Aras's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

The Last Day in Jordan

Posted on Mon, 02/04/2008 - 00:00 by Sarah_Al_Almani

Jean and I met Aras and Hardi with their mothers at 5 oclock in the morning at our flat for the families in Amman. They were prepared to leave for their flights back home and so we didnt waste time and drove to the airport because the flight was planned for 7 oclock. When we finally got on the highway, we were forced to stop because the roads were too icy to drive on. There was a lot of traffic on the streets outside of Amman and thats why we stopped on the side of the road and used the time to watch the sun rising and melting the ice.

We arrived at the airport at 8:20 and we were so happy that they delayed the flight until 9 oclock. They only had to hurry up a bit but they got their flight back home. They were very thankful and although we couldnt communicate much with words, they understood what we wanted to say to them.


This concludes the story of Aras' journey to Israel for heart surgery and a new life.

Aras Leaves Snowy Israel

Posted on Thu, 01/31/2008 - 00:00 by Hank_Dannecker

Upon waking Wednesday morning, I captured a beautiful snowy scene on my camera lens.

But I had to hurry "and make tracks," because at 11am, three boys were anxiously waiting to go home to Iraq after being in Israel for heart surgeries.

As I pulled up to the Shevet house, Aras, Hardi, and Dilshad dashed through the newly fallen snow with unrestraint.
Once we were all piled in the van, our destination was the Al Aqsa mosque where each family spent some time in prayer. As they were exiting the Mosque area, they were so excited and chattering amongst themselves, they walked right by without even noticing me!

Once again, we all got in the van to head back to Shevet for final packing to head for the Jordanian border. But simple packing wasn't on their minds. They had to sit and have some lunch (aromas of chicken and rice filled the air), and say a final goodbye to the other families staying there.

Finally by about 3:30 pm we were headed to Beit She'an, Aras and Hardi taking up the front seats with me. They quickly found the snack bag I packed for them, and soon chips, nuts, and drinks were being passed around. All except the cashews, that is; Hardi decided that he should be the keeper of the bag. As we were driving out of snowy Jerusalem and into the plains headed toward the Jordan valley, more of God's handiwork appeared in the sky--two spectacular rainbows.

During the two hour drive, I quizzed the boys on the many English words they learned during their stay. Aras and Hardi amazed me with their newfound skill of counting to 100 and pointing to parts of their face, saying "nose, mouth, ears"..... they now were showing off and we all began to laugh!

Upon reaching the border, we were informed that on the Jordanian side, the road was closed due to snow in Amman. Now what? Phone calls were made to Dirk, our Shevet teammate in Jordan, and he had to make the long trip around which would take an additional two hours. So while our little group waited, we decided to eat again and went to buy some falafel sandwiches.

The last leg of this journey quickly came to an end, as I got them processed through security and soon loaded their luggage onto the bus that would take them into Jordan. This goodbye was bittersweet. God has given me a love for these young men and their families. Through all the travels back and forth from Wolfson to Jerusalem, and visiting them while in the hospital, I've become quite attached to them. But it was a precious time for me to be able to send them on their way home and pray that God's spirit goes with them. As the bus pulled away I felt a little piece of my heart go cold, and not because of the snow or blustery, damp, cold wind. It is that they have become in some odd and strange sort of way... family. And I'm not sure whether I will ever see them again. I can hear the Father say, "Heaven will not be complete until all nations have entered in." Yes, these are the sons of Abraham!

A Clean Bill of Health, Free to Go Home

Posted on Mon, 01/21/2008 - 06:41 by Hank_Dannecker

Aras has been discharged from the hospital as he continues strengthening after his open-heart surgery, and today I bumped into him, his mother and his friend Baveel waiting for their post-op echos in the "fish room" at the hospital. His mother told me that Aras is sleeping well and eating well. And his heart is doing so well that doctors today gave Aras a clean bill of health and the green light to go home to Iraq and a bright new future!

We hope to bring him to the Shevet Achim center in Jerusalem as soon as tomorrow, and help him on his way to Jordan and then back to Iraq by the end of the week. We'll update you again when his final chapter in Israel is written.

