Arena's Heart Surgery


Ready for Round Two

Posted on Tue, 12/02/2014 - 13:30 by Sarah Powell

Arena is a lovely, four-year-old little princess who was with us from June to August of last year for the first part of her two-step surgery. If all goes well, she will be returning to us in the very near future for a final, complete repair of her Double Outlet Right Ventricle defect. She and her mother are wonderful, and we hope that they will be traveling to us from Kurdistan, northern Iraq, soon so that we can see them again.

Saying Goodbye to Arena (For Now)

Posted on Sun, 08/04/2013 - 20:50 by Kristina Kayser

When I returned to Israel in early July, a shy petite girl had also just returned to our home after heart surgery. I came to know her as Arena and soon realized that it would take some effort to win her trust. Perhaps it was the trauma of her recent operation or the fact that she was far from home that contributed to her reservations. No matter the cause, the following days and weeks became a delightful observation of Arena opening up to our community like a sunrise--soft and slow at the beginning, yet ever increasing in warmth and brightness. She began to grace us with her lopsided smiles, most of which were accompanied by the wrinkling of her nose.

The smiles came more frequently the stronger she became. Her courage grew likewise, and she began venturing further from her mother's side to play and explore. Her small piping voice greeted me in the morning and wished me "good night" at bedtime. As her time in Israel came to a close, I had the joy of taking them to the Garden Tomb just down the road.

Her mother remarked how beautiful the flowers were and listened curiously as I told the story of Messiah's death and resurrection. I added how thankful we were for the gift of new life each child here has received.

Our community celebrated Arena's life last Wednesday evening with a festive party. Arena, dressed in a beautiful white princess dress, sat close to her mother as we sipped tea and munched on chocolate chip cookies.

When it came time to share our hearts with this lovely duo, several people commented on the joy their smiles gave us every day. I noticed that behind Arena's mother's smile that night, there was a hint of sadness as well.

This, I believe, was due to the fact that Arena is returning home without a fully healed heart. The cardiology team at Sheba has recommended that she return to Israel in six months to conduct a final operation. Nevertheless, Arena's mother expressed her thanks profusely for all the love and support they have received here.

Arena could not contain her excitement when we presented her with gifts, particularly a small plastic fruit set, complete with knife and cutting board. She loved it so much that she continued to play with it as we watched a special photo DVD of her time in Israel.

Friday morning came, and with it came a bittersweet farewell. Arena's mum said goodbye with tears in her eyes. "You are my sister and my friend," I told her. "Yes, you are my sister, and I love you," she replied. Each one of us at Shevet have loved our time together with this mother and daughter. And in six months time, I pray that our friendship will grow even deeper. The Lord is a faithful shepherd, and I trust that He will watch over Arena and bring her to full restoration in His perfect time. Goodbye for now our sweet Arena!

Arena: Good and Brave

Posted on Tue, 07/30/2013 - 21:37 by Rahel Eschler

I did not know what to expect this morning on my first day with Shevet Achim. I was just very excited about everything to come. First I met Arena and Yara outside the house with their mums. They said a very nice and warm hello to me. After a long time of traveling, we finally got to the sea. They told me that they have no sea back home in northern Iraq, so they were all very excited to be at the beach for the first time in their lives. Arena was a little afraid of the waves coming in and making noises. So she just sat there carefully watching her mum enjoying the beauty of the beach. Arena even had some tears in between; she couldn’t really enjoy it. It was the new experience that made her fearful. The mums wanted to take a lot of pictures to retain their memories of this moment of joy.

