Aram's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

God Is In the Journey

Posted on Thu, 05/15/2014 - 22:48 by Elsie Fei
Aram was asleep when Kristina and I arrived to visit today but soon woke up. He was cheerful enough to respond to us positively. He was happy when his mother put on the new shoes for him.
Aram's mother was chatty, happily updating us on his progress. She reported that he hit his head less. She had concerns too, like Aram seemed to regress after the surgery in that he kept asking to be breastfed. When lunch came Aram did eat, although slowly.
Aram's mother showed us the right side of Aram's neck where the shunt is visible. Thanks to this shunt the pressure in Aram's head is decreased.
There were still times when Aram was irritable today, but these times were fewer and shorter. He could be quite easily soothed. His demeanor was sweet. Once Kristina asked how he was and he answered sweetly, "I'm fine". He was engaged with us, responding to our questions, e.g. where are your eyes, where are your ears etc.

We eventually left the hospital but not without praying first. Indeed God is faithful and has answered our prayers for Aram. We know it is still a long road for him but we trust God is in the journey.

Blessings Poured Out

Posted on Tue, 05/13/2014 - 23:09 by Heather Garza

Today we were able to witness the wonderful blessings God has graciously poured over Aram during his journey here in Israel. Just one day ago we wrote about the unexpected emergency surgery Aram underwent Sunday night. Now Aram has been removed from the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital to the pediatric wing.

When we came in this afternoon to see Aram and his wonderful mother, Aram was moving his head to the beat of music and smiling. It is with great joy I write that Aram is making wonderful progress. He has a normal appetite and had cheerful enthusiasm when he saw the new shoes and clothes his father sent along with Jesse to Jerusalem.

Later in the afternoon, a doctor came and assessed Aram's post-surgery progress. Although it is harder than before for Aram to move his right arm and leg, he is still improving significantly and was able to grip onto the doctor's hand when asked. It is such a great relief to see this little boy have a smile on his face despite all he has been through. We should take note of this young boy's courage and the faithfulness God has been providing throughout Aram's journey. Praise be to God!

A Long-Awaited Breakthrough for Aram

Posted on Mon, 05/12/2014 - 21:36 by Kristina Kayser

The Scripture which says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life," is a fitting depiction of the recent turn of events in Aram's young life. Through many tears and moments of desperation, we watched as God continued His faithful care for this boy and his mother. And the breakthrough, for which we have been diligently praying, came in a most timely fashion. 

Aram and his mother had been resting at the Shevet house over the weekend, waiting for his scheduled brain shunt this coming Wednesday. His condition, however, took a sudden turn for the worse. Increased lethargy and vomiting followed by what his mother described as seizure-like behavior compelled us to travel to Sheba Medical Center at 5 p.m. yesterday to admit Aram into the ER.

Upon our arrival, Aram continued to be drowsy except for moments of fear and pain caused by needle pokes and exams.

Four trips were made via ambulance between different departments across Sheba's vast campus. A CT scan of his brain gave neurosurgeons evidence enough for an expedited surgery, which began around 11:30 p.m. last night. 

His mother, anxious yet exhausted, fell asleep just after Aram was wheeled into the O.R. The doctors described the surgical shunt as a simple and relatively short procedure with secondary risks due to Aram's heart defect. 

True to his word, the surgeon appeared a little over an hour later to say the shunt operation was completed without any complications. A small hole was made in Aram's skull through which a valvular shunt was placed, draining the cerebrospinal fluid from his head down to his stomach. The hydrocephalus had created quite a bit of pressure, so the surgeon was happy to have intervened ahead of schedule. A biopsy of brain tissue was also taken, in order to determine if Aram's tumor is cancerous or not. The pathology department should have an answer in the next two to three weeks.

By 1:30 a.m. this morning, Aram was in stable condition and transferred from the operating department to the pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

The sweetest moment came when he woke up from anesthesia and called for his mother.