We Miss Your Smile

Posted on Sun, 01/06/2008 - 00:00 by Donna_Petrel

What a wonderful surprise to find Aras out of the ICU when we arrived at the hospital last night for Hardi's admission! I found him watching basketball in the corner bed of the intermediate ICU ward, with his mother at his side. He was not doing much eating, she told us, and it was clear he was still not back to his usual "chipper" attitude yet. He did perk up a bit when he learned that his new friend Hardi was now being admitted for surgery. After Hardi's pre-op necessities, he came down to visit Aras. He and Baveel, as well as all of the mothers who just arrived last week, had been asking about him.

Aras was glad to see Hardi and they talked a little while, as did their mothers. They were glad their boys were going to have surgery within a few days of each other. I believe that when each boy begins to feel better, they will enjoy each other's company both in the hospital as well as during their recovery at the Save A Child's Heart house.

Today when I went to the intermediate ICU, I did not see Aras, so figured he had been moved to the ward. However I found out later that he had been moved to another area of the hospital because they needed his space in the children's ward for other children, and he was old enough to move to a different ward. I also learned that Aras had begun throwing up this morning from a virus, and was still not eating. I saw his mother in the hall, and followed her down the hallways until we found Aras' new room. He was very subdued, and was on an IV for fluids. His mother was worried, but thankful that he was ok. It was hard to get any smiles out of them today, until I showed them pictures of their Iraqi friends which are on my camera. Then I let Aras' mother take a picture of Aras and me, which was funny for all of us. After a few tries, she was able to snap us in a good pose, which delighted her.

Please pray for Aras' digestive tract to be healed. I prayed for him before I left, asking to see that smile we miss! And if those of us he's known only a short time miss his smile, I am sure his mother is feeling this many times over. So keep them in your prayers as God's healing work continues.

Aras Comes Through Surgery Today

Posted on Thu, 01/03/2008 - 06:41 by Donna_Petrel

Today it was finally time for Aras' surgery, and I was amazed at how God used the time for things I couldn't have planned for if I'd tried. One of those was walking down the hall of the children's ward at precisely the moment Aras was wheeled out to go to surgery (pictured above). I was able then to accompany him and his mother all the way to the final goodbye before he was wheeled into the operating room. I am so very thankful God arranged it that way, for I'd not had time to walk over to the ward until just then, and when I arrived at the hospital a little while before, we had not heard for sure whether he would be able to have the surgery today.

Aras and his mother were as thankful to see me as I was to see them. I had told them yesterday I would be back today, and Diyka ("mother of") Aras said he had been asking where I was. He was not talkative as we walked, but seemed to be doing ok. But when medical personnel noticed his mother and I were not wearing the protective hospital garments, they rushed us out to get them, and Aras thought he'd been left alone without a goodbye. When we went back a few minutes later, he was crying as he laid in his bed, which caused tears from all of us. We were able to wait with him the ten or fifteen minutes before he was wheeled away.

Accompanying an older child for their surgery is very different than going with one of the toddlers or pre-school aged children. Patients here are not given any sedation before they go to the operating room, so Aras was fully alert, and knew exactly what was about to happen, and couldn't hide his fear in those final moments. Seeing him cry made his mother and I cry too. Seeing Diyka Aras' distress as we walked out into the hallway, one of the medical personnel asked us to wait while she went to check on how long it would be before he would come upstairs. The answer we were given was that it would be a long surgery of about five hours.

I was not able to sit with Diyka Aras all of the afternoon because the four newest patients had come to the hospital today to finish their tests and required my help. A new volunteer, Jane, arrived today to work with us for a few weeks, and she was available for some support for all the mothers. Besides this, because both Mustafa and Dilshad are in the ICU too, and the new patients had different tests at different times, there was always someone with Aras' mother to comfort and encourage her. When Hardi, Baveel, Arya and Juliana were finished with their tests, Jane agreed to return to Jerusalem with them so I could stay and sit with Aras' mom until he came upstairs. This was a period of about one hour, during which Dr. Sasson, the surgeon who performed the operation, came by and told us that everything went very well. Diyka Aras was very relieved, yet as is always the case, she wasn't able to be sure all was well until she saw her son for herself. When we saw two men wheeling his bed down the hall to the ICU, she cried and thanked God as we walked with them until they were inside.

