Dawod's Heart Surgery

Northern Iraq

Open Hearts in Dawod's Home

Posted on Sun, 11/02/2014 - 20:55 by Kristina Kayser

Upon arrival in Kurdistan, Jonathan, Ruth, Sophie, and I piled into a beige taxi after being accosted by a swarm of very friendly and eager drivers all offering their services. The man chosen to take us on the long road from Howler to Duhok proved to be a trustworthy soul and a helpful guide. 

It was only the night before that I had first phoned Dawod's mother, alerting her of our imminent arrival in Kurdistan. Judging by her tone, I imagine she did a "double-take" as my words sank in. "You're coming to Kurdistan?!" she replied in disbelief. Disbelief turned to delight as I asked if we could visit her family the next day, and plans for a visit were soon in order. 

The highway, strung out like a black ribbon through flat dusty plains, eventually climbed upwards as tree-dotted mountains rose toward the northern city of Duhok. Our team dozed most of the four hour drive, prompting the driver to tease us that he was not driving a taxi but a sleeping room. Soon enough, we were on the outskirts of the city, where we found another taxi waiting for us. To our great joy, Dawod and his parents stepped out with smiles and arms ready to embrace us.

What a wonderful reunion it was!

Dawod's father, a seasoned taxi-driver and professor of Arabic, struck up a conversation in the car using a medley of Kurdish, Arabic, and English. I liked this man straightaway with his neatly wrapped checkered turban, round spectacles, and gracious smile that boasts several missing teeth. Seeing Dawod again was like a dream come true. And even though he seemed a bit shy and quiet when greeting us, his eyes held the same sparkle. His mother, the loving matriarch, proudly ushered us into their home. It didn't take long to realize that this house was bursting with children of all ages. In addition to Dawod's many siblings, aunt, uncles, and cousins abound, giving us the impression that life and family are of great value here. 

After a delicious Kurdish feast, most of the family joined us in the sitting room for tea and snacks. More relatives came in and out until the room was filled with nearly twenty children. And what should you do in such a setting? Sing, of course! We struck up a rousing round of "Xudaim Gowraye" ("My God Is So Great"), and soon everyone was singing and following along with the hand motions.

It was so much fun and so joyful! Then, I told the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand to a bunch of curious and listening ears. Hours passed with more games, songs, and talking together. God's Spirit was very present in this evening, and I felt alive and thankful for the gift of sharing His love and Word with open hearts. 

This gift continued the next morning at breakfast when Jonathan told Dawod and his father the story of his namesake in the Scriptures. His father read the account of God choosing David to be His anointed king and stopped to focus on the verse which says, "But the LORD said to Samuel, 'For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.'" (1 Samuel 16:7). This led to a beautiful conversation about the way God's perspective is so different from our own and how He's looking for hearts that are seeking Him. For a young man as sensitive and perceptive as Dawod is, I believe this story struck a powerful chord in him. My hope is that the truth of God's word will echo in his heart for years to come. 

Looking back over our visit, I remember so much love and warmth being expressed in Dawod's home. His parents are the faithful backbone of the family, raising their children with kindness and honor. I believe there are also seeking hearts within that home--hearts that long to know and follow God. I am inexpressibly thankful for the time we spent there. We were welcomed not as guests, or even as friends, but as members of their family. As they received us so unreservedly, may they come to welcome the presence and love of Messiah that much more!

Abundantly Satisfied

Posted on Sun, 09/14/2014 - 22:44 by Sarah Powell

There is a boy named Dawod, and he reminds me why childhood is beautiful. I still remember the first time he entered our home. He is thirteen years old, but he is so small and spindly. I swear, if he did not always wear those funny, heavy-soled sandals, he would blow away in the wind. I also remember thinking that he had the most innocent eyes. There are very few thirteen-year-olds that still have innocent eyes, but he did. And it made me love him immediately. He was so shy at first – and so polite. All the time. And he always wanted to help. Always.