This made her so happy and relieved. It was the first sign her precious boy was okay. Mother and son were settled and at peace when Sophie and I made our farewell at 4 a.m. We all prayed together, praising God for the beautiful gift of a successful surgery and relief from pain. I was reminded of Psalm 23 in the early morning hours and sang the words of David's song over Aram. He is in the hands of a faithful and loving Shepherd!

When I returned to Aram's bedside later this morning, he was wide awake and lying calmly in his bed. 

Despite a continued fast since yesterday evening, Aram was mostly content.

Every once in a while, he would voice his protest and wonder why his mother wasn't giving him milk. Children's songs and gentle talking soothed him more than a few times.

After a follow-up CT scan this afternoon, Aram's thirst was finally quenched around 3:30 p.m. with his first bottle of milk. This made his mother very happy as well. She was overflowing with thanks to God and appreciation for the love and care our community has shown to them. She wanted to make sure I passed on her thanks to everyone back at the Shevet house.

Just before leaving this afternoon, we learned Aram's CT scan shows slight improvement and no further procedures are needed at this time. Outwardly, Aram has undergone a fantastic transformation. He seems to be in a wonderful state of comfort. 

Please continue to pray with us for Aram's healing and daily progress. We rejoice in answered prayer and the steadfast love of God for Aram. He is worthy to be praised!

Heaven's Floodgates

Posted on Thu, 05/08/2014 - 22:36 by Rahel Eschler

Today the floodgates of heaven were open over Israel. Rain in this time of the year is unusual for this region. What a special blessing for this land. This reminded me of the song “Grace Like Rain.” We all need grace so desperately, especially Aram and his mother. But God reminds us His grace is sufficient, and there’s nothing we lack in His presence.

Late this afternoon we drove to Sheba Hospital to bring Aram and his mother home for a longer weekend. The doctors are expecting him back in the middle of next week to go on with his treatment. A surgery is planned to release the pressure in his brain through a shunt, along with a biopsy of the growth in his brain to learn whether it is cancerous or not.

Aram, unfortunately, wasn’t having his best day today. As we arrived, he was laying passively in his bed, vomiting. The increased pressure on Aram’s brain was most likely the reason for this. Before we left the ward, the medical staff performed one last check on him to make sure he would be alright back home in Jerusalem. Aram’s drowsiness also concerned his mother.

Before we left for home, we gathered together for prayer. We asked the Lord for comfort, peace and healing in Aram and his mother’s lives. We depend on the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness to us. The beautiful sunset on the way home was a nice reminder of God’s caring love and presence in our lives. We praise His name, for He is good!

One Starfish at a Time

Posted on Wed, 05/07/2014 - 23:38 by Shannon Kelley

Yesterday we enjoyed a sweet Independence Day at the beach with all of our Syrian and Kurdish families, including Aram and his mother. Today, however, gears were shifted to head back to the hospital for still more assessments of Aram. Some of this may simply repeat workups done at previous hospitals, but we have confidence that the Lord is faithful.

This morning in our community meeting we also chose the morning “watch word,” a phrase that serves as a reminder of what we as a community would like to put into practice or remember about the Lord from that day's scripture study. “Go and love one starfish at a time” was the watch word of the day, taken from the tale originally written by Loren Eiseley. In the story, an old man walking along a beach is collecting starfish one at a time and throwing them back into the ocean. A young boy approaches him and accosts the old man, asking why he is putting forth this effort to make no difference at all. The beach is miles long, and it seems futile to save starfish one by one. The old man simply picks up another and throws it into the sea, stating, “It made a difference to that one.” We were encouraged by this watch word and its original story, thanking Jesus that He does this for us. In fact, He'd leave the 99 sheep to go after the lost one.

By the Lord's grace, Aram was readmitted into the same spacious hospital room he was in before the Independence Day holiday. A cool breeze blew through the open windows and the hospital floor was pleasantly quiet and calm. Throughout the day, numerous doctors came to assess Aram, including a neurologist and an infectious disease specialist.

