Payveen's Heart Surgery

Northern Iraq

Life is Beautiful

Posted on Sun, 06/21/2015 - 23:10 by Ruth Zellweger

One of my highlights during our recent visit to the northern part of Kurdistan was spending time with Payveen and her family. Payveen had captured my heart during her time in Israel one and a half years ago. I still remember how she would make anyone around her feel special and appreciated.


Our reunion with Payveen was joyful and sweet. She introduced us to her siblings, three sisters and an older brother, as well as to her dog "Shevie", which was given to her after her return from Israel. As have many other children before and after her, Payveen had fallen in love with our community dog Shevie, and had wanted a dog of her own. She was so overjoyed over Sohie's and my visit, that she started to bring all kinds of presents, different toys that belonged to her, including her beloved dog. This sweet girl has such a big heart! In the end, of course, we did not take any of these gifts with us.

Payveen is doing very well after her open heart surgery in Israel, for which her parents are so thankful. They expressed to us their hospitality in many ways, including communicating with other families and taking us to appointments. Their thankfulness was genuine and heartfelt. It is sometimes overwhelming to think about this precious gift of being welcomed with open arms by so many families in Kurdistan. Often, the extended family has already accepted us as part of their family before we even met in person. And this at the mere fact that we have come alongside their beloved child and it's parent during their time of need.

Payveen is growing up in a very loving home. It is obvious how much she is loved and accepted by her parents and siblings. The harmony among them is tangible. I loved to watch Payveen's older brother Harkar, who patiently watched out for his younger sisters in an amusement park that we visited. Without complaints, he stood in line to pay for the different rides his sisters wanted to do.

After her return from Israel, Payveen had taught her younger sisters one of her favorite songs: "My God is so big". She requested that song a few times during our time with her, and she and her sisters happily did the motions to this song.

We had brought for each family that we visited a small gift from Israel, a heart made from olive wood. Before we left, we took some time to present it to the family. For Payveen we had a special gift, as her radiant smile is featured on the cover page of our Shevet calendar. She was excited to see it, but did not understand why she had not made it on one of the monthly pages..


I can learn so much from my endearing little friend. She loves unconditionally. She makes people smile. She makes people laugh. She makes people feel special. She expresses her thankfulness genuinely. She finds joy in so many little things.

Life is beautiful. May we not miss out on the things that really matter.


Meeting Joy Once More

Posted on Sun, 02/16/2014 - 22:25 by John M.

On February 12th, John and Milly visited Payveen’s family. Payveen and her mother had just returned from Payveen’s heart surgery in Israel a few days earlier. Here is John’s account of the visit.

Payveen has struck us as one of the more affectionate children we have come to know in Kurdistan. 

She has always been persistent in asking us to visit her and reminding us to bring our daughter Ashty as well. In the photos we took of Payveen, we have not yet caught her with any expression other than heartfelt smiles.

For her and her mother, however, it was a bitter-sweet return to their home in Kurdistan. One of the first things her mother told us was when Payveen arrived home “she began crying because she missed her friends” in Israel. Perhaps it finally dawned on her she would not be able to see them again, unless of course they come for a visit―an invitation frequently repeated by the family. 

Payveen’s mom said a lot of positive things about Shevet and was especially grateful for the all-around care her and her daughter received. In addition to the wonderful medical work performed by the Israeli doctors, Payveen’s mom appreciated both the warm friendships she developed with Kelsey, Kristina, and several other Shevet staff members and how Sophie planned activities for the children every day. The family wished to express their thankfulness with words, gifts, and hospitality to everyone who helped their daughter receive this life-saving surgery. As a result, we enjoyed a delicious lunch during our visit, filled with a variety of Kurdish foods and roasted fish as one of the specialty dishes.

Payveen’s mother also told us how she became friends with some of the other women who had accompanied children to Israel. During her stays in the hospital, she walked the halls with Hazhar's older sister many times. Hazhar's sister was thrilled to have another Behdini-Kurdish lady to talk with. It is notable these two Kurdish women spoke the same Kurdish dialect from the same region but were from two distinctive and often separated religious communities. Despite this significant difference, they became friends after being brought together outside of their native country by a common medical need. They both were touched by the love of God working through people to help their sick children.   

Payveen’s dad asked us twice to stay the night, but we knew if we stayed in this fun-filled home our daughter Ashty would never take her afternoon nap. We had a hard enough time just pulling her away from the swing-chair upon which her new friends sat. 

But in the end it was a warm parting, as Payveen hugged us and asked several times about whether or not she could visit us “tomorrow.”

Rejoicing Over You With Gladness

Posted on Sun, 02/09/2014 - 21:27 by Shannon Kelley

It was with full hearts and teary eyes that the Shevet community waved goodbye to three sweet children and their mothers this past Friday as they began their journey back to Kurdistan. One of these kids, Payveen, has been a particular joy to live alongside, and I count it a joy to write her farewell blog post.

I was first introduced to Payveen at a lunch prepared by the Kurdish mothers. As I shyly waved hello to them and the four children then inhabiting the upstairs, my eyes met