Hezhan's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

"Spas bo Hwa" Thanks be to God

Posted on Mon, 07/04/2011 - 21:57 by Natalie Wisely

In one sense, Hezhan's journey is finally ending. This journey has been twenty-two years long. It was filled with fear, uncertainty, and longing. There seemed to be no hope. Always worrying about tomorrow, his family never had peace as they were constantly fretting over Hezhan's heart condition. But now, that journey is officially over and a new one is starting. Now, Hezhan has a heart that is well. As he looks out before him, there is hope, certainty, and opportunities. He and his parents can live without the fear.

Last night we had the privilege of celebrating this new beginning with Hezhan. Our farewell party was filled with laughter, singing, and joy. As we told stories and encouraged Hezhan, we reminded him that, whereas before there was a list of things he could not do, now there are only possibilities. Just because he is twenty-two doesn't mean he can't seize the opportunities that he was previously denied.

We were able to share give him a couple of parting gifts including a CD (this boy loves music!) and a T-shirt that says "peace" in Arabic, English, and Hebrew. His mother thanked us profusely for the gifts, but was quick to add that they were not necessary. While things are nice, she said that she knows the real gift is the fact that her son's heart is well.

This morning we gathered for one last time before Hezhan and his mother left. We were able to pray with them, give them hugs, and encourage them as they embark on this new chapter in their lives. As Hezhan headed out the door, I couldn't help but snap one last photo, and for me it really captured Hezhan's entire story. His journey to healing began and ended at this place. But now he is walking out our door and setting off on a new journey that is free from restrictions and free from pain. Now, he can simply live, and as he looks toward the future, the possibilities are endless. For this we say, "Spas bo Hwa!" Thanks be to God.

Hezhan's Heart is Homeward Bound

Posted on Thu, 06/30/2011 - 23:50 by Kristina Kayser

Excitement was in the air today as I accompanied Hezhan and his mother to Wolfson for what would potentially be his final echo. We listened to beautiful Kurdish worship music as Jerusalem faded in the distance and a day filled with promise began. One of the songs, "Har Tow Pirozee," has become a favorite of Hezhan's. It's speaks of God being awesome in love, in faithfulness, and in healing. Truly God has manifested these things in Hezhan's life, and I have been blessed to witness it personally.

As the doctors prepared for the echo, Hezhan's mother said her heart was pounding in fear. I gently reminded her of God's presence with her and her son and of the peace He gives. She nodded her head in agreement, and the echo commenced. As the doctor calmly maneuvered the ultrasound probe across Hezhan's chest, the room had an air of mystery to it. He and his mother held their breath expectantly, not daring to break the "spell" of this Cinderella-like story of transformation and wake up to find it all a dream.

The strong, rhythmic beat of his heart suddenly reverberated throughout the room, breaking the silence. Images of his heart on screen displayed the chambers pumping in perfect rhythm. I marveled at the sight of grace in motion and the God who blends art and science so seamlessly.

Finally, the moment arrived! The doctor exclaimed, "khallas!" ("finished" in Arabic), and the merriment began. Hezhan and his mother looked at me to see if it was true. When I echoed the doctor's announcement, their faces broke out in the biggest smiles. Hezhan, who has become my dear friend, wore a different expression than I had seen before. For so long, he has carried a look of fear and timidity. Today, I saw peace and quiet strength.

He and his mother rejoined other members of the Shevet community, and the good news was celebrated by all. Hezhan met Jeff, my fellow nurse, in a hearty embrace. A stark waiting room became an atmosphere of joy as the reality of going home began to sink in.

Medically speaking, Hezhan has a small residual VSD (ventricular septal defect) which will not limit him or harm him in any way. His cardiac function is excellent, evidenced by his increasing endurance and strength. The official discharge was completed; however Hezhan will not be departing for his beloved Kurdistan until the beginning of next week. After four hours of waiting, doctors reported that medical papers would not be ready until Sunday afternoon. Hezhan and his mother took this in stride, not allowing it to dampen their spirits.

Over vanilla ice cream cones, we shared in the sweetness of victory over death, victory over fear, victory over incredible odds. Hezhan's story is by no means a fairy tale. It is the stuff of real life: pain, sweat, tears, struggle, and, ultimately, triumph; a story that only God could write.

Hezhan's mother reminded me that today is the day she has waited for since the day Hezhan was born. And it will be said in that day: "Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation." Isaiah 25:9

Hezhan Goes To Hebrew University

Posted on Mon, 06/27/2011 - 00:18 by Ryan Gregg

Hezhan spent the golden afternoon hours of today at the Har Hatsofim campus of Hebrew University, a modern academic institution with a vintage feel spread out over the north slopes of the Mount of Olives. After a morning trip to the hospital in Tel Aviv confirmed that pain in his knee joints was nothing to fear and unrelated to his heart, Hezhan boarded the Egged no. 19 bus with Kristina and myself, and up we climbed to the university where I take classes.