I am sad because I had to watch him grow up a lot while he was here, but I am also glad because I got to see him grow up a lot while he was here. Growing up, I think, must be one of the most bitter-sweet things in life. I remember him sitting on the couch one day. He picked up an outdoor sports magazine that happened to be sitting there and started looking through it. He was ooh-ing and ahh-ing over all of the different scenes of the wild world, and then suddenly he flipped the page and came to a make-up ad. The ad filled up a whole two pages and had the face of a woman covered in make-up with her hair flowing everywhere, filling up the two pages. He paused at this picture for a moment, and I wondered what he was thinking. But there was no need for me to wonder; suddenly, he flipped the magazine around so that I could see it and said, “Sarah, this lady is so big!” And that was all. He continued flipping through the magazine.

That was at the beginning. Now, as he nears the end, he has grown up so much. A month or so ago, he was at the vegetable market with me. There was a man who thought he had found in Dawod an un-indoctrinated listening ear. So he began to rant against Israel, proclaiming that it was high time the terrible Jews got out of Palestine. Dawod listened quietly for several minutes, and I watched him out of the corner of my eye, my heart burning at the narrow-minded way that this man saw the world around him and at the way he wanted Dawod to see the world so narrow-mindedly also. Then Dawod surprised me. In one of the few split seconds that this ranting man paused to take a breath, Dawod interjected, “Not all Jews are bad. It is Jews who gave me a heart surgery.” The man kept rambling, as though Dawod had never spoken. But my heart began to burst, I do not think I have ever been quite so proud of someone in all my life. As we walked away from the market, I asked Dawod, wanting to make sure I had actually heard him right earlier, “You know that not all Jews are bad like that man says, right?” His eyes widened a little, “Of course I know that, Sarah! Even when my mom and I go to the store, the Jews that work there like to give me candy for free.” I smiled, and we got in the car and drove home. I wonder if those Jews that gave Dawod candy for free when he went to their store realize that simple act might have helped to change one child's opinion of their whole people group for the rest of his life. I wonder if we realize that the little things are really the biggest things.

Dawod always seemed to know that the little things really mattered. He likes to make little cards to give to the people he loves – cards covered in stickers and “I love you.” He likes to share his tiny bag of chips with everyone in the house. He likes to give high-fives when a job is well done. He likes to hold five-year-old Masa's hand when she goes down the stairs so that she would not fall.

He likes to make ridiculous faces at six-month-old Clover so that she smiles and giggles. He likes to dance with one-year-old Rozheen as she bounces and claps along. He likes to sing with me as I play the guitar badly. He likes to help baby Wisam learn to walk.

He likes to throw Frisbee with Nick.

He likes to hug Konrad. He likes to eat mangoes with me – the one new food I ever got him to try that he actually liked. He likes to sing Agnes' name. He likes to walk through the house ringing our little lunch bell with Sophie until every last person has heeded the call and headed upstairs to lunch. He likes to insist on sitting by me at every lunch and on serving me orange juice (or “juice orange,” as he likes to call it, knowing it annoys me). He likes to take Photobooth pictures with Kirsten and laugh incessantly at the ridiculously odd shaped forms that appear on the screen. He likes to go grocery shopping with me every week. He likes to make funny faces with Philip.

He likes to wear aviator sunglasses with Ben.

He loves the beach because it is “beautiful!” He likes to help whoever is cooking dinner that night in whatever way they will let him. He likes to laugh with other people and always looks over at me when something funny happens to see if I caught it. He likes to play with the cat with a string of yarn, as long as she does not come too close to him. He likes to hold our dog Shevie's leash when he takes her on walks with Ruth.

He likes to pause to appreciate beautiful things – like a good photo, or a smiling flower, or a baby laughing, or one of us girls on the rare occasion we have our hair braided.

He lives well.

When he was about to go in for his first surgery, I remember seeing all of the fear and anxiety inside him laid out plainly on his face. I think that is when he first started to grow up. When Rahel asked him that day if he was afraid, he said, “No.”

But when she and Kristina prodded him again, he admitted that he was just a little bit afraid. So they reminded him of how big our God is and asked if they could pray for him. He agreed. In his four different catheterizations and two surgeries, he has not been less afraid for any of them, I think. But he has been more courageous each time. Before he went in for his last surgery, his last words to me as he walked out the door were, “When I get back, I am going to the grocery store with you, okay, Sarah?”