When we got to the hospital, Arena was feeling better again. She did so well while waiting for the final echo. With a lot of energy she pushed the buggy with Yara in it over the whole echo department, always with a smile on her face. During the examination, Arena was a good girl and very brave. She even fell asleep during the echo. But the doctor was not too happy about the results. He explained to me that there is an obstruction of the right ventricle to the pulmonary vessel. That means Arena can still go home, but she needs to go to her local cardiologist for regular follow-up appointments. It is hard standing next to her mum and not really being able to explain what the circumstances are. But they both were very courageous in their ways.
Afterward, we were getting very hungry, so we went to the cafeteria and ate some good hamburgers with salads. Arena was playing around and waving to strangers. With her heart-melting smile and nature she can connect people and make them laugh. Even if her mum doesn’t know if everything is going to be alright with Arena in the future, she is still confident and looks forward to going home this Friday with a luggage full of memories and the knowledge that this trip changed the future of her daughter and gave her a new hope. 

A Daughter's Joy

Posted on Tue, 07/16/2013 - 23:16 by Brandon Verna

Just over a week after Arena’s last visit to the hospital, she found herself yet again in front of Sheba Medical Center. This visit though, was only for an echocardiogram. In times past Arena has had much anxiety about going in for testing, but today this little girl had the happy indifference of a joyful child.

Echo tests can often be uncomfortable for children, especially within a few weeks of open heart surgery.

But Arena breezed through this one like a seasoned veteran; a contemplative expression on her face as she unashamedly inspected each individual surrounding the table.

The results of the echo were received with smiles. It seemed that her heart is continuing to heal well. However, her mother has decided to stay two more weeks in Israel so that Arena can receive one last echocardiogram. After that, they are free leave, with Arena scheduled to continue seeing a cardiologist in her home country.

What wonderful news! But our time with Arena and her mother is quickly drawing to an end. These two have been a joy to spend time with, and pleasure to serve.

Arena’s mother has a special gift with social interactions. Even with a looming language barrier, she is always more than willing to reach out first, showing her genuine spirit, heartfelt smile, and uplifting laugh. Likewise, Arena’s current health is a special gift from our Father, but so is this family’s presence here at Shevet Achim.

We thank you, o’ King, for this opportunity to show Your love to Your creation. What a blessing it is, that You would send us these gifts, and that they would leave such an impression in our lives.

A Rare and Beautiful Sight

Posted on Sun, 07/07/2013 - 22:30 by Kamal Qara'in

A week after being discharged from Sheba Hospital, Arena went back to have a set of medical assessments. Unexpectedly, upon entering the doors of the hospital, Arena did something she would not normally do – she smiled. That rarely seen smile highlighted the beauty in her innocent eyes.

Arena did her EKG test first, which unfortunately made the smile on her pretty face disappear, only to be replaced by a flood of tears. It was a similar story with her second evaluation, the Echo test. Nevertheless, Arena’s interest in the conversation that was going on between the doctor and his assistant made her calm down. This behavior was useful when Arena entered a third room in order to have the stiches from her surgery removed; she remained fairly quiet during that period.

The official results for the two tests should be out by tomorrow. However, we have managed to get a few facts about Arena’s general medical condition. Firstly, as is the trend for most patients, Arena has lost some weight after going through her surgery. Secondly, there seems to be a small cavity between her two ventricles which the doctors hope will soon be self-repaired.

We will keep praying for God’s healing touch and requesting that Arena leaves the doors of Shevet Achim with that rare, beautiful smile on her face.

Arena Back in Jerusalem

Posted on Sun, 06/30/2013 - 22:05 by Kamal Qara'in

As I entered the doors of Sheba hospital today, I saw Arena. The adorable smile on her face and innocent look in her eyes immediately highlighted the young girl’s beauty.

Having recently been through a difficult surgical procedure to correct the heart defects associated with Double Outlet Right Ventricle (DORV), Arena seemed slightly quieter than usual. But after a while, her laughter and good humor returned and felt irresistibly contagious. Arena looked particularly happy when she was playing with her pink doll.

As soon as Arena and her mother were notified that they would be leaving the hospital, they started packing their bags and preparing themselves to go, filled with expressions of obvious joy and relief. Eventually, the doctors came, medications were given to Arena, and papers were signed. Soon we were all ready for departure.

After a long journey, we have safely arrived to Shevet Achim. Everyone was glad that God had answered our prayers and that Arena had come through surgery.