After passing the security check, where guards met Hezhan's disarming smile, we climbed the escalator from the bus terminal to the main level, and Kristina thought it like entering a spaceship with a honeycomb underside.

Leaving the cold concrete of man for the warmth of earth's garden, all of a sudden, there he was: my dear old favorite man in the world, Mr. Albert Einstein, riding his bicycle! Hezhan and I accosted him, and he was nice enough to pose with us. In actual fact, Einstein gave the inaugural academic lecture at the Hebrew University and was a founding member of its first board of directors. At his death Einstein bequeathed all of his letters and scientific papers to the university, along with official rights to his image. 

At a university, the first stop must be the library. One of my motives in bringing Hezhan to the university was to expose this 22-year old, who has only had limited schooling due to a life controlled by a weak heart, to the possibility and beauty of education. Education is a spark for so much, I believe, and at the moment where Hezhan finds beating in his chest a new spark of life, I believe his future is opening before him and education should be a part of it.

But the students in the library were sleeping! It is finals week at Hebrew University, and the main library has a side room stocked with beanbag chairs and futons for exam-weary students to sack out and get some REM's before facing their next blue book. Hezhan chuckled at the sight, along with Kristina and I.

Exiting the library, we began to traverse the long spine of campus, ribbed with flower beds and heavy-branched trees. Hezhan stopped and smiled at the building you are seeing in the picture, wrapped in a green blanket of ivy.

We made it to my department, the Rothberg International School. The department's building is right along the edge of campus, and a 5-story cascade of glass provides National-Geographic-esque views of the West Bank and Judean Wilderness. Here in the 5th floor, Kristina and Hezhan smile.

On the other end of campus, heading back now towards the bus terminal, we found an overlook of the Holy City. In the year 63 AD, the Roman General Titus looked on Jerusalem from this same vantage, considering and brooding and strategizing, the might of Rome pitched behind him in tents. Hezhan turned back towards me briefly.

Camera in hand, we three friends began goofing around, snapping shots. Believe me folks, this is by far the sanest of the batch :)

After the hilarity grew thin, all three of us staked out a spot some feet from each other on the wall overlooking the city, and maybe spent ten minutes in quietness, enjoying the warm touches of evening breeze on our faces, thinking on things simple or not so simple, ruminating in the presence of the resplendent. Hezhan stood looking out on Jerusalem, or Al Quds, as it is called in Arabic.

The thoughts going through his head I don't know. He will likely travel home to Kurdistan this weekend. What are his thoughts about his future life? How has the meaning of Jerusalem formed in his mind? Is he still afraid? Is he grateful? Can he believe what is happening? Where does he go from here? What does life mean to a person so intimately acquainted with the possibility of death?

In my experience living in the city of truth (which is another way of saying the city of awesome mysteries), unanswered questions take on a beauty of their own. I'm sure Hezhan has questions yet littered and lingering with interrogative signs. I do too. So do you. Who doesn't? But I believe this moment looking over Jerusalem captured something meaningful for Hezhan, something elemental, and beautiful, and maybe culminating, although I wouldn't dare say what.

As a 23-year old, I have found in Hezhan a brother and friend. We go for walks in the evening, to help strengthen his cardiovascular system. Kristina usually brings her Kurdish skills and smile along. The three of us have formed a little trio these last couple weeks around Jerusalem, not so much as nurse and patient and student, but as friends, seeking God in our own ways, and seeing clues of him in each other.

Jeff includes this report from the morning at the hospital:

Hezhan, along with his mum, were taken to the Wolfson hospital this morning. The pain in both his knees was controlled overnight and the early hours of this morning with analgesia and liniment (a liquid preparation that provides heat and pain relief). Mother and son were concerned the persistent pain was in some way connected to his recently operated heart. My colleague Kristina and I felt otherwise. We believed that the symptoms were the result of muscles, ligaments and tendons responding to the mobilization routine of walking and light exercise.

The decision to go to the hospital was made, because [1] The pain was recurring.  [2] We had nothing more to offer. [3] I felt that the patient's confidence towards the nursing team was waning. [4] We've both been trained to know when a doctor needs to be consulted. [5] We could have overlooked something of importance that could be picked up by an expert in this field.

The initial examination by the pediatric ward doctor found no hidden concerns. The Orthopedic doctor was included in this thorough investigation. He also was of the opinion that the pain was a normal response by structures of the knee, which had not been exercised before, to increased mobilization. He prescribed Brufen a non steroidal anti inflammatory, and to keep up the walking.