His surgery was going to be fairly high-risk, as most of his procedures had been. (In the beginning, the doctors were not even sure he was operable at all because of how complicated his multifaceted defect was.) Preparing for the final stretch of his whole journey toward a new heart, he was still afraid, but somehow, he was determined to come through. I guess that is what we call courage. So, again, I see that he is growing up. None of us grows out of fear, but by God's grace, we do grow into courage.

I started all of this reminiscing by saying that Dawod reminds me why childhood is beautiful. I first realized that Dawod was the perfect example of the beauty of childhood when he convinced me one weekend to go with him to the big plaza at the municipality to ride bikes.

We spent at least two hours there just riding in circles, riding in zig-zags, riding back and forth, and riding after a plastic bag that was blowing around in the wind. Every once in a while, he would need to stop to catch his breath. And then we would just sit quietly in the shade for a few minutes. Even after two hours there, when I asked him if he was ready to go home, his reply was, “Only if you want to.”

He was content to spend all day there just feeling the wind whip past him as he rode his bike. He was happy.

At one point, I sat down for a few minutes and just watched Dawod riding around and around. Two thoughts were prevalent in my mind as I watched him. First, I wished that I could still be a child, could still be so easily pleased, could still be so wonderfully content. And I wished that Dawod could always be so also. Secondly, I imprinted the joy of being with Dawod in my heart and willed myself never to forget how much I love him or how happy I was every time I was with him. I want to never forget this boy who reminded me not only why childhood is beautiful, but also why growing up is beautiful, why loving people is beautiful, why the little things are beautiful, why helping someone else is beautiful, why friendship is beautiful, why contentment is beautiful, why hope is beautiful, why courage is beautiful, and – grand a statement as it may seem – why life is beautiful.

One day in the car, Dawod was telling me that he really wanted to go back home and that he did not want to wait for his second surgery. I said, “You know, Dawod, I will cry if you leave. Why do you want to leave?” He thought for a moment, and then he said, “I really love my dad, and my sisters, and my little brother. I want to see them again.”

All I could think after that was how selfish I am. I love Dawod so much, so I wanted him to stay with me forever. But God has given this boy such a big heart, and it would be so wrong of me to try and keep that heart for myself. When Dawod left, I cried. A lot. But I also rejoiced because he came here a child, but he has left here as so much more than that. I know that all he has learned here, he will carry with him forever. I know that the love he showed me, and countless others here, is the same love that he will show to everyone he meets along the course of his life, by God's grace. And I know that the same way his love and his life changed me, brought me to life again, they will change and bring to life so many other people. Maybe I will never see him again on this earth now that we have said our goodbyes, but even so, I am content – like Dawod is content – because I have had the gift of knowing a boy named Dawod. And my life has been so much the richer for it.

I will miss you, howre min (my friend), Dawod.

"How precious is Your lovingkindess, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fulness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light. Oh, continue Your lovingkindness to those who know you, and Your righteousness to the upright in heart." Psalm 36:7-10

Final Echos and Beaches

Posted on Mon, 09/08/2014 - 22:05 by Rebekah Yang

When we reached the hospital today, again we saw quite few kids are waiting outside Dr. Alona’s echo room for their echos. I was a bit anxious thinking about time, but shortly after arriving, Dawod was called in. Praise God for His timing and arrangement for Dawod. At the beginning, another doctor started to exam Dawod with Cardio-Echo monitor, then a short time later Dr. Alona came from next room to check in with Dawod. At that time I can sense both Dawod and his mum have shown their concern and anxiety from their facial expressions… ”Can Dawod really be discharged and to go back our sweet home in Kurdistan?” There were a few seconds that no one in the room dared to breath; finally Dr. Alona spoke: “Oh! Ma-sa-la-ma! Iraqi, Ya- la, Ma-sa-la-ma…” (Oh, good bye Iraqi boy, go home, bye bye)

Hallelujah!! How wonderful to hear this great news after they have been patiently waiting for such long period of time. Dawod’s mum was overwhelmed; happiness and gratitude poured out of her heart as she began to kiss all the doctors, patients, and even the cardio- technician in the small echo room. It is a lovely moment I will not soon forget.

