Aram's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

Ongoing Transformation

Posted on Wed, 08/31/2016 - 22:10 by Ruth Zellweger

Seeing Aram and his family yesterday has proven, once again, God's faithfulness. When Aram came to Israel, he had so many serious problems. At times, it felt overwhelming. But thanks to God, He provided everything just in time, from the right hospital and medical care, to finances, to patience and love for us and Aram's mother. While in Israel, we could observe several times how Aram would get very upset when he didn't get his will. And his anger was often directed towards his mother, even though she loved him and cared for him without ceasing. 

Our community rejoiced with Aram's mother after the successful placement of a shunt to drain excessive fluid in his brain. That had caused him much pain before. Soon after, we celebrated the successful repair of his heart. After they had returned home two years ago, Aram had several complications and at some point the family was helpless and ready to give up. During our visit last year, Sophie and I could feel some of the desperation, especially in his mother. We had come with our friend, Dr. Hiwa, who offered to help them organize different testings and medical help. And that is what he did. As we talked with the family yesterday, they were very grateful for the help they received through him. Aram has been suffering from seizures and is now on a medication that has improved his condition greatly, even though the seizures have not yet completely disappeared. We ask you to join us in praying he would be totally healed from them. 

Aram is now five years old. His parents told us he doesn't like too many people around, but rater prefers quietness and solitude. And he wants to learn to walk. With some help, he can stand on his feet. He is also scheduled for some sort of physiotherapy to help him to reach his goal.

We had brought a ball as a gift for him. Only after giving it to him, we found out that balls are his favorite toys. Our group of four used the visiting time to play some with our little friend. It was so beautiful to see Aram laughing from all his heart - just as little children should do.

As his mother was inquiring about the friends they had made during their time in Israel - Kurdish and Yazidi families - we were able to present them with one of our calendars from last year, in which both mother and son saw many familiar faces. It confirmed again how much we all become one big family at Shevet Achim by sharing life together.

I think, for me, the greatest testimony of God doing a beautiful work in Aram and his family is the fact that Aram is now so much more at peace. He radiates it. Within the last year a transformation has taken place that is visible. I am praising God for it. To Him be the glory! 

Before we left the family, we asked permission to pray for Aram. We entrusted him into the hands of our heavenly Father, who takes such good care of His children.

And while I am writing this, I am already looking forward to our next visit with Aram and his family.

Aram Home in Kurdistan

Posted on Sun, 11/02/2014 - 11:18 by Kristina Kayser

Only two months have gone by since Aram and his mother left Jerusalem and returned to their beloved Kurdistan. They were one of the families I was most eager to visit on our recent trip to their region. Out of the extreme struggles and victories we shared together in Israel, a special relationship was forged. Also, I believe Aram's mother had opened her heart to the Lord while they were here. On one of our final days in Kurdistan, Jonathan, Sophie, Ruth, and I made our way to Aram's home. After spending nearly six months with Aram and his mother at Shevet, it was beautiful to see them reunited with their whole family. It was also apparent how much they were missed during their time away and how happy everyone was to have them home. It was like seeing the missing pieces of a puzzle put back in place in order to give the full picture. 

Aram's mother was so happy to see us, and her face beamed as she welcomed us into her home. Even though they had eaten several hours before, they were quick to lay out a delicious meal for us upon our arrival. Afterwards, we had the chance to see how Aram was faring physically. Praise God, his neurological condition appears stable with no increase in pain or complications. While he has the capability to improve his motor skills, particularly walking, Aram is hindered by fear and lack of motivation. After a minute or so of assisted walking, he becomes frustrated and refuses to continue. I encouraged his family to help him work through this and shared with them the story of another Kurdish child who had been through a similar experience and succeeded in walking. In the coming weeks, we hope that Aram will have a follow-up brain MRI, so that the neuro-oncological team at Sheba Hospital can mark his progress and determine if further treatment is needed. Please pray for wisdom for Aram's family to feel equipped and encouraged to continue Aram's care at home.