I was able to use Ilan our Kurdish translator, to speak with the doctor and then convey her findings to Hezhan and his mother. They were most relieved and their fears set at rest. Kristina and I were just as relieved and we quietly thanked our Father for His guidance and help. 

Another Post-op Echo for Hezhan

Posted on Thu, 06/23/2011 - 14:03 by Jeff Sheehan

Going to Wolfson Hospital today for Hezhan's echo, we were filled with hope. And we were not disappointed. The echocardiogram was done in due progress, and the result was most pleasing: good heart contraction with a small residual ventricular septal defect, normal valve function, and most important of all - no pericardial effusion. Doctor Kapuska, who witnessed Hezhan's surgery, was very pleased with today's outcome.

Hezhan also mentioned to the doctor that for the last two days, while lying down he has been having small bursts of palpitations (rapid heartbeats). An electrocardiogram was done straight away. This showed a regular heart beat, with a rate of about 80 beats/minute, which is quite normal. Doctors encouraged Hezhan that, should he have one of these episodes again in Jerusalem to call on one of Shevet Achim's nurses so that his situation can be immediately monitored. Overall, however, the doctor wasn't too concerned about it.

Regarding Hezhan's medication: prednisone tablets have been ceased. A further echo next Thursday the 30th of June could be the final one. Hezhan looks and feels well. His central chest wound, and drain sites look clean and dry. Temperature is normal, and his blood pressure, pulse rate, and oxygen saturation are also within normal limits. He is also going for regular walks with an escort and doing light exercises. In closing we all thank God for this young man's remarkable recovery and progress. It is certainly a new beginning for Hezhan and his family.

Hezhan's Marathon Nears the Finish Line

Posted on Mon, 06/13/2011 - 22:27 by Kristina Kayser

Sometimes, a child's trip to Israel for heart surgery feels like a sprint. For others, it's a marathon. Hezhan's race for a gold medal heart has been a marathon requiring much endurance. Two trips to Israel with a fifteen month intermission in between has certainly made for a difficult course. The good news is that the finish line is in sight!

This morning we returned to Wolfson for his third post-op echo. Last Thursday, the doctor reported Hezhan having pericardial effusion (PE), a common side effect of surgery in which extra fluid accumulates around the heart. A steroid medication, predisone, was then started to do the job of decreasing the fluid. Today, Doctors Alona and Seggy announced that the prednisone was working effectively and that only a trivial amount of PE remains.

The next mile marker for Hezhan will be a fourth echo next Monday after gradually reducing his prednisone over the course of the week. With each stride towards recovery, his cheering section grows louder. Those who have been following Hezhan's miraculous story are, in essence, a cloud of witnesses, surrounding him with prayer and praise to God. My hope is that somewhere in the midst of this defining race, Hezhan's family would know the One who ran before them and made a way for life.

On our ride back to Jerusalem, mother and son shared in the beauty of Kurdish music, a sweet reminder of being one step closer to home.

"Ma Tirse!"

Posted on Thu, 06/09/2011 - 21:52 by Kristina Kayser

Having major open heart surgery is no walk in the park, and even the smallest physical change or discomfort can usher in anxious thoughts and fears. Since Hezhan's last echocardiogram on Monday, he and his parents have been apprehensive about several things.

Their biggest fear was in regards to a small amount of pericardial effusion (PE- fluid around the heart), which called for today's follow up echo at Wolfson. Hezhan also felt that his fingernails were returning to their pre-surgery shade of blue. "Ma tirse," ("don't be afraid" in Kurdish) is a phrase that has been laced throughout conversations with Hezhan's family as we discuss their concerns.

Despite encouraging them that PE is a normal side effect of cardiac repair and that Hezhan's fingernails are a lovely pink that reflect his 99% oxygen level, the doctor's affirmation was what they needed to hear. With a gentle smile, Dr. Alona told Hezhan and his parents that all was well. His heart is functioning excellently and the PE would be easily managed with a new steroid medication.

Dr. Alona further remarked how impressed she was with the changes she has witnessed in his new heart and his maturity as a young man. I commented, "Hezhan's a pretty special guy," to which Dr. Alona agreed whole-heartedly.

Doctors then gathered around him and his parents for a beautiful photo further documenting his remarkable journey. Deep love for her son welled up as Hezhan's mother told me she wants to capture every moment of his time in Israel. Moments are not the only things being captured by this family. They have stolen our hearts and affection as well. With worries put to rest and a follow up echo scheduled next Monday, Hezhan's recovery draws our praise heavenward.

Through The Gates Of Jerusalem

Posted on Wed, 06/01/2011 - 00:35 by Kristina Kayser

One of the most beautiful occasions for celebration is welcoming someone home. That "someone" today was Hezhan! I received the unexpected news this morning that Hezhan was being discharged from the Cardiac Care Unit at Wolfson Hospital.