Although Dawod was so happy, he did not forget about his friend, Ahmed, who just received his heart operation a few days ago. Because Ahmed is still asleep in the ICU, Dawod recorded a short farewell video to show to his friend; how sweet our little Dawod is. After finishing all the necessary discharge papers from hospital, we all went to the beautiful beach nearby hospital. 

Of course, a trip to the beach would not be complete without some water-splashing shenanigans:

Watching Dawod and Abu Wisam playing by the seashore water, I was suddenly hit with this Bible verses …

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…”

Psalm 103:1-4

Miraculous Relationship

Posted on Tue, 09/02/2014 - 21:49 by Kirsten Perow

On the way to today's hospital visit, we received the excellent news of Dawod's discharge, with only a slight change in medication! Although tears of worry and anticipation were shed yesterday, Dawod's face held nothing but happy crinkled eyes and joyous smiles.

Dawod and Arkan, who came along for a TB test, became fast friends and entertained each other for much of the day. Whether is was mischievously plotting to attack me with nerf balls, or banding together to fearlessly shoo away the stray kitties at lunch time, these boys made good use of their time and energy spent at the hospital.

On the way home, Ahmad and Dawod had fun using my phone to take videos and pictures. I jokingly titled the one picture, "the Syrian and the Kurd learn to take selfies."

It is really amazing, if you stop to think about the surreal friendships the Lord is able to form in the midst of conflict, distress and great need. I am so extremely thankful for God's mysterious and surprising compilation of people and relationships. Seeing these miraculous relationships has shown me plainly how powerful the Lord's love is. His love can mend anything if we allow it.

An Unexpected Echo Result

Posted on Mon, 09/01/2014 - 22:38 by Ruth Zellweger

Dawod and his mother went to Wolfson Hospital today with high expectations for Dawod's first follow-up echo since his discharge last week. One of their hopes was to spend some time at the beach afterward. Both he and his mother also half-jokingly said that today would be Dawod's final echo and that he would be discharged by the cardiologists today. But it went a little bit differently than expected. After we arrived at the hospital, Dawod had a blood test, and then we went to get lunch at the cafeteria. Around 1pm, Dawod was called in for an echo.

Dr. Alona examined him carefully and then told us that Dawod had pleural effusion (fluid around the heart and lungs), but besides that, his heart looked good. She gave his mother the option of either returning to Jerusalem tonight and then coming again in the morning for an echo or staying the night at the hospital. His mother chose the latter. I took them to the children's ward where he put on hospital pajamas. Then he and his mother sat together in a chair in silence. It was obvious that the pleural effusion had taken them by surprise. Dawod is a really sensitive young man and soon tears started to stream down his face. His high hopes had not come true. He was neither discharged, nor did he go to the beach today. We pray for extra strength and joy for him and his mother in the coming days, but we also praise God for the healing that is taking place in his heart.

Welcome Home Dawod!

Posted on Sun, 08/24/2014 - 21:56 by Konrad Wiedmer

After a wonderful time at the beach of Tel Aviv with Brian, Ruth, and Baby Ahmad’s father, we reached Wolfson hospital at about 1:15 pm. The first words I could hear when I saw Dawod and his mother on the Ward was a cheerful, “Hello my friend.” Dawod seemed to be very happy to see us again, and so it made me glad to have the possibility to stay a few hours with our talented Dawod. Right after we entered the room, two young men with cameras appeared. They probably wanted to see how Dawod’s healing process is progressing. Anyway, one of the them wanted to take a picture with Dawod, which made him smile, although we could see that he still had pain.

Because Masa and her mother (who left Shevet Achim for home after a successful treatment on last Wednesday) had recorded a farewell video for Dawod and his mother, Ruth showed it to them. This was joyful to see because they stared at the screen, fascinated and thankful, watching the beloved ones they had lived with on Prophet Street for such a long time.

