Shortly before leaving Israel for a month’s leave of absence from my work at Shevet, one of the last things I did, was to go to the Adult Cardiology Unit at Sheba Hospital, and schedule an appointment for Alaa to be seen for an echo. This echo and the doctors’ subsequent reading of it, would be the first step towards his surgery.
Throughout the summer, people on Facebook had donated to his operation cost. By the summer’s end, there was still a substantial amount needed and this came within the first weeks of September from a church in Oklahoma. This church connected with Alaa’s story through Debi, a nurse who was volunteering with Shevet at the time. In a car ride back from Gaza, I was talking to Debi about how I really felt; I couldn’t look away from Alaa’s case. I felt there was a requirement involved, and that somehow God would come through in providing, though I didn’t understand how. So much was still needed to cover the total amount. Debi then told me about this church that had a ministry called ‘The Lord Sees,’ and they are generous and eager to give to others, for the glory of our Lord Jesus.
So she helped me apply to the church for support and within two days they had responded. They decided to give all of the remaining amount needed for Alaa’s surgery. “Truly,” they wrote in the email, “the Lord sees this man.” God didn’t let his case fall to the wayside. I tracked down the cardiologist at Sheba who was supposed to see him and made an appointment for early November. I had traveled home by the time he came for his appointments. His story touched not only me, but many others who also eagerly followed his case. The stay for the an echo turned into a stay for the major surgery he needed, and two weeks after this, I was so happy to see he could go home.
My parents and I were having dinner when my mom showed me the Shevet Sunday letter from 7 December, which detailed Alaa’s emergency return to Sheba hospital and his sudden collapse due to anaphylactic shock. I read this over and over, but it was surreal. Jonathan, amidst the shock and chaos of that night, kept in touch with me, and the last word was that he was placed on the ECMO machine and the outcome was not good.
For the next few hours, I steeped in the devastation. I re-read the journal entries from the previous spring, detailing my bewilderment as to how enough money would ever come in for Alaa’s surgery. However, right alongside that bewilderment was this undeniable feeling of expectation that God would see this through, and now here he was on the other side of the surgery, but he was potentially failing. It was a long night of crying and praying, balancing confusion and trust. I say all this to underscore the fact that up until recently I never thought I would see him alive. I desperately prayed for him to live; actually the words from Dylan Thomas’ poem came to my mind that night, “Do not go gentle into that good night/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” But everything pointed to that he was beyond the point of life.
Against all odds, he pulled through that night, and he continued, slowly, to recover. So when I say, “Today I visited Alaa,” this is a statement that I didn’t think I’d be able to say and is actually quite a miraculous one. I went to the Sheba Adult Cardiac Unit, and he was resting in his bed with his uncle sitting next to him. To see my friend again after all that’s happened, was something I’ll cherish for a lifetime.
We talked together about his time in Jaffa and Jerusalem, and how his wife and son are doing. It is crazy to think that over a year ago, he came for his consultation at Sheba which was when God made our paths to cross, and with all that has happened I am so thankful He did.
Later on today, I visited him a second time to say goodbye; I look forward to more visits next week with him and to watching him grow stronger and improve.
When I went to Sheba Hospital to visit Alaa today, it was a very short visit at first because I was there for five minutes and then the doctors came in to bring him to a needed investigation. Due to that, I had to wait for him until he came back and that took about an hour.
When he came back, he told me that the doctors need to discuss a possible discharge tomorrow for Alaa. “Inshallah,” (God willing). PTL that Alaa is recovering so well and that there is a possibility for a discharge tomorrow.
Please continue to join us in prayer for our beloved Alaa for a discharge tomorrow or at least very soon.
When it was time to leave, he held my hand in his, and once again was standing in awe over God’s goodness and love for him. He is a miracle, a huge miracle, who won’t give up! ️
When I came to visit Alaa and his uncle today, the uncle told me immediately and with great joy, that Alaa is doing very well. I was able to speak to Alaa and he understood me and answered for himself which was really nice for me to see and hear.
Then he asked me if I wanted to take a picture and he stood up. I took my camera and started recording because he was walking on his own. This is really a miracle! His recovery process is very good, so please continue to join us in prayer that God will continue to restore Alaa’s strength.