Aram's mother also appeared to be handling well another admission to the hospital. Aram's demeanor shifted from peaceful to irritable to tired. Despite this, Aram was soothed by music from a mobile phone from his father that Shevet staff brought back from a visit last week to Kurdistan.

While we were waiting for the day's final assessment, Kristina began to leaf through her Bible. Almost immediately Aram's mother asked what it was and if it was a Koran. This simple curiosity led to a beautiful conversation between the two--one in which Kristina shared about Jesus and how the Lord, as the good shepherd, is faithful to His flock, even when we are weak and afraid. He cares for us personally and deeply. When we were leaving Aram's hospital room today, we were acutely reminded of the Lord's faithfulness and His pursuit of our hearts as we noticed two starfish decals on the wall right outside.

Please pray with us that the Lord's faithfulness would continue to shine through this ongoing journey with Aram and his mother and that He would reveal Himself to them in a real way. Aram will soon need another MRI as well as a few other assessments in order to continue piecing together his medical puzzle. We also thank the Lord that He has truly made the difference to us and that He chooses to use us, despite our weaknesses and sinful nature, to be fishers of men.

There and Back Again: Aram's Tale

Posted on Mon, 05/05/2014 - 23:49 by Kristina Kayser

Aram and his mother had an unexpected turn of events today. After Aram's admittance into Sheba only yesterday afternoon for neurological assessments, I was informed all treatment was being put on hold until Wednesday. This decision was due to many doctors being away for Israel's two days of back-to-back holidays remembering fallen soldiers and celebrating its independence. Being away from our community and other Kurdish speakers is challenging for Aram and his mother, so I suggested they return to Jerusalem in the meantime. The doctor agreed to my suggestion, but only if Aram's blood test results were acceptable. 

The blood draw itself was quite traumatic for Aram, who became so distraught it took half an hour after the test for him to finally calm down. Thankfully, he became so composed he took an afternoon nap while we waited for the results. His mother and I enjoyed a quiet conversation together about life, family, and health. I took the opportunity to tell her about the way Jesus loves Aram and how in the Scriptures He welcomed children to Himself. I believe God wants this mother and son to know how precious they are in His eyes. 

Around three hours later, the doctor told us Aram could leave the hospital and be re-admitted on Wednesday morning. His mother was happy for this news and didn't seem disappointed concerning the postponement of further testing for Aram. Her bags were packed in no time! She continues to tell me her only desire is for Aram to be well. May we all trust in God's steadfast love and faithful healing for this dear boy. 

Moving Forward

Posted on Sun, 05/04/2014 - 21:59 by Elsie Fei

We give thanks to God for many answered prayers. Specifically we thank God for Sheba Hospital's acceptance of Aram for both neurological and cardiological treatment. This morning Kristina and I together with Aram and his mother set off for Aram's admission into Sheba Hospital. When we arrived, we went to the pediatric cardiology department and waited for Aram's EKG and echo tests. The EKG was first, and Aram cooperated for the oxygen saturation clip.

But when the medical attendant started to lift Aram’s shirt to stick cables onto his chest, he got fussy. Good thing the medical attendant brought out an array of toys to distract him.

After some time, we got a good EKG reading. The next thing was to weigh Aram, which involved taking off all his clothes. It turned out to be a painful affair with his fussiness going full-blown. No amount of coaxing or cajoling or toys worked.

Even when the weighing was over and Aram was clothed, he continued crying. He tugged at his mother's clothing. I guessed he wanted the comfort and security of breast feeding. His mother stood strong, however, and did not succumb. A woman seated in the waiting room came over to comfort Aram with first a frog origami and then later a peacock origami. Aram quieted down somewhat.

We waited until it was time for Aram’s echo. Thankfully it was relatively pain-free. The doctor came in later and told us Aram's heart condition is difficult, and he will only proceed with the heart treatment after Aram’s neurological treatment. This is not new to us.