We also had the chance to talk about spiritual things for a few minutes with their family. Aram's mother said her whole family watched the film about the Messiah upon her return. Likewise, they were open to us praying for them during our visit. Before leaving, we gave them a small gift as a symbol of our love, but most of all God's love for them. It was a carved heart made from olive wood, and attached to it was the verse in Romans 8:38-39. Aram's eldest brother then read this scripture aloud in Kurdish, his heart language. This may have seemed a trifle moment, but I believe it held great significance. Putting God's word into the hands of people is such a powerful thing because it is living and active. May God's word become alive in their hearts and breathe hope into their world. Please join us in praying for this! 

"So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;

It shall not return to Me void,

But it shall accomplish what I please,

And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. " Isaiah 55:11

The Shepherd's Love

Posted on Sun, 08/17/2014 - 22:23 by Kristina Kayser

People come in and out of our lives in different ways. Some people are like a fragrant summer breeze--their presence is sweet and the memory of them warm and comforting. Still others impact our lives like footprints on wet cement, solidifying with time. These are people with whom you experience both joy and sorrow, struggle and triumph. Years may pass and still our hearts bear their mark. 

Many children and parents pass through the old weathered doorway at Shevet Achim each year. And while I grow to love each one, there are some who touch my heart indelibly. I remember so clearly the first time I laid eyes on Aram and his mother at the border of Jordan and Israel. The two were so much alike: timid, fragile, and quiet, with their deep brown eyes full of questions. If ever there was a pair who reminded me of sheep without a shepherd, it was them. Their journey to Israel was a courageous one. Leaving their rural Kurdish town to traverse the great unknown, neither would have ever guessed that it would be nearly six months before they would return home. Nor would they have ever imagined the difficult trials which lay ahead, the steep and tear-stained path that would ultimately lead them to places of healing and love. 

Aram and his mother taught me many things...and now that they are gone, their footprints on my heart are fresh indeed. Among many things, they taught me that Messiah came to bring hope to a desperate world, to breathe life into the broken and bowed down, to heal the wounded of body and of soul, to raise the needy from the ash heap, to place no earthly price on eternal value. But most of all, they taught me that Messiah came to love beyond what is convenient, rational, comfortable, or rewarding. He came to love immeasurably at all cost. He is the good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep. 

If you've followed the story of Aram and his mother, then you know that much of their first two months with our community were spent going from one hospital to the next, searching for a place willing to treat both Aram's heart and his head. Aram's neurological condition was not known to us until after his arrival, and we were suddenly faced with an unexpected dilemma.

These were days and weeks of great struggle and tears, filled with countless tests and assessments that seemed to only lead to more questions and disappointments. As a nurse, I often felt helpless and unqualified to care for a boy with such complex medical needs. As a woman, I felt I lacked the love, wisdom, and patience needed to support his mother, who reached an emotional and physical breaking point. The hardest moment, however, came when the recommendation was given to Aram's mom by a hospital that she should simply take her son home to live out his remaining days. 

By God's grace, we pressed forward in faith through this "valley of the shadow of death," watching God faithfully uphold this boy and his mother.  And the breakthrough, for which we had diligently prayed, came like piercing sunlight through layers of thick cloud and uncertainty. Hope had began to grow again. 

With growing momentum, Aram's physical healing also grew. First, an emergency neurosurgery to relieve pressure around his brain was performed following a frightening seizure at our Shevet home. The relief this surgery brought from his previous state of constant pain brought Aram to life in a way I hadn't seen in him before. He began to speak and smile and even laugh! 

The next act of grace came with the completion of his heart surgery.

Doctors projected a difficult and lengthy post-operative period in the ICU. However, quite miraculously, Aram was transferred to the children's department merely one day after his large scale cardiac repair! No one at Shevet had ever seen such a swift and unprecedented recovery before. Aram's heart healed so beautifully in the following weeks that just last Wednesday, the cardiologist at Sheba deemed him healthy enough to return home on zero medications. To God be the glory! 