What do you do when suddenly everything turns black around you, and someone declares the words you don’t want to hear, because they are to painful? That is where I suddenly found myself the night when our dear Alaa was brought back in an ambulance from Gaza with chest pains, and trouble breathing. We were praying for him in the waiting room. Medical staff had tried to do CPR for a long time and would continue, but they had very little hope to be able to save him. After 35 minutes they decided they wanted to give him one more chance.
Today while making a quick visit, I was told that they were moving him to the Intermediate Department. This is a miricle! Many with Alaa’s difficulties would not have survived this, but hallelujah, he lives! To God be the glory!
Alaa is doing MUCH better today, talking freely and smiling. He could leave the ICU tomorrow for the regular department, praise God! (He didn’t want a picture taken today while he still has a feeding tube up his nose).
I walked into the ICU this evening and was shocked to find Alaa sitting up in a chair and breathing on his own (click here or on the video above to have a look). He was eager to communicate and spoke at some length in English, most of which I could not understand. But then he took my hand, raised it to his lips and kissed it–once again the language of love transcends all.
It is taking some time for the magnitude of Alaa’s recovery to sink in. We’ve seen others in equally dire straits who have not recovered, so I’ve steeled myself to the reality of death, and place most of my hope in the resurrection. This time though we can say with the psalmist, “I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”
Alaa also still has pneumonia, so he has to remain on a ventilator and sedated a while longer, to let his lungs rest. I held his hand and started to speak with him today, just as I did a couple of days ago. His eyes open now when he hears us speak:
I encouraged him in different ways, not to give up, but to hold on. I spoke to him about his future, about his beloved wife and son who are waiting on him. All of his family. All of us in Shevet Achim. I reminded him of what I said before he had his operation, that there are lots of people around the world praying for him, his family, and the staff in the hospital. And I reminded him about the most important of all, that God loves him, and holds him in His hands. He knows all of this, and I’m sure that is what he needs to carry on. The knowledge that he isn’t alone.
God is holding Alaa in His hand. The staff at Sheba shared that so far, Alaa is progressing in a stable condition since being taken off the ECMO. They have stopped giving the sedative medication, today and are waiting for him to wake up. He had been receiving a high dose of this medication and so they are expecting it will take some time for him to wake.
Thank God for this good news of Alaa’s recovery. Your prayers are highly coveted for this young son, brother, husband, daddy. The Lord knows and has called him by name, for he belongs to Him.
Click here or on the video above.
Our dear Alaa from Gaza was rushed back to the hospital tonight by ambulance after experiencing fever, cough and pain in the wake of his heart surgery two and a half weeks ago.
It was our coworker Amar who worked for hours and insisted on getting Alaa out of Gaza tonight, despite reluctance from the authorities and even from Alaa and his family. And thank God that he did, for on arrival it became apparent that Alaa was in severe distress. The staff treated him diligently, quickly and with kindness.
But while receiving medications in the ER Alaa suddenly collapsed, and was rushed into the “shock room” where doctors worked for 35 minutes to resuscitate him after his heart stopped. This appears to be the result of an allergic reaction to an antibiotic. As a last resort doctors finally connected him to an ECMO device, which removes blood from the body, oxygenates, and then returns it, thus allowing the heart and lungs to rest.
Alaa is now in the cardiac ICU in stable but very difficult condition, and very much in need of our prayers for his salvation.
Tonight we dropped Alaa back at the Gaza Strip crossing point after a return visit today to the Sheba Medical Center. Doctors removed his stitches and Alaa is now scheduled to return in early January to see the surgeon and have a post-surgical echo. Despite episodes of shortness of breath, Alaa reports he is feeling better than before the surgery. Meanwhile we’ve just received this moving message from his family:
Letter of Appreciation
On behalf of our son A’laa Fayiz Asultan we would like to thank Shevet Achim for the diligent care they demonstrated in helping our son. Over a period of 12 months, you were so close to our son taking real good care of him while he was going through the arduous journey of diagnosis and treatment until he underwent the complex and laborious surgery in his heart. Words will never be able to thank you enough; we pray that God almighty reward you bountifully.
Jonathan, your consistent and generous attention can tell much about your kind heart and love for humanity. You did not only cater for A’laa, you also were successful in making up for our presence as his parents throughout the whole process. We could feel how much you were anxious about A’laa health and welfare alike. Thank you.