After the tests, we were done in the pediatric cardiology department and moved on for Aram’s admission into the pediatric ward. By now it was around four PM. We waited for a bit, and then Aram moved into his bed. It was in a big, bright, cheery room. He settled in peacefully. Though it had been a long day, he was cheerful and sociable.

A nurse then came in to ask some questions. Kristina admirably translated Aram’s mother's Kurdish into Hebrew for the nurse. Later the ward doctor came, asked more questions, and did some basic assessments. This brought us to the end of our visit, where Kristina prayed for both Aram and mother before we left. 

Today is a brand new chapter for Aram. After other hospitals' rejections, there is acceptance finally here in Sheba Hospital. His full recovery is within sight. God, we believe but help us in our unbelief. Please give us faith and eyes to see You at work. 

Answered Prayers

Posted on Sun, 04/27/2014 - 19:46 by Ruth Zellweger

One of my favorite hymns is "Great is Thy Faithfulness." It is often hard to see while we are in challenging circumstances, but looking back we recognize how God has never left us and has been working on our behalf. This is especially true when we look at the lives of Aram and his mother. With each week they had been here, Aram’s mother had become more and more distressed. She wanted to return home because she had given up hope Aram would be helped. She shed many tears and tried to get attention in destructive ways, especially when she heard the news her precious son has a tumor in his brain and his spinal column in addition to his severe heart defect and hydrocephalus. It was almost more than she could bear. Our Shevet community came alongside her and tried to show her she and Aram are loved and valued, but she was not able to receive it. All she wanted was to return to her family in Kurdistan. The nights were especially hard on her. When it was quiet and everyone else was asleep, she had a lot of time to think and to worry. Our community prayed along with many friends all over the world, and over the past three days we have seen God answering these prayers in many beautiful ways. 

During a phone conversation with Jonathan, Dr. Roth from the Dana Children’s Hospital suggested it would be better for Aram to be treated at a hospital able to facilitate both neurological and cardiological treatment. Within a few hours Jonathan received word from Sheba Hospital saying they would most likely accept Aram. Before they can officially invite Aram, however, they first need all previous cardiological and neurological results from Aram’s tests. We were able to obtain these documents today and bring them to Sheba Hospital. We now have to wait until everything has been reviewed to receive a final answer. Our hope is a quick acceptance for Aram into Sheba Hospital. 

In the meantime, a beautiful transformation has taken place in Aram’s mother.

She is still worried about her son, but she is much calmer and more at peace. There are moments when we see her blithe and totally at ease. Whenever she smiles, it lights up her whole face. Friday afternoon, she and Aram had the opportunity to Skype with Aram’s father. Our coworker Agnes, who is right now in Kurdistan, had suggested this. For about fifteen minutes father, mother and son were able to talk and see each other.

Aram, who has mentioned many times over the past weeks how much he misses his father and siblings, was delighted. Aram’s father encouraged his wife to endure, and she is willing to do so for the sake of her son. 

God continues to be faithful in Aram’s life, a reality which became tangible to us as we were walking on the street today. An Arab man who had been following us for a while caught us on the street. At first I thought he was begging for money, but instead he handed a bill and some coins to Aram’s mother, bent over, and kissed Aram on the forehead. And then he was gone. A beautiful smile appeared on Aram’s mother’s face as she handed the note to Aram.

On a human level the doctors do not know how much they will be able to help Aram, but there is hope because "what is impossible with man is possible with God" (Luke 18:27). There is great power in prayer. Thank you so much for interceding faithfully with us for Aram and his mother!

Faithful to the End

Posted on Tue, 04/22/2014 - 22:36 by Kristina Kayser

One of the things I love most about God's word is that it is living and active, having the power to speak right to the heart of every situation. This morning's watchword from our current Bible study in 2 Kings was "Be faithful to the end." Our community spoke of the importance not only of beginning our race well, but also of finishing it with endurance. This theme applies to every area of our lives and work, including the care of the children with whom God entrusts us. And no child stood out more to me today then little Aram. 

Nearly two months have passed since Aram and mother began their journey to Israel, full of hope and expectation for a brighter future. The road has been arduous with plenty of unexpected challenges along the way. This afternoon's experience was no exception.