Regarding his neurological status, the neuro-oncology team at Sheba is still working to determine the presence of and proper treatment for a tumor on his brain. Even after several biopsies and MRI scans, more time and testing are needed before doctors will know what course to take. Aram has been discharged from the neurology department as well with the understanding that a follow up MRI in four months time is needed to compare with earlier test results. Meanwhile, we are praying for continued healing and restoration for Aram's head and body because nothing is too difficult for the Lord.

Our last days with Aram and his mother in Jerusalem were sweet ones as the dream of returning home to Kurdistan became more and more real to them. On several occasions throughout our time together, I was given the beautiful gift of sharing about life in Messiah with Aram's mother. After our first conversation about Him a couple of months ago, I saw a new light in this woman's eyes. I told her that all of us are like sheep in need of a Shepherd and Jesus was that Shepherd who came to give us His love and life. Earlier this week, I asked Aram's mother if she remembered this conversation, to which she said yes and then quickly asked if she could have a copy of the Jesus movie in Kurdish to take home with her. "It's so beautiful!" she added. It was no surprise, then, that she responded so enthusiastically when I invited her to visit the Garden Tomb with me last Thursday. It was their final day in Jerusalem, and it proved to be one of the most special of all. 

As we walked together to the garden, I began to reflect on all that had transpired over the past five-and-a-half months with Aram and his mother. I saw the love and grace of God poured out on this family again and again. Aram's mother echoed her own sentiments toward both the good and the hard times and thanked God for all He had done. When we arrived at the Garden Tomb, I felt like I was stepping back into the pages of Scripture. "She is like the woman desperate just to touch the edge of Jesus' robe," I thought. Her heart seemed famished for lasting hope, and every word I shared about Jesus' love and and redemption, she readily absorbed. Upon entering the empty tomb, her eyes filled with tears and cries from her heart poured from her lips as she laid hands on her son's head, holding him close. She removed her shoes and stood in wonder. It bears mentioning that The Garden Tomb, which is normally filled with masses of tourists, was virtually empty that day. In fact, it was so quiet that Aram, his mother, and I planted ourselves within the cold stone walls of the tomb and remained there for a good ten minutes. I was struck by the sheer love of God for one sheep and His provision of uninterrupted time to spend in a place so saturated with the essence of His resurrection power. How could I not be in awe of His sacrificial love and faithful pursuit? I do not know the extent of God's grace working in the heart of Aram's mother, but this I do know: it is far greater than I could ever imagine. As we left the garden, Aram asked his mom to pick a white flower for him. I told her white is the color of new life, and a beautiful smile spread across her face. 

That night, Aram slept right through his farewell party, but his mother basked in her joyful surroundings. Her favorite gifts were the photo DVD, which captured their time in Israel with colorful images, and the Jesus movie. As we shared words of encouragement with her, Aram's mother reciprocated with expressions of love and thanks. 

Their departure on Friday morning still feels somewhat surreal. Aram's mother's eyes were filled with tears once more as we hugged each other goodbye. I believe Aram and his mother are returning home as bearers of good news...and I trust that the love of the Shepherd will have its perfect way in their hearts. 

Waving Goodbye

Posted on Wed, 08/13/2014 - 23:41 by Matylda Temkin

The last time - to see the sea. The last time in the hospital, at least here. Sweet, blessed, long-lashed Aram had his last echocardiogram today at Sheba Hospital. His heart has been healed. He can go home after six months spent on Prophet’s Street. These were months of waiting, surgeries, and examinations; but also of playing, getting to know other people and the outside world - often so different from what he and his mum know from back home. Kristina and I accompanied Aram and his mum to the hospital today.

Both were calm and quiet. It was a very hot day with a busy road. Finally, in Sheba we learned that Aram’s echo would be two hours later than planned. Going to the beach seemed the most natural thing to do, even if for half an hour only. Off to the beach! So off we went. There was: lunch we brought from home, shells, glass pieces tenderized by water, sand (!), and warm, vast water. And there was a nice wind, which made us forget a little about the heat.