Hospitality in Unexpected Places

Posted on Thu, 06/27/2013 - 23:15 by Awapuhi Dancil

Today was my first trip to Sheba Hospital without a senior staff member, and to be frank, I was nervous. I am fluent in neither Kurdish nor medical jargon, so the prospect of attempting to communicate was fairly intimidating. Thankfully, we were immediately recognized once we walked through the glass doors of the ICU.

“Shevet Achim!”

“Uh, yes, that’s us.”

“Yes, good. We moved them.”

(Moment of panic) “Moved them where?!”

“Out of ICU.”

“Oh. Wow, great… that’s great! Thank you.”

The nurse chuckled slightly and pointed us toward the secondary ICU, where we found an awake, but exhausted, Arena. Her mother greeted us with a warm smile, and offered up her seat that was next to Arena’s bed. Kurdish hospitality will never cease to impress me. Even in the midst of her personal trial, Arena’s mother had the presence of mind to offer the one thing she had in order to make us feel welcome.

As others have mentioned before, this woman radiates warmth. She’s beautiful, and her love for Arena is almost tangible. We visited for a while, and I used what little Kurdish I had to ask simple questions. She responded enthusiastically, joked with me, and even poked fun at Arena’s quiet whimpers, saying with a chuckle, “What can I do?” It was clear she adored her daughter but was maintaining a good humor, and not giving in to anxiety or worry.

Arena is still experiencing some internal bleeding, but the nurse said she is improving steadily. The fact that she has already moved to secondary ICU is very encouraging. Please continue to pray for healing, joy, and perseverance as Arena and her mother walk through the recovery process.

Awake and Adored

Posted on Wed, 06/26/2013 - 23:07 by Philip Rasmussen

Four of us from Shevet Achim left this morning to visit the three families that are currently at Sheba Medical Center. We were extra excited to see how Arena was doing since we were told by the medical staff that she would be extubated this morning.

We arrived to find Arena awake, and breathing on her own! We also found an extremely joyous mother by her daughter’s side; her relief was authentic and unhidden. Arena’s mother told us how terrible she felt yesterday with her daughter’s unstable situation, but how pleasant today was. Today she was able to interact with her daughter, and see her breathe on her own. Due to her experience from past surgeries, she did not expect to see her daughter awake before the third day post surgery – it was a welcome surprise.

The medical outlook on Arena’s recovery is optimistic. There are no big issues on the horizon; she just needs time to recover. One of the nurses told the mother to encourage Arena to cough in order to clear the phlegm in her airways.

As it has been mentioned in past blogs on Arena, she truly is a mamma’s girl. Her mother has faithfully been by her side, not having peace about leaving the room for a break or even to eat. Later in the afternoon, when Arena was sleeping, the mother left quickly to greet the other Kurdish families and get a cup of tea, which is a Kurdish style of fellowship. It was a much needed reprieve. Actually, ‘needed’ is maybe a strong word for this mother who doesn’t seem to lack anything. She is a strong and loving woman who does whatever she can to make Arena as comfortable as possible. Let’s keep Arena and her recovery in our thoughts and prayers.

Love Without Boundaries

Posted on Wed, 06/26/2013 - 00:39 by Kelsey Cannon

It doesn’t matter how long (or rather, short) I’ve served at Shevet, or how many pep-talks I’ve tried to give myself - I, without fail, freeze up internally once I step foot into any given hospital and start interacting with our Kurdish families. In the past, I’ve attributed this sad fact to the insecurity and discomfort of a seemingly insurmountable language barrier. What usually results is, quite honestly, disengagement. I step back again and again, and watch others step forward and unabashedly give their love while I click pictures or stand in silent solidarity in the background, feeling both within, and without, the spectacular narratives of healing unfolding before my eyes.