At that time the phone calls began in order to give the family in Iraq the good news. We were able to go in to see Aras after about 45 minutes, and were told again that his surgery went very well.

When we left this evening, Diyka Aras was telling me to thank everyone for everything they'd done for her son. Your prayers and donations have been used by God to bring us to the life-changing time in Aras and his family's lives, and we thank Him for that. Please keep on praying for this special young man as his recovery begins.

Aras Waits Again

Posted on Wed, 01/02/2008 - 00:00 by Donna_Petrel

Once again, in timing only God can ultimately know about, Aras' surgery was postponed until tomorrow because of an emergency which required his slot. I didn't know until I was in the ward to get the charts for the new patients' echos, and I asked how early he'd gone in this morning. I was told he was cancelled again today, and apparently my mouth dropped open, because the head nurse said, "This is the second time I see this face!" I am not sure who else reacted this way, but she went on to explain that he had to be cancelled again because of the emergency, and that he would be the second surgery tomorrow. Little did I know at that time that the first surgery of the day is Dilshad.

When I walked out of the nurse's station, Aras and his mother were standing in the hallway to greet me. This time they did not look so disappointed, and in fact seemed accepting because of the reason things were happening this way. Aras' mother was also attempting to encourage Mustafa's mother when she approached and began to shed tears as she talked about Mustafa's condition.

Please pray for Aras and his mother as they endure another long night of waiting and wondering about the heart surgery which will change his life forever. This good natured boy must be getting anxious about all the times he's had to go through the pre-op essentials, and fast from foods after midnight. We will update you tomorrow about the status of Aras after his surgery.

Admitted for SurgeryTomorrow

Posted on Tue, 01/01/2008 - 00:00 by Donna_Petrel

In the midst of busily planning for the arrival of our four newest Iraqi patients to our Shevet Achim center in Jerusalem on Monday, we got a call to take Aras to the hospital as soon as possible! We were all very surprised again, since we'd just yesterday heard we were to take him tomorrow. Aras and his mother were packed and waiting for us to head out within just a few minutes. All of the Berg children arrived home from school just in time to tell their friend goodbye, which was undoubtedly God's special timing for all.
Aras was brave but subdued as we left him late yesterday afternoon, just after his blood test was done. His mother was tearful and fearful as the longed-for yet also dreaded occasion is suddenly upon them. Please keep them in your prayers!

I was thankful that the mothers of both Mustafa and Dilshad were already there to help ease the tension for her tonight. I asked the doctor on duty in the children's ward about the timing of the surgery, and was told there was an adult surgery in the morning, and if all went well, Aras would go immediately afterwards. If there were complications in the first surgery, he would be delayed until Wednesday morning.

Aras was ready for surgery this morning, but the doctors could not give him a slot due to the length of the first surgery of the day. He is scheduled to be "the surgery" on Wednesday.

When I saw him and his mother, they were in good spirits even if a little disappointed about waiting another day. The Lord blessed them in a different way today though, as they got to meet the new families who just arrived from Iraq. Aras quickly made two new friends (he and Hardi are pictured below), and it was clear that he enjoyed having other Kurdish boys his age to talk to.

While they had preliminary tests, he was a friend and encourager, as the "veteran" among the group. When we left him and his mother this evening, we were able to tell them that since the testing wasn't finished, three of these mothers will be back with me tomorrow while Aras is in surgery. Please thank God with me for this time for the families to be together today. And join us in praying for our special friend Aras as he undergoes his life-saving surgery tomorrow.