Thank God, the nurses said that Dawod was going to be discharged today and that he can return to Shevet as well. So the brave Dawod waited to get his I.V. Cannula off, and afterward, he stood next to Brian, waiting for new things to happen.

What could be better to shorten the time than to play with our little and precious Wisam? He and his father were in the same room, so Dawod was caring for Wisam by playing with him and helping him to walk around beside the bed. It was a nice moment because Dawod acted like Wisam was his brother, which was heartwarming.

After a while, another young boy, who was also a patient in the hospital, joined our community. We discovered the self-timer on my camera and took some funny pictures together with the other boy, Wisam, his daddy, and Dawod.

While we were waiting for Ruth and Brian’s return from Sheba Hospital, we decided to get a refreshing cool drink. When Dawod perceived that the banana juice I got was for him, he said, “Thank you so much!”, which made me really happy, and of course, my reply was, “You are welcome my friend.” After his discharge, when we were sitting in the van on our way back home, I realized what a blessing this boy is for all of us. His thankfulness towards us made me think about the thankfulness we should give to the Lord. He is our shelter and our provider in difficult times as well as in good times, and He is greatly to be praised each new day. Let us give praise to God that He guided the doctor’s hands during Dawod’s surgeries and that He has held His saving hands over Dawod during the last weeks and months.

Dawod Awake Again!

Posted on Thu, 08/21/2014 - 21:09 by Kristina Kayser

It has now been two days since Dawod's second heart surgery was performed. Those who visited him yesterday said that he was still under anesthesia and breathing from a ventilator at more than twenty-four hours post-op. While this could be viewed as a slower recovery pace, I understood that due to the nature of his heart condition, the doctors wanted to give his body a little more time to adjust to the new changes. I wondered what our team would find today...

Upon setting foot in Wolfson's ICU, my eyes immediately searched for my friend Dawod. How happy I was to see him awake and sitting up in bed! His mother had a peaceful and joyful countenance. I soon learned that Dawod had been extabated (taken off the ventilator) only six hours earlier! He was doing marvelous with only minimal oxygen support. It was only natural for him to look tired and a bit uncomfortable, but both he and his mother understand that healing takes time and that every measure of progress is a good thing. 

While Dawod may not be up for playing his favorite card game "Uno" yet, he will be soon enough. We praise God for how well he doing and so look forward to the day he'll be with us in Jerusalem once again. Praise be to God for the gift of life for Dawod!     

The Day After

Posted on Wed, 08/20/2014 - 22:02 by Jesse Tilman

Dawod continues to recover in ICU after his surgery yesterday. There are no major changes, and he has not been extubated yet. His mom was happy and glad to show us around. She knew about the extra risks involved with a second surgery as well as about Dawod’s special condition. He’s skinnier than a normal boy his age, and this makes the safety margin smaller for operations. His complex heart also adds to the work. Thank the Lord he is recovering well, though, and the surgery was a success. Jonathan was with us and asked why Dawod hadn’t been extubated yet, as Wolfson hospital has been able to normalise their patients quite quickly lately. Lord willing, we should see him soon awake and well on his way to health.

Enduring Love

Posted on Tue, 08/19/2014 - 22:20 by Kristina Kayser

One of the most beautiful aspects of surgery days are the rose-colored skies one can only behold in the early waking hours. Today was no exception. God's creation continues to proclaim His glory, whether it is in the radiant sunrise or a brave and precious boy's heart. Kirsten and I were on our way to meet our friend Dawod this morning, who was preparing for his second, and, hopefully, final cardiac surgery. 

Our Shevet community has been blessed by Dawod and his mother's presence now for five months. No one can deny that Dawod is a friend to all; each of us have been won over by his charming personality and disarming kindness. I believe that God has given this young man a heart with a huge capacity to love. And it was this heart that came under the watchful care of Wolfson's surgeon, Dr. Sasson, today. Dawod's heart has already undergone four catheterizations and one operation while in Israel. His journey is miraculous for several reasons, one of which is that that doctors initially thought Dawod was likely inoperable. But, step by step, in the words of senior cardiologist, Dr. Tamir, "we brought this boy back from the dead." This was the grace of God working beyond human knowledge or ability. 

The days in between these steps of divine grace were often laced with struggle. The struggle of waiting can so easily overshadow the beautiful things taking place beneath the surface and hidden from human eyes. Much like a buried seed in fertile soil, Dawod's life was taking root and pushing up towards the sun. He and his mother withstood the strong pull to return home early and endured to this day – a day worth waiting for. 

When Kirsten and I arrived at Wolfson, we found Dawod and his mother in the Operation Department waiting room. Dawod was quiet and contemplative. His smile reflected relief at the sight of friends, but his eyes could not hide a growing sense of trepidation. Our time together was brief but sweet. He nodded readily when I asked to pray for him, and together we called upon the Father for Him to guide Dawod's surgery. 

His mother encouraged her son not to be afraid in a tone mixed with softness and strength. I watched their courage as the nurses wheeled Dawod away and down the hall. What were his final thoughts, I wonder? He is both old enough and clever enough to understand what the coming days may hold. There may be obstacles that require great patience and the potential for pain tempered by great healing. His mother shed not a tear when her son passed from sight but immediately began to voice her trust in God. 

This calm and confident attitude persisted over the next five hours while Dawod's operation took place. Some of the wait was broken up by visits with Wisam and his father, conversations with Ahmad's father, and making friends with a new grandmother from Gaza. Even with her thoughts so focused on her son, she still had room to care for others. At one point, I was quite chilled by the hospital's air conditioning, and she pulled me close to her and gave me a long hug to warm me up. What a good mother she is! 

More time passed, and around 1:30pm, we looked up to see a welcome sight. There was Dawod on a gurney, surrounded by a team of doctors. We were so happy to see our friend again, and the joy spread throughout the waiting room.

The operation to close a Ventricular Septal Defect (hole between the heart's lower chambers), while lengthy, was a complete success. Dr. Tamir had projected this repair to be risky, but praise God, all has gone smoothly thus far. This VSD closure may prove to be the final step in correcting Dawod's heart, creating the potential for a full life span in front of him. 

Dawod was resting in stable condition when we met him on the other side of the ICU doors. His mother caressed her son's head gently.

Aside from a slight fever, Dawod was quite stable. We left him in good hands with nurses and doctors keeping a close eye on our dear boy. Thank you, Lord ,for your enduring love and grace towards Dawod!

Psalm 118:1 "O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever." 

On His Way to a New Heart

Posted on Mon, 08/18/2014 - 22:44 by Jesse Tilman

Dawod was brought today for admission for his second operation tomorrow. A bit nervous, a bit excited, he skittered around the hospital halls as we brought him to the children’s ward. All the tests and vital signs readings are not his favorite thing, of course, so we comforted him and attempted to distract him by playing with him through them all. First we had blood pressure taken and oxygen measured in the room where he will be sleeping for the night.

Then as we waited for the next step he played games on a 10-shekel hand-held game that they had bought at the Arab market in Jerusalem. Next he was hiding behind the curtains around his bed as he imagined the nurses coming for him soon. Eventually one did come and teased him out of hiding and began the next few procedures. We headed over to the nurses station and sat down. They began preparing his arms with antibiotic cream where they would draw blood or insert an IV line. He knew what was coming and began telling the staff “no, no!” The lady applying his cream just smiled and made hand-motions to indicate that it would be just as small a prick like a mosquito bite. He began tearing up and so we gave him a few tissues. Then the nurse told us to come back in an hour when they could do the actual insertion. It was uncanny how quickly Dawod darted out of there!

After tests and tears, we all headed outside for a lunch on the grass. We did not find the Kurds’ customary rice, but we did get some good chicken, tomatoes, and cucumbers that they like. Dawod’s daring even spanned to helping shoo away the cats that came by looking for scraps, however we did throw them a few bones.

Thank God for this precious boy’s life and the way Dawod is step-by-step overcoming each trial. His strong mother is a great boost and it is a joy to see them together. We pray for a smooth surgery tomorrow. This boy is on his way to a healthy heart!