But through conversation and personal prayer and reflection, it’s been pointed out very clearly what seems to be staggeringly amiss here, and it isn’t a language barrier. It’s something far too many of us struggle with: a fear of being vulnerable, of really being known and seen because of deep-seated feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. I’ve been given the challenge of leaning into vulnerability, and actively - minute by minute - giving up these fears in hopes of becoming an empty or open vessel. Once this decision was made, as in, oh, just this morning, I was shocked to recognize a counterpoint of this kind behavior already being lived out before me. And this behavior belonged to both Arena and her mother on Arena’s surgery day.

Daniella and I walked into the children’s cardiology ward at Sheba Medical Center this morning and found Arena and her mother slumped in the corner of the room near their beds, waiting for the doctors to initiate the first steps in getting Arena ready for surgery. Arena made no false pretenses of her feelings during this time. Defensively lying on her hand containing an inserted cannula with her head buried in a mound of blankets, she listlessly kicked at the wall while fending off her mother’s requests to get up and greet us.

She seemed to be fidgety, bored, and utterly petrified - the latter feeling betrayed to us by her howls and cries of terror whenever a nurse just so much as breathed in her direction. Arena’s mother, on the other hand, seemed resigned, as she frequently threw up her hands while saying an expression which could be translated to, “What can I do?” Yes, here was a whisper of vulnerability. Both made absolutely no attempt to hide their insecurities or emotions during this ridiculously trying time in an attempt to maintain an air of comfort or social decorum.

Before either knew it, the time had come for Arena to be taken to the operating room. Her mother, silently weeping, carried Arena while she shrieked in fear and cried her adorable little eyes out. This continued all the way to the bed of the operating room, where her mother gently placed her down and Arena was given some much needed sedatives. At this point, we were asked to leave. Arena’s mother kept it together until we reached the waiting room outside. There she collapsed into herself and let out sobs reminiscent of her daughter’s, heard only moments before. It was here while we waited that vulnerability was demonstrated once again.

She openly accepted hugs, kisses, grammatically incorrect Kurdish words of encouragement and tea. So much tea.

And she did all this for five hours. Five very long hours of openly accepting offers of love from those around her, without putting up any walls. And the freedom with which she accepted love during this time created a space to give those offering love the courage to continue. Her vulnerability during this day inspired others to be vulnerable, so that in the end, everyone was practicing how (or attempting) to love, and accept love, without fear of shame or boundaries.

After this long period of waiting, Arena was finally wheeled out of the operating room and into the ICU. Little did we know then that another two hours would pass until we were allowed into her room to see her. It seems that after surgery, Arena started to bleed internally, leading doctors to re-open her chest in an attempt to find the cause of the bleeding and correct it. Thankfully, this second procedure was a success, and Arena’s mother was allowed into the room for the first glimpse of her daughter after seven hours of intense cardiac surgical repair.

Praise God, Arena has come through a long and difficult surgery and her heart has undergone a full repair of its defects. The uphill battle which now awaits Arena includes her body's struggle to adjust to its new heart physiology. As of right now, she is stable in the ICU. Please join us tonight as we give praise to the God who is love, who has faithfully led Arena to a path of physical healing, and who creates opportunities for refinement and growth for us all in the most difficult of circumstances.

Mamma's Girl to Surgery

Posted on Sun, 06/23/2013 - 22:43 by Kaytlin Butler

Arena was successfully admitted at Sheba hospital this afternoon thanks to an unexpected opening in the hospital’s surgery schedule! Upon arrival, she had a chest x-ray, then a blood test later in the afternoon. The hospital staff said that her surgery will take place either tomorrow or Tuesday morning. We are hopeful they will be able to complete the procedure as quickly as possible so Arena can begin her recovery. 

We decided to go next door to visit with Shana and her mother while we waited on Arena’s blood test. The two moms really hit it off, and the doctors are even trying to arrange for the girls to stay in the same room. Shana’s mother has graciously offered to translate from Arabic to Kurdish in order to help both Arena’s mother and the hospital staff.

We have all truly enjoyed having Arena and her mother with us in Jerusalem. She is a sweet tempered child and a “mamma’s girl” to the core.  Please be praying for a successful procedure and quick healing for little Arena. We can’t wait to have her home with us again!