Waiting For His Turn

Posted on Tue, 12/25/2007 - 00:00 by Donna_Petrel

Saturday Aras and his mother accepted an invitation to attend congregation with some of us. The service that day included a special time of worship with some Sudanese refugees who visited the meeting, and a special luncheon given for all to share. Aras attended the children's class. Because of the holiday season, each of the children present on Saturday were given gifts and snack packs to take home. Needless to say, this was a delight for Aras.

The walk back home was also fun for them as all of the children raced down the sidewalks along the way. I was a bit concerned that Aras was exerting so much energy, and eventually he did stop to rest - which became a good photo opportunity.

Here at the house Aras enjoys playing with the Berg children--today it was soccer. The goalie on roller-blades was no match for Aras!

Meanwhile Aras' mother is growing more anxious for her son's turn for surgery. She asks us daily if the doctors have decided yet when he can return to the hospital. Please pray with us that these decisions will be made soon.

This evening Aras' mother is not feeling well, and appears to have flu-like symptoms. I gave her some of the medicine I have taken for the same symptoms, and prayed for her to be healed quickly. I ask that you join in this prayer... and that Aras will not become sick as well.

Racing the Time Away

Posted on Wed, 12/12/2007 - 00:00 by Donna_Petrel

I walked into the courtyard of our house / office in Jerusalem yesterday after getting Hedi's prescriptions filled and found myself in the middle of a bicycle mini-marathon! Dilshad and Aras were having a great time on bicycles which the Berg children were letting them use. As you can see, the "track" is very small, so there was no danger of them getting too exhausted, and in fact they quit riding almost immediately. This is just one of the ways these boys are passing the time while they await their turns for heart surgery. (Click the arrow below to see a video clip of the bike race.)

They also enjoy playing with the Berg children on the computer, doing craft projects together, having an occasional shopping trip for groceries, and just playing around the house.

Since Aras is twelve and Dilshad is five, their age difference makes it hard for them to enjoy all the same things, but things like soccer balls and bicycles never seem to get old to boys of either age. When they aren't playing together, one might find Dilshad playing with his toy car collection, and Aras enjoying music via his cell phone-turned-radio.

Their mothers, on the other hand, feel like they are in a different kind of marathon, and do not find it so easy to pass the time! They miss their families back home, and are understandably anxious to know when their sons will be the next to have surgery. They take good care of the living area in our house where they are staying with us, and cook, and visit with us as we each have a chance to spend time together. I look forward to the day when we can say to them that it is their turn to go forward with the surgeries for their sons. Although at that time their anxiety will peak, so will the grace of God towards them as His healing touch takes over in the bodies of their beloved children. Please keep praying for these boys, their mothers, and their familes. They need patience and perseverance to see them through this waiting period.

Catheterization Delayed

Posted on Wed, 12/05/2007 - 00:00 by Donna_Petrel

Aras was prepped for his catheterization today, waiting for his turn, and when I saw him in his room he was playing with a small brass dreidel (or top) in his bed. All week the patients have been receiving gifts and candy from visiting school children and other volunteer groups, and this was one of his treats from a Hanukkah gift. It was quiet entertainment while he waited. However, because the catheterization lasted much longer than usual for the first child this morning, and he was to be the third one of the day, Aras's cath had to be delayed. Both he and his mother were disappointed in the sense of not receiving the information and even the improvement it might provide, but it seemed to me that Aras was very happy about being able to eat a late lunch!
When I saw him next, he was sitting in the fish room watching some entertainment by a family providing music and snacks for the children. Just a little earlier Autumn and I had spoken to the woman whose family was doing this, and she told us that their daughter had to have a very complicated heart surgery when she was only 10 days old. Because of the Save A Child's Heart program, their daughter was a healthy five-year-old today, and the family chose volunteering at the hospital as a way to say thank you to the doctors, and assist other parents during the traumatic time of their children's heart surgeries. Aras and his mom seemed to enjoy their contribution very much!
Since Aras could not have his catheterization today, he was dismissed back to the Save A Child's Heart house. It is likely he will be rescheduled for next Wednesday, the day the caths are performed. Please pray for him and his mother while they wait... and for the doctors as they decide how to prioritize the patients God has entrusted into their care.