Despite being in the Intensive Care Unit for a couple extra days initially, the rate of his recovery has sped up. A ten hour operation on May 25th is proving successful, with his sixth post-op day giving doctors promising improvement. Hezhan's father reflected the heart of a deeply thankful parent as he sat to eat with his son this morning. Hospital cuisine has not been enough to tempt Hazhan's appetite, but we hope that his mother's delicious home-cooking will encourage him to eat well as he heals.

The chest tube was removed, creating some discomfort in Hezhan's side. Nevertheless, he is sitting upright and walking more each day. Jeff, fellow Shevet nurse and I, will continue to do physiotherapy with him at home with simple exercises that help strengthen his lungs. An adult doesn't bounce back quite as quickly as children, but this young man is motivated to make strides toward full recuperation.

Before leaving Wolfson, Hezhan took a "victory lap" with his parents via wheelchair before settling in a quiet hallway to rest awhile. When I apologized to his mother about waiting till late afternoon for departure, her response was so moving. "Mushkalay nia! ("No problem" in Kurdish). Six o'clock, seven o'clock, eight o'clock--it's no problem since Hezhan's heart is good now!" She was just happy to be going home with her son.

King David expressed similar joy in returning to Jerusalem when he wrote, "I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD. And now here we are, standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem." Psalm 122:1-2. When Hezhan walked through the gate of Shevet this evening, there was gladness in his face and eyes. Celebration was in the air as Kurdish mothers and children surrounded him with love and praise. Jonathon, Shevet Director and friend of Hezhan, was ready to embrace him upon arrival as well. I don't believe words are enough to articulate the deep joy which was felt among everyone present.

It wasn't merely his return that was being celebrated, but that his life had been rescued from death, that God had given him the gift of a new heart, and that twenty-two years of waiting had not been in vain. Tonight, we can stand and say together, "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable." Psalm 145:3 

Hezhan: A Man With A Future

Posted on Mon, 05/30/2011 - 01:00 by Donna_West

Seeing Hezhan today out of the ICU and back in the ward flooded my being with joy and gratitude. His father, who travelled with us from Jerusalem this morning, went straightaway to the ICU, but Hezhan was not there. I began to search to see if he had been moved to secondary ICU and he wasn't there either. Then we were told he was in the echo department. But he wasnt there either. Finally, our co-worker Jeff found him in the ward, the place where patients not requiring urgent attention are placed.

Hezhans fingers and toes are pink and healthy looking. The only time he showed noticeable discomfort today was when he changed his body position.

There will be no containing this young man now that his heart has been repaired. He has a full life available to him that before was not an option. Thank you, Lord.

Steady Progress For Hezhan

Posted on Sun, 05/29/2011 - 01:00 by Jeff Sheehan

Day four in Hezhan's post-operative recovery was one of steady progress. At the Wolfson hospital ICU today I had a pleasant surprise of finding Hezhan sitting out of bed and looking fairly comfortable. All support drugs were ceased. The tube in his bladder was out, and urine output was adequate. The inter-costal (between the ribs) drain tube was still in place and working well. It will be removed when his lungs re-expand, a development which will hopefully be confirmed by chest x-ray in the near future.

He is still attached to a monitor showing the regular rhythms of heart and lung. Speaking to a doctor about Hezhans status, I was informed that Hezhan will need physiotherapy to improve the function of his lungs. This is quite normal after major surgery, because post-operative pain prevents normal and deep breathing. Regular analgesia (pain-killer) with physiotherapy will usually help the patient to take deep breaths, cough effectively, and clear any congestion.

We were also able to wheel Hezhan to the bathroom and help him shower. This made him feel brighter. The possibility of him being moved from the ICU in the next twenty-four hours appears promising. The two pictures reveal his progress.

Hezhan Awake and Smiling in ICU

Posted on Sat, 05/28/2011 - 01:00 by Jeff Sheehan

A visit to ICU is always a daunting experience, but there we went this evening to visit Hezhan. He was extubated this morning, and when we visited he looked comfortable and was smiling. Attached to him was a monitor displaying his vital signs, which at the time of my visit were all displaying within the normal range. He was also connected to a pacemaker as a backup for his heart. His heart rhythm was normal and regular. An ICC tube was at work re-expanding his lungs, countering lung collapse, a frequent complication of major chest surgery. A tube in his bladder gave a picture of his urine output; IV fluids continued to be in progress. Most importantly of all, he was not support drugs. All in all a very promising picture on the surface. His mother looked relieved and happy. So were we. We pray to God for his continued healing presence, and also for wisdom and guidance in the days ahead.