The time to leave came all too soon. I wonder if Aram will have another chance to see a sea once he’s not here anymore.

Though Aram didn’t like the examination at the hospital later and was crying from pain and fear (showing some photos on the camera helped to calm him down along with coloring crayons), the echo brought great news.

Aram’s heart has been properly healing. He is discharged from the hospital. The doctor said he doesn’t need to take cardiac medication any more. He can come home and be under medical care in Kurdistan. They are heading home this weekend with a copy of the “Jesus” movie that Aram’s mum asked for today! We are so thankful to good God that Aram’s physical heart has been healed. What we keep asking for is spiritual healing for him, his mum, and their whole family.

Step by Step

Posted on Tue, 07/22/2014 - 20:44 by Ruth Zellweger

Our little Aram is making progress in many ways. Not only does he cry less, but he also seems more content and smiles more often than when he first arrived. In addition, he has started to practice walking with the help of his mother. At the hospital today, while waiting for his echo, Aram and his mother continued their exercises. Aram enjoyed the colorful playground area with the various toys and explored it with his mother.

After a while, he was asked into the echo room. He started crying as soon as his mother took off his clothes. Luckily, we had some bubbles with us, which distracted him for a while.

But when the echo technician started, he began crying again and did not calm down. The results of his echo were good. His heart is healing and there is no fluid in his lungs or around his heart. As a consequence, the cardiologist reduced the diuretic, a medication to encourage urination. He asked us to come back in one month's time. 

We are very thankful for the beautiful results after Aram's heart surgery and continue to trust our heavenly Father for help for Aram's brain problem as well. At the moment, the oncologist is considering an additional spinal MRI to gather more information about what is going on in Aram's brain before she will recommend any treatment options. The waiting time is very difficult for Aram's mother, who desperately wants to return home. Please continue to lift up mother and child, as well as all the doctors making the decisions. 

Answers One by One

Posted on Mon, 07/14/2014 - 20:28 by Jesse Tilman

Aram went for a neurological assessment with one of the doctors at Sheba hospital today. The results of his brain biopsy brought less information than desired, and the doctors still have more questions than answers. They were unable to obtain the brain and/or tumor matter they were seeking in the small surgery biopsy that was performed. The doctor told us that he is leaning toward asking for another biopsy at this point.

Tomorrow, Aram has an appointment with a different doctor. Afterward, the two doctors will meet to weigh future steps. If Aram is recommended for another biopsy, they will have to make that decision before the Pediatric-Neurological board that barely gave approval for the last one. Every surgery carries some risk, and each step in Aram’s path should be chosen with care.

With both the great results from his brain shunt, which reduced pressure in his head, and the higher oxygen levels after his heart surgery, he is doing much better. His mother and I conveyed our gratitude to the doctor, as we have been glad to see how well Aram is playing and interacting with his environment. The doctor performed a few reflex and nerve evaluations there in the office on a side bed. Since he wasn’t wearing a white lab coat and had no needles, Aram complied happily and even giggled as the doctor stroked his feet or hands.

 After translating questions and thoughts between doctor and mother for a while, we were satisfied with the progress being made in his case. Thank God for His healing!

Mission Complete

Posted on Sun, 07/06/2014 - 21:48 by Leanne Rogerson

Today, Aram headed back to the hospital with his mom for two tests: an echo of his heart, and an MRI of his brain. The morning was a challenge for his mom right from the start. How does she explain to her 3-year-old son that he cannot have anything to eat or drink, and it is going to be a few hours before he can have something? How do you appease your son when you cannot give him the very thing he is asking for?

First mission – the echo of his heart: through his unsettled temperament, the technician performing his echo managed to get what they required, and as far as we know all is going well so far. He will likely need another echo in a upcoming two weeks which is good news. A quick EKG followed the echo, but he seemed to calm down for a moment, enough for a good tracing to be complete. With this achieved, Ruth and I were thankful that his echo occurred a few hours earlier than the scheduled appointment, with the paperwork for his next test completed; mission one: complete.