Ammar, you are such a kind and generous gentleman with a myriad of qualities that make anybody meets you love you from their heart at first sight. Your non-stop and frequent updates to us were always source of reassurance and hope. Thank you.
Alena, we will never be able to thank you enough indeed. You took the trouble to advocate a lost cause, but you were able to come over obstacles and secure the support needed for the surgery. You are a princess. Thank you. With your enthusiasm and sincerity, our hopes came in true.
We can really “behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.”
May you all thrive
Fayiz and Mona Assultan
Father and Mother of A’laa
30 November 2020
Thank you for all your prayers for Alaa!
It was a shock to walk into Alaa’s room in the the cardiac ICU today and find an old man in his place! Where’s Alaa? Incredibly already discharged to the regular department:
Yes, he is still quite tired, but clearly bouncing back, and already asking when he can leave the hospital. Here’s his message to all those who’ve been helping and praying for him:
Early this afternoon we found our brother Alaa still sleeping, but now without connection to a ventilator! Doctors successfully weaned him this morning, a huge step toward full recovery from surgery.
And here’s what happened when we started speaking to him:
Georgia and Sebastian checked in on Alaa during the limited visiting hours this afternoon, and found him stable, his heart now functioning without the aid of the intra-aortic balloon pump, thank God. Doctors will try to remove him from the ventilator tomorrow morning, and if this is successful they will also allow him to begin waking up.
Georgia reports that the nurse there was so kind, and they’ve positioned Alaa directly across from their station and are keeping a close eye on him. Thank you Father in heaven that your eye is also always upon Alaa.
Berith and I left Jerusalem early this morning in order to be at Alaa’s bedside before he was taken away for his lengthy, complex heart surgery (the Konno procedure) which has only been done twice before at Sheba.
We found he had slept well, and we shared two and a half hours with him in his room after the start of his surgery was delayed by an urgent case. Alaa was in regular contact with his parents in Gaza and his wife who is studying medicine in Egypt. Finally at 9 am it was time to go to the OR:
After a last-minute video conversation in the staging area with his two-year-old son Fadi, Alaa entered at 9:30, and the hours ticked by with occasional WhatsApp pleas from his family in Gaza and Egypt for information. Finally at 5:56 pm came a text from one of the surgeons with the news we all longed to hear: “We just finished. He is ok.”
Doctors told us that the surgeon, regarded as one of the best in Israel if not the world, had accomplished what they hoped for. Alaa was resting quietly on a ventilator, his heart working with the aid of an intra-aortic balloon pump, and we rejoiced together with his family.
Today, Alaa returned to the hospital for a consultation appointment with the professor to see whether he can have surgery. It was an early start for Alaa. In Spanish, the saying is, “If you do it early, God will help you earlier,” and this was true for today’s appointment.
Alaa received the wonderful news, that it is not too late, and yes, he can have a follow-up surgery all these years later.
We spoke to Alaa’s father also, so that everyone is in agreement and happy for the surgery to go ahead as early as next week. Alaa is hopeful that one of his family members would be able to come and be with him, and so we are hoping that the Erez border will be sympathetic and allow Alaa’s mother be with him come surgery week.
Alaa also has his own family in Gaza, and he is missing his son. However, the time for this surgery is a blessing from God, so he will have to make the sacrifice of not being with his son and his wife for a short time. We hope to be a temporary family to him as much as we can be, while he stays with us.
Thank God that the blessing of the hope of healing has been given to Alaa. It’s true that God has not forgotten him.
Alaa understands some English which made it easier for communicating, making the day together very enjoyable.
At the hospital, we praise the Lord that a helpful and proactive echo technician began his assessments whilst the details of the paperwork were still being sorted out.
The purpose of today’s appointment is to see whether he can have another heart operation. His last surgery took place when he was ten years old, and he is now 26, so it was a long time ago. We will know the outcome of the assessment tomorrow when Alaa will return to the hospital to see the cardiologist. For now he is staying overnight at our home in Jaffa.
