glad to have Yaqoob with us in our midst again. The words that continuously describe this precious child are "He's a miracle."
To rest your hand on Yaqoob’s back is to feel ribs. He is impossibly thin. My own small hand can completely enclose his bicep. In inverse proportion, his thighs are thinner than his calves; calves have two bone shafts, thighs only have one. His knees seem like an exaggerated intersection between two country roads. His balance is something new: he has learned to walk not by strength of muscle but by shifting gravity through his hips, a graceful stumbling. He turns his head only slowly, like someone exhausted from something you cannot understand. The smile is cautious and sincere, and seems to say I am glad you care and I know you are there, but can you understand this?
The past several blog posts have been a steady ascent of good news: first Yaqoob was awake after being nearly at the door to the other side; then eating, then sitting up, talking a little, a few steps, and a first trip into the sunshine. It has been encouraging for our whole community. Most nights before dinner we gather around the table in Jerusalem, and before saying grace the question is asked: What’s the update on Yaqoob? The answer gives us something to be thankful for in addition to the food.
And today I have more good news to share with you: although the first paragraph is accurate about Yaqoob’s physical state today, from my visit with him at Sheba Hospital I am convinced there is a new energy of determination in this frail-seeming boy.
At the fish pond this morning I schlepped his wheel chair up the embankment so that he could see the fat orange and white fish lazing through the green water. But he indicated I should wheel him back to level, and when I did, he exited the chair and quickly stood on his own strength, and began walking through the park! I could not believe it. I had not seen him independently stand or walk in six weeks. He walked for several minutes, and we stood beside him, resting a hand on his back like one does for a child who has had his training wheels removed and can balance on their own, but still might fall.
Then it was to the swing, a gentle push or two.
Afterwards, we arrived at Yaqoob’s real interest: video games. In the children’s department of Sheba Hospital there are many recreation rooms for the patients. We found a game for Yaqoob in which he was a helicopter pilot gunning down what seemed to be demonic flying cockroaches. He loved it.
And he loved it all the more with a sack of barbeque potato chips…
I took my own turn at pest control.
Yaqoob also paid a short visit today to a woman named Ruti, the hospital administrator overseeing his case. Sometimes we volunteers get the most rewarding interaction with children, so it felt right to connect the dots, if only briefly, between a patient and a woman who is working hard for him every day behind her desk.
So, please remember our young friend in your thoughts and prayers today. I believe his morale needs just as much encouragement as his body. His grandmother too – she is longsuffering, kind, and very hospital-weary. But the good news is: all momentum indicators are moving in the right direction.
PS – it would be great to have several comments to translate to Yaqoob and his grandmother when we visit them next. You can do this below.
Yaqoob felt the sunshine on his face for the first time in six weeks today, thank God!
And Ryan and I were enabled by God's grace to keep our promise to take Yaqoob to see the giant tropical fish he's looked down upon from the hospital windows.
The celebration was indoors as well, as Shadi on the medical staff brought some Purim joy into Yaqoob's room.
And Liliyah entertained and challenged us all to make parrots from balloons!
Shadi told us that Yaqoob is now walking all the way from his room down to the ICU and back, a distance of several hundred feet. The ability to walk sufficiently on his own will be a signpost indicating when Yaqoob is ready to leave the hospital, God willing.
Yaqoob's miraculous story of recovery continues with each passing day. Last week, we rejoiced to see him transferred out of ICU to a step-down unit. Medically speaking, this was not just a shift in rooms but a dramatic shift forward in progress. Well, he surprised us once again this afternoon when our Shevet team arrived for a visit. A nurse informed us that Yaqoob and his grandmother were now in their own room in the pediatric unit. As I peeked around their doorway, I noticed an immediate change of countenance in Yaqoob. I saw life in his eyes, and his face lit up at the sight of us. No longer did he seem detached, but hungry for interaction. He looked right at me as I began talking and asking him questions. When I asked if he knew how to count in English, he impressed us all by counting to 100 without stopping! His grandmother kept saying, "Stop. You'll get tired." But still, he pressed on with a shy smile at the finish.
Dr. Amir came in shortly after and gave us the extraordinary news that, recently, "Yaqoob took three steps!" He added, "It's almost scary to say he's doing well because of where he was before. He has a long way to go, but if he continues to progress this way, it will be..." When he hesitated for a moment, I offered, "A miracle!" Dr. Amir smiled and nodded in agreement. I translated for Yaqoob and his grandmother the doctor's good report, they seemed equally encouraged. Daily physical therapy, though painful, is helping to strengthen Yaqoob's heart and atrophied muscles. The chest tube, which was inserted last week, is still in place to drain excess fluid from his chest cavity. Once this issue is resolved, he will also be freer to move in and out of bed.