Our Second mission for the day: Aram’s MRI. It was a bit touch and go for a while; a very mild fever and cough caused the nurses and radiographer to be concerned, and almost caused them to cancel the procedure which had already been delayed a week. After two more hours of waiting, he still remained unsettled and cried in between short periods of rest; it still looked like the test was to be cancelled. But in the end he was taken into the room with his mom beside him ready to undergo his brain MRI; mission two: underway.

After his scan, his heart rate was a little high and the nurses again were worried and concerned over his mild temperature and his cough; they were convinced he needed to be admitted to the children’s ward overnight for observation. With time however, and a little extra IV fluids and some food, he settled and improved. Although his cough remained, he was given the ok to return to Prophets Street to recover.

Our upset and grumpy little Aram turned in to a happy smiley boy as his mom carried him out of the hospital, and his happiness continued all the way home. It’s amazing the difference a full and happy tummy can make.

Today’s missions: complete.


Aram back on Prophets Street

Posted on Sun, 06/29/2014 - 21:28 by Nick Boyum

We arrived at the ward today at Sheba Hospital to find Aram completely asleep, and his mother in a cheerful mood. We located a nurse and confirmed what we were already skeptical of: Aram would be discharged today. 

Although it is no small thing to be thankful for that Aram and his mother get to spend tonight somewhere other than a hospital bed, Aram still has much ahead of him. His neurological predicament is still looming, and we owe our Great Healer for sustaining him thus far. For the moment, join us in breathing a big breath of relief for this precious young boy and the love that has been shown to him by his Father.

Mighty Healing

Posted on Wed, 06/25/2014 - 20:41 by Philip Rasmussen

Ruth and I made a late afternoon visit today. We stepped into the most peaceful room to greet Aram's mother; she was smiling warmly and welcomed us in to her humble hospital room. Aram was sound a sleep, looking like a little angel with his beautiful eyebrows, eyelashes, and prominent pink lips.

We also found him stable and doing incredibly well in the ward, just two days after his complicated heart surgery! I have in my time here never seen a child recover so quickly. Last night they removed all of his three chest tubes and he is also allowed to drink and eat normally. His oxygen saturation level showed 99-100 percent with just a tiny amount of oxygen support. This is almost a double improvement from before the surgery.

Every single time I have visited Aram and his mother I am always astonished by the care the mother has for the other Shevet children. She is always inquiring about their conditions, today in one case even about the specific oxygen level as she was speaking to our nurse Ruth. Aram's mother is the only mother we have right now who cannot communicate in Arabic, which makes life much harder for her in the hospital. Today we called one of the other mothers whom she has bonded beautifully with during their time here. We might also bring some of the families to visit her tomorrow. Human encouragements and friendships are only a product of the great comfort we find in God, and which He so clearly has surrounded Aram and his mother with by answering mightily in His healing of Aram.

A Miracle

Posted on Tue, 06/24/2014 - 20:00 by Jesse Tilman

There was good news for Aram today! Just a few minutes before I arrived for today's post-op visit, he and his mother were moved out of the ICU and into their own room in the children's ward – only one day after his surgery! Since Aram is doing so well, his mother and I rejoiced together as we watched him play with a toy sheep. His lips seem brilliantly red to me since I'm used to them being dark purple, and his much calmer attitude shows his change in health. He'd been fasting since two nights ago, so we asked if he could start eating again. The nurse said yes, he can start eating and even drinking milk, but he should ease into it with more water first. Sophie had me pack two bags full of fruit, bread, milk, tea, fresh Kurdish food, and other edibles for them, so we began to dine together for lunch. Soon, Aram's IV drip-line ran low and started dinging loudly, calling a staff-member come change it. It took a while for this to happen, and Aram cried from the noise a bit. It was wonderful just being with them, knowing that Aram has made a major step on his road to health. His mother smiles so often now! Aram's movements are more controlled and mindful. He is in pain less often and can put more focus on what children do best: play! I prayed a blessing over them and asked God to keep watch over their time in the hospital and bring them home soon.