Yesterday Lindsay gave me the surprise news that Alaa, who came out from Gaza for an echo over a month ago, would be coming back for another appointment today. I just about bounced off the wall because my sister and her husband were visiting and today was their last day. As they had not been to Gaza I wanted them to see the border crossing, and I had prayed for a miracle: that though there were originally no appointments today, someone would come out of nowhere. I did really want them to meet Alaa because he so kind and I thought he and my brother in law would get along. So when Lindsay told me that a surprise appointment had come up and it was Alaa, I was so in awe of God. I couldn’t have come up with this myself, but out of his sheer kindness we blessed us immensely with this day.
We drove to Sheba and met him there because an Israeli volunteer brought him from Erez to the hospital. We arrived a few minutes later than he did. He was up at the desk of the adult ICU, which we don’t ever do echos in because we usually work in the children’s building. But God was faithful in what he called us to today. The first few minutes were a whirlwind of telling trying to get the payment letter faxed from Shevet, and that didn’t work so then we tried email. The secretary knew as soon as I said we were from Shevet Achim who we were and what we did. After the documents were all there she led us over to where we needed to go next. We then met with a doctor who told us the problem with Alaa’s heart is that there is extreme calcification on the grafts and the conduit previously put in his heart and for this reason he has stenosis and cardiac regurgitation which makes his heart work harder. He will need a surgery, but because he is not urgent there is no date yet.
Please, really do pray for God to continue to miraculously provide for our 2019 bill to Sheba, until it is paid we are not scheduling any new non-urgent surgeries. It is such a gift to bring people such as Alaa so that they can receive the care and dignity that, as image bearers of God, they have an innate right to. Every human life is precious from babies to adults.
After the appointment my sister, her husband, Alaa, and I all grabbed coffee to take with us for the drive to Erez. My family loved meeting him, and funnily enough when we arrived at the desk in the beginning, he looked at me and her and asked “Your sister?” without me even telling him. Today was like two worlds colliding- my family who I adore and the work of Shevet and the people we serve were combined today; personally it was one of the best days at the hospital I have had. I’m so thankful to God for all he has done, and looking forward to what he will do. Please pray for Alaa’s life, that we could schedule his surgery soon and that he would know the full measure of Messiah’s love for him.
The depiction of Jesus in the Gospels is one of unfailing compassion as he heals the sick and casts out demons and artfully challenges the presuppositions of those around him. His ministry has become our ministry. And today Yousef and I were slated to go to Gaza to pick up a baby permission pending, which did not end up happening. However, there was a young man, twenty-four years old, who had been given permission to come through Shevet Achim. We don’t normally treat anyone above the age of 18, but today profoundly impacted me because it was so out of the norm.
First of all, I was proud that Shevet could help this young man, even though it’s not in the status quo of what we typically do. His name is Alaa. He had surgery at Sheba in 2004, but recently found out he needs another one. He petitioned through the Palestinian Authority who recommended him to Muqassad Hospital here in Israel and another hospital in Jordan. Both hospitals said the surgery is too big and they cannot manage it. Then he reached out to Yousef and Yousef talked to Jonathan who said yes, we could take him to Sheba.
God gave me today as an unexpected opportunity to experience something that has long been on my heart: Jesus striking compassion extends to everyone- children as well as adults. His empathy and love for men or women has drawn and intrigued me. I’ve been thinking about that for a few months now, and today it was surprising when Lindsay told me that there was an adult, Alaa, coming to the border who we would pick up and then go to his echo at Sheba, but I felt this was from God. This young man was only two years older than me, and he was so kind.
Yousef and he talked on the way there and with my meager Arabic I caught part of their conversation about the cheap prices of food in Gaza as compared to Jerusalem. And when Alaa said falafal was only half a shekel in Gaza I couldn’t help but chime in; first in disbelief that it can be that inexpensive, but then secondly, that I might need to go and try some half shekel falafel!
When we got to the hospital, it was, of course, a different experience entirely from being with a child, but there was a mutual respect and an ease in sharing parts of our lives as we waited. We talked a lot about his son and his wife, who’s studying to be an accountant. The doctor attending him spoke Arabic so they had no issue understanding one another.
The outcome of the echo is that Alaa will need a surgery. Next week, God willing, the cardiologists will discuss what surgery is best and when it will be. Please pray for the upcoming surgery for him, and that particularly his relationship to Yousef would grow and he could hear the good news of the One who says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.”