“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” – Psalm 133

The force of the words which the father speaks over his returned prodigal son in Luke 15 were imbued with new and deeper meaning as Salwa’s mother ushered co-worker Georgia and me into her hospital room to see her baby awake and well: "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again." 

One of the Kurdish parents said that you don’t have to ask how Salwa is doing, just look at her mother’s face (below middle) and you’ll know!

I wrote you a week ago on the eve of Salwa’s switch surgery, the last such surgery to be done for the six babies now in Israel who were born with transposition of the great arteries. And I suggested we could “relax a little” about rushing the next seven transpositions babies to Israel, since doctors seemed to believe Salwa would do well despite the delay in her arrival.

Well it’s been a non-stop fight for her life since then. For the last six days her heart and lungs were working only with support of an ECMO device, the last-gasp measure for both critical cardiac and COVID patients. Today Georgia was there when doctors tried to wean Salwa from the ECMO, which only succeeds in about 50% of cases:

Salwa’s mother bravely faced the day with desperate prayers, repeated over and over, laced with tears, gasping for breath and willing with every part of her, the healing and life of her baby. She understands that Salwa’s heart is weak and that her body is struggling. It was so sad to see Salwa’s beautiful mother’s heart being wrenched with fear for her daughter’s life:

It was during the Shabbat meal, the first with the remaining families out of quarantine, when one of the Kurdish mothers in hospital called to say Yousif was not well and was having a procedure. His oxygen was dropping into the thirties. For a few minutes Georgia and I hesitated whether we needed to go, but then she said one very definitive thing that put it beyond a doubt: If Yousif’s mother was my sister I would be there.

Thank you for praying for the needs of our community; as seven more urgent Iraqi children’s visa applications are going in to the Ministry of the Interior in Israel, we bear in mind the difference it will mean for each of those lives if everything is approved in the next weeks:

After we took in an incredible 15 emergency babies from Iraq in the last month, the Father has now gifted us with seven more newborns with transposition of the great arteries–all of whom can have a normal life only if they reach Israel for arterial switch surgery in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile the first of the 15 urgent babies from the past month was today already discharged to return to Kurdistan, and Georgia reports it is none other than newborn Mina, whose own transposition story we’ve been following from week to week:

We stayed for a few hours walking up and down the street, the mothers were filming and taking so many pictures. It was a time of genuine fellowship. Georgia and I looked back on last night and wondered where the strength let alone desire to bring the families for an outing and stay out late into the evening came from. These weeks have been so busy that it seems improbable we would have that sort of energy, so we deemed it truly a work of the Holy Spirit; left to our own devices, we would have been back by nine. But last night eating ice cream with everyone out on Jaffa Street in the midst of Independence Day parties is something we will all remember and treasure; truly, behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity.

I left you last Sunday with Alena and Georgia rushing newborn Yazidi refugee Hena to Sheba Medical Center after she landed at Ben Gurion airport; she had her surgery Wednesday, and Alena found Hena today drinking milk and breathing on her own with only a little supplemental oxygen:

Because of a deterioration in her condition while traveling, Khanda was taken straight from the Israeli border to Sheba Medical Center where doctors were waiting for her. Her oxygen was fluctuating and dropping to below 50%, which is life-threatening, while she was in the ER. Compare the color of her hands to the color of Georgia's hand in this photo:

When I arrived five weeks ago at a Yazidi refugee camp in northern Iraq with our Kurdish coworkers Ahlam and Ramzi, we had no idea what was awaiting us inside the tents:

The first of the nine new emergent Kurdish children to receive permission to enter Israel arrived today and went straight into the hospital. Her name is Hena, she is two months old, one of triplets, and is escorted by her uncle:

As we drove back along the motorway to the Erez border crossing, I wondered if the return drive brought back the memories of her previous journey to Sheba not long ago, when the ambulance transporting little Basil needed to stop at a hospital along the way for Basil to be resuscitated. What a different journey today’s return drive has been. Much reflection and thanksgiving filled both our hearts.

Georgia, Sabrina and Alena welcomed Lalo and his mother back from his successful treatment with a voice that is probably 3 octaves higher pitched than mine and all were very happy:

Meera will be the first of the current Kurdish children in Israel to have surgery on her incredibly complex heart tomorrow. Her oxygen levels are as low as 47% of normal; you can see how dark her little fingernails are. One of her doctors said he has never seen anyone like this who isn’t unconscious. Please pray for the doctors as they plan her surgery, and for Meera and her dad who is with her and worried:

This four-minute video follows Syrian refugee baby Ahmad from the moment he was plucked from certain death in the ICU in Jordan until he was returned to his mother’s arms twelve weeks later after surgery in Israel to switch his great arteries. And here's how we found him last night six and a half years later:

After six new Kurdish children reached Israel, 1.5-year-old Meera was seen first this week and immediately hospitalized. To see a child whose extremities are purple/blue is extremely jarring; many of the doctors crowded into the room to see her heart during the echo. It was a relief when the doctors decided to admit her to the hospital. After a long time, thank God Meera is now receiving the care and attention she needs to live.

The whole story ended just last night, when the six returning families finally boarded their plane in Jordan to go home to Iraq. On the way to the airport precious nine-year-old Aya asked if she could put some music on via bluetooth, and her choice of songs (the “Shevet Achim” Psalm 133) revealed both the joy of the families and the influence of the weekly Shabbat dinner singing with our Jaffa community!

Six families have left Israel, and six new ones arrived. Please pray that they would all feel welcome, despite our minimal interactions with them as they are now spending two weeks in quarantine.

Meera, who is from a Yazidi family, has come with her father. She is startlingly blue/purple in her face, feet and hands:

Something strange is happening here in Kurdistan, northern Iraq this week. Yes, the pope is in town for the first time since...ever. But the really strange thing is the number of newborns suddenly
appearing here with transposition of the great arteries:

Shevet Achim communities help children from Gaza, Iraq and Syria come to Israel for open-heart surgeries. The first community formed in 1994 in response to the plea of a mother who came to Israel seeking life-saving treatment for her son at a cost of $64,000:

“Will you help us?”

Few of us have the resources to respond to a request like that. But we found if one person will hear that question–and then pray, give whatever they have, and share the child’s story–our Father will form a rescue community that unites all kinds of people around the shared goal of saving a child’s life. And doctors and hospitals in Israel are ready to partner with us and take more than half of the costs on themselves.

Here are some of the families of children who are asking the same question today: “Will you help us?”

How it Works:

Each of these children is invited for heart surgery in one of Israel’s largest hospitals, the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, or Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. If God gives you the faith to intercede for one of these boys or girls, you can apply to become a local leader. When approved you’ll be given your own page on this website through which you can call together friends, family, and neighbors, to join you in meeting the financial goal. Everyone agrees that a child’s life should be saved–you’ll find yourself partnering with people you never would have expected! You’ll share with them regular updates on your child’s progress, including updates sent from the Shevet Achim community in Israel. And you’ll be invited to come and personally meet your child while he or she is in Israel for surgery.

Here’s how you can get started.

And here are the stories of the children now in Israel: