Essa's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

A Day They Thought Would Never Come

Posted on Fri, 08/24/2012 - 01:45 by Kristina Kayser

It's 10:30 p.m., and Donna and I have just returned to Jerusalem, weary, yet rejoicing in the outcome of the day: Essa's heart surgery was a beautiful success.

As my thoughts drift back to this morning, I see God's kindness as a common thread woven throughout the course of the day. It began this morning when my phone rang in the early hours. It was Essa. His voice was accented with excitement and apprehension. "When are you coming?" he asked. His mother quickly chimed in that she wanted us at their side as soon as possible. A day they thought would never come had arrived, fifteen years in the making, bright and full of promise.

Yet Essa and his mother did not want to face it alone. When Donna, Ruth, and I arrived at Sheba, we found him pacing the halls in front of the elevator, like a watchman on duty. His face lit up in a smile as he saw us approaching. His mother was equally welcoming and relieved to have the company of friends. 

Because the hour of Essa's surgery was still uncertain, we determined to find clever diversions. Aside from talking on the phone with family in Kurdistan, Essa was happily entertained with a virtual game of soccer on Donna's iPad. Each goal he scored seemed to boost his confidence, evidenced by fist-pumping and grins from ear to ear. His mom requested that I hurry the doctors along, concerned that her son's pre-surgery fast was making it difficult to wait. I pointed out that Essa was happily lost in a competitive match, with food a distant thought.

Before long, the surgical team arrived to escort him into the operating theater. Essa watched with boyish wonder as nurses swirled around his bedside, preparing every detail with care and efficiency.

The anesthesiologist brushed his cheek with her hand, to which he responded with a grateful smile. Meanwhile, his mother and I stood nearby until Essa fell blissfully asleep. She bent to kiss him one last time before parting ways.

What followed over the next five hours was the faithful vigil of a mother devoted to her son. Every time a door opened or various medical staff walked through the lobby, she looked to them expectantly for any word on Essa. Her most repeated question became, "Why is it taking so long?" I tried to explain in simple terms the magnitude of his surgery and how the doctors were carefully taking their time.

Moments of calm were punctuated with tears and cries directed heavenward. The vigil continued, as did the kindness of God. Support for this woman and son grew as news of Essa's surgery spread throughout Sheba's fourth floor. Fellow parents stopped frequently to ask about their welfare and offer encouragement. Calls poured in from Kurdistan, and more tears fell.

It was four o'clock when the surgeon finally emerged from the OR. Essa's mother searched his face, scrutinizing every word, desperate for understanding. There was good news to be shared! Essa's surgery was complete, and a Fontan shunt had created a successful new pathway for life-giving oxygenated blood to his lungs and body. Nevertheless, the only word which seemed to pacify his mother's fears was "Basha!" ("Good" in Kurdish). Though repeated a hundred times, she couldn't hear it enough. The last detail given by the surgeon was that Essa was experiencing some post-op bleeding and needed to be further stabilized with transfusions before his mother could stay with him. We were given a brief glimpse of Essa as he was transferred to ICU, followed by the instruction to wait until further notice.

Uncertainty and fear crept in, bringing Essa's mother to the point of being completely overwhelmed. At one point, she crumpled to the floor, refusing to open her eyes or respond to us for minutes. Once she sat up and spoke, only to say repeatedly that she would die tonight and that she was alone. Her dramatic statements to Ruth, Donna, and I evoked deep compassion. We gently shared that while her family was far away, we were with her and that God was even nearer, extending life to both her and Essa. It was our hope that she would experience the all-encompassing peace of God and His love through our community. We also felt that one of us should stay with her through the night and be a steady source of encouragement.

The turn-around in her countenance and perspective came once she saw with her own eyes that Essa was alive and stable. Amidst the foreign and frightening environment of monitors and tubes, Essa opened his eyes briefly to the sound of her voice, and all was well. A smile returned to her face, and her defeated spirit rose. She was overjoyed to learn that Ruth would remain with her until tomorrow and even agreed to eat a late dinner, after fasting much of the day. Just before leaving, we joined hands with her in praise and thanksgiving for God's faithful love.

Update from Friday the 24th, by Kristina Kayser

The evening hours passed slowly in Sheba Hospital

Essa Resting After Catheterization

Posted on Tue, 08/21/2012 - 20:00 by Ryan Gregg

The Shevet house was a hive before 6am. Several volunteers were awake and milling, awaiting word from the hospital about Essa

A New Heart Song in the Making for Essa

Posted on Mon, 08/20/2012 - 22:34 by Donna_Petrel

Strange. Difficult. Complicated. Different. All of these were descriptors used today during the echocardiogram done as part of Essa's admission for a heart catheterization tomorrow. As an untrained non-professional, I have little idea of the details on the screen when I accompany our patients and mothers during their echo exams. But as one who's had opportunity to see so many of these appointments, I've learned several basic ideas by which to make comparison of one heart to another; and even to me, Essa's heart was clearly very unique in every way. During the previous exams I

An Everlasting Love; A Complicated Heart

Posted on Tue, 08/14/2012 - 22:29 by Leslie Salazar

Today, Trevor and I were able to accompany Essa to his first cardiology appointment at the Sheba Medical Center. Through the course of conversation Kristina had with his mother on the ride there, it was discovered that Essa was first diagnosed with his heart condition six days after birth. At this time, his mother was told that he needed surgery but if she couldn't pay for it, there was nothing that could be done for him. So because of a lack of funds, Essa went without any cardiology care for 14 years. It is so amazing to me that this child, running around and charming everybody with his smile, has not had proper medical care for most of his life. 

Essa was very excited when we arrived at the hospital and nobody could keep up with him. Even while lying on the examining table during his EKG and echocardiogram he was smiling and excited, so much so the echo tech had to tell him to stay still. 

For me, this experience has brought back memories of the heart surgeries my son Trevor has endured. I was reminded of the many hospital and doctor visits, the anticipation of how doctors are going to fix my child, and the unnerving uncertainty of the outcome. After his tests, Kristina took Essa downstairs for lunch and I saw his mother do what almost all mothers, including myself, do after experiencing something emotionally taxing and jarring: once their child is out of sight, a breakdown happens and the tears fall. Ruth, another nurse working for Shevet, and I came along side her trying to comfort her with the enduring love of the Messiah, who sees her pain and longs to gather her to Himself. 

After the exams, the meeting with the doctor yielded mixed results. The good news was that Essa is stable and his body seems to be compensating fairly well for his heart defect. However, it was also found that his diagnosis is more complicated that initially thought; it seems that his heart has a transposition of the great arteries. A transposition meaning that the two main arteries leaving the heart are reversed, changing the way blood circulates, and leaving a shortage of oxygenated blood flowing from the heart to the rest of the body. What

Essa: Beauty In Brokenness

Posted on Mon, 08/13/2012 - 00:08 by Kristina Kayser

If I imagine a piece of artwork that represented every child who comes to Shevet for heart surgery, I imagine it as an intricate mosaic of stained glass. Each fragment of glass, like each child's heart, is initially broken and dim. But through this state of brokenness, unexpected beauty and wholeness is reborn.  

One more broken heart is being added to this mosaic, and it beats with hope, and courage, and compassion. This heart belongs to a young man named Essa who traveled to Israel a mere three days ago. His charismatic personality and affinity for people endeared him to our community straight away. At fifteen years of age, Essa seems to be at the threshold between youth and manhood. He takes every opportunity to hang out and work with the "big kids" (a.k.a. the Shevet staff), yet still enjoys simple childhood pleasures like Playdough and cartoons. Everything is new and exciting to him, and I often find myself smiling just watching him take it all in. Whether it's pouring water for people, taking out the trash, or even wiping a smudge of chocolate off my cheek with a tissue, Essa has proved to be a special young man. 

God's faithful love and provision for him continue to be expressed, most recently through a uniquely powerful friendship. The day after Essa's arrival in Jerusalem, another young man arrived, having journeyed half way around the world.

Meet Trevor: a sixteen-year-old from San Diego, CA who loves music and skateboarding and has already undergone four open heart surgeries! He and his mom are here to serve at Shevet for the next two weeks, and the timing could not have been more perfect. The following is Trevor's account of their first meeting:

"The first time I saw Essa, he seemed very eager to meet me. He had very few questions about surgery, but the ones he did have were concerning how his scar would feel and what it would look like. Like most boys who have heart conditions, he has a fascination with superheroes, specifically Spiderman, which seems to be a recurring theme with young male cardiac patients. I know I was the same way. I think this fascination arises as a way to free ourselves from a world of discomfort. Since superheroes, like Spiderman, are set apart from society in their everyday lives, for some reason we feel connected to them. Their escape from life by being a super hero is what we long for." 

It was beautiful to witness the immediate gravitation Essa had towards his new friend. Here was someone he could identify with and find comfort in. 

While these two guys became better acquainted, Essa's mother entered the room and asked to meet Trevor's mother, Leslie. What transpired next was equally God-breathed. Essa's mother was surprised to learn that Trevor had needed four surgeries, for his heart no less. She then turned her gaze toward Leslie and began to share her struggles. It was an instance of common ground building immediate trust. Several times, Essa's mother described how her family had no money, and therefore no hope to get help for her son. Leslie fully resonated with this, having experienced the crisis of being homeless with a baby who needed heart surgery. She shared with Essa's mother how the Lord met their needs and was now doing the same for her and Essa. Leslie, through tears of compassion, went on to say how God made the way for Essa to come to Israel, how He opened the door for hope, and how He loved them so much. The two mothers stood side by side declaring together how great God is. It is a moment etched in my heart. Only the Lord could have arranged something like this. 

In Scripture, God declares, "I, the Lord, am the first; and with the last I am He" (Isaiah 41:4). It is this aspect of God's nature that allows me to see His intentional love towards Essa. No place is too obscure; neither is any heart too broken that His hand cannot reach through time and space to rescue and make whole. I trust that as we walk this road with Essa, Messiah will make "everything beautiful in its time" (Ecc. 3:11). 

Essa Coming to Israel by August

Posted on Sun, 07/15/2012 - 16:22 by Jonathan Miles

15-year-old Essa has a difficult heart condition which has essentially left him with one ventricle instead of two. Doctors believe they can help him with a surgery that, while not fully repairing his heart, will nevertheless allow it to function better and give Essa a more normal life. 

Essa is from a poor family that has no chance of getting him to surgery on their own. We applied for Essa's visa to Israel in early July and hope to welcome him by the beginning of August.