I dare to hope that the shadows of death are fleeing for Yaqoob. We spoke today of Messiah's love for him, of all the people praying for him, and the miracle of his new heart. This twelve-year-old, who not long ago lay unconscious in ICU, was dreaming today of what he wants to be when he grows up (a teacher) and of the day when he will learn how to drive. Such things that once didn't seem possible are now a very beautiful reality. Like David the psalmist, my heart resounds in saying, "Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever." Psalm 106:1
Today my son Zak made his long-promised visit to Yaqoob, in order to help him work on his Gameboy skills. Sophie and my wife Michelle were on hand to teach Yaqoob to play Uno as well.
It was a good day to cheer up Yaqoob. He's been fasting all day in preparation for the insertion of a chest tube in order to remove fluid that has accumulated around his right lung. For this reason our visit to the fish pond outside the hospital is still a promise unkept.
Before we left, Michelle did extract a slight smile from Yaqoob with a friendly face created out of a surgical glove:
On the eve of the Sabbath I found Yaqoob sitting in his wheelchair and a bit aloof at first, perhaps feeling it's been too long since I've come to see him!
Eventually he asked if I'd take him for a spin down to the ground floor of the hospital. The nurse on duty wasn't comfortable with him going so far just yet, so we parked by a large window where he could look out on the rainy day and the playground and fishpool below.
I promised Yaqoob that next week, when the sun is out, we'll go down and see the fish. We also spoke of going to the sea, returning to Jerusalem, and eventually playing ping pong in Amman when he's on his way home. I hope this gave him some hope that one day he will indeed get out of the hospital.
Back in his room the nurse Heli (from a Jewish Egyptian family) allowed me to help her put Yaqoob back in his bed, and I sat alongside Yaqoob as his grandmother feed him bits of bread interspersed with spoonfuls of tea. Yaqoob clutched through the blanket a pen I gave him, with the encouragement that he would use it in school next year back in Kurdistan.
Several times I was filled with gratitude just to sit alongside and see Yaqoob like this--the last time I saw him he was unconscious in the ICU.
Yaqoob's grandmother is helping him with exercises to extend his limbs and overcome spasms and muscle tightening caused by the long days in the ICU. And here's a happy look at another very important exercise to help increase Yaqoob's lung power after his time on mechanical ventilation:
Their one concern at the moment is that Yaqoob is not gaining weight quickly enough. A special brand of milk called Ensure has been prescribed to give him extra vitamins. His grandmother said that she is trying to feed him all that his diet requires but it is difficult since his appetite is still quite small.
Aside from nutrition, we were informed that “Yaqoob is doing very well.” He was sitting up today in a chair without help, and even managed to give us his charming smile, which made his grandmother giggle.
We are waiting to see the changes that Yaqoob’s body goes through, and hope he will gain the strength soon to walk. Please join in our prayers for these things and ask God to restore him fully.
Just over one week ago, Yaqoob's physical state had deteriorated to the point that the finest medical care in Israel was not enough to sustain him. I had written then that, despite this, he was in the perfect place...the place of miracles. We cried out to God as a community and invited our friends around the world to intercede for Yaqoob's life. And God heard and answered in a powerful way. It began with Yaqoob being weaned off the ventilator, followed by further steps of healing as described in the blogs below over the past five days. I couldn't wait to see him for myself today, and nothing could have prepared my heart for the good news waiting for our Shevet team at the hospital.
Stephanie, Madelyn, Goran (Shevet’s Kurdistan Coordinator), and I beheld a miracle in Sheba's ICU. Yaqoob's primary nurse Mahmood excitedly reported that Yaqoob is breathing independently with only a small amount of oxygen supplement. Moreover, his kidneys are fully functioning and dialysis has been stopped. All six or more inotropic medications have been discontinued. This means his major organs and muscles are no longer dependent on these potent substances to function. He is receiving no more IV nutrition and eating only by mouth. On this point, Mahmood, explained how important it was for him to eat in order to get stronger. Yaqoob obliged us at that moment by taking a few more mouthfuls of pudding.
This morning was also Yaqoob’s first time out of bed since surgery to sit in a chair for physical therapy. Dr. Amir, head of the pediatric cardiac ICU, said that "Yaqoob has made a nice improvement," but it's still too soon to tell how long he will be in ICU. His body is significantly atrophied and weak. A long and challenging road to recovery lies before him, this we know. Nevertheless, it felt like a drought of discouragement had ended, and the rains of hope had come.
Joy outlined the face of Yaqoob's grandmother. She said "When he is well, I am well. When he is happy, I am happy." Goran and I shared that people from many countries loved them and were praying for them. We praised Messiah together for rescuing Yaqoob and giving him life. For those who have been faithful to pray, I want to thank you personally. Truly, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16).
Yaqoob with Goran
The sweet conclusion of the day was hearing Yaqoob speak. His face lit up when I asked him about his family and home in Kurdistan. My last question was, "How are you today? Are you happy or sad Yaqoob?" I leaned in close to hear his answer. With a faint, yet sincere whisper, he replied, "Dilxosh!" ("Happy!") May your faith be strengthened as "the substance of things hoped for" and "the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1) continues to unfold in Yaqoob's life.