Aram and his mother sat across the desk from Dr. Roth (the neurosurgeon who has been overseeing Aram's neurological testing) during our visit today. Rahel, Kelsey, and I were likewise present. Dr. Roth explained test results confirmed a tumor in the back of Aram's head and spinal column. He added this could disqualify Aram from receiving heart treatment. And having no heart treatment means Aram would not be a candidate for chemotherapy.

The only intervention offered by Dr. Roth was a palliative shunt surgery to help relieve fluid pressure around Aram's brain. While the shunt carries risk for complications, this procedure could give Aram rest from frequent pain. The discussion finished with the doctor saying he was willing to do the shunt but recommended taking Aram home in his current condition. Sharing this with Aram’s mother was heartbreaking, and I was only able to translate the painful news with God's help. 

It was a long drive home, with many tears shed by everyone in the car. What do you do when the future seems bleak? How do you comfort a mother who has been living in a state of desperation and increasing frustration? I learned once again today that hope in the Messiah shines through our darkest moments. Jonathan spoke with Dr. Roth later this afternoon, and the conclusion was made that a cranial shunt is a promising option for provisional relief. Time for prayer and consideration was taken before sitting down to speak with Aram's mother. What would be the best way to "be faithful to the end" with Aram's care? We asked for God's wisdom and guidance. 

By the time Aram's mother came downstairs to meet us, she was ready to give up and return to Kurdistan as soon as possible. Proceeding with great care, Jonathan explained that we loved her and her son very much and wanted to help him. "We must never give up," he encouraged her. Even if the weighty issue of a brain tumor remains, there are still ways in which we can be faithful stewards of this little boy's precious life. Proceeding with a shunt surgery is the first step, which could take place within the next week.

In moving forward, we pray for a fresh outpouring of God's peace and power to shepherd this mother and son. May He be glorified in Aram's life as we put our hope in Him.

"Now to Him who by His power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine—to Him be glory in the Church through Jesus Christ for ever and ever, amen!" (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Waiting With Hope

Posted on Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:53 by Kristina Kayser

Just before the Pesach holiday in Israel commenced, a neurosurgeon involved in Aram's care called to give me an update. His report included the fact that Aram's diagnosis is still largely a mystery. A comprehensive meeting had taken place last Sunday with multi-disciplinary teams discussing the various components of Aram's medical needs. Treatment for him is "extremely dangerous," Dr. Roth explained. The staff at Dana Children's Hospital is in the midst of not only pinpointing the root of Aram's neurological issues, but also choosing the best way to approach his treatment. Certain test results have come back negative for infection in his brain, leading doctors to consider other reasons for his discomfort and pain, including the possibility of a tumor. The final results from his lumbar puncture test will be available next Sunday, at which point important decisions will be made. We are facing something greater than we or the doctors can handle at the moment, and we need God's wisdom and intervention.

Aram does not need any additional exams or treatment at the hospital this week. Ruth and I traveled on Monday to pick up mother and son and bring them home to Jerusalem.

Aram's mother was greatly distressed when we arrived, pleading with us to stay in the hospital. She is fearful of her son's health and thought returning to Jerusalem equated to no further help for Aram. We gently explained the doctor asked us to wait until next week before anything more could be done. Aram was also irritable and crying all the way out to the car. The beautiful thing was, however, that he calmed down as soon as we began to drive and remained quiet all the way home. This was what we had hoped and prayed for.

Over the last couple of days, it appears Aram continues to have moments when his head is in pain and his cries fill the rooms upstairs. Praise the Lord his pain is not constant; he appears peaceful at times. His mother, however, is emotionally and physically spent, and she needs our prayers as much as her son does. We gathered as a community this afternoon to pray over them and anoint Aram with oil, asking for healing, for strength, and for peace from our Messiah. Please join with us as we remain in prayer for this precious family. We wait in hope with hearts full of trust that our God is able to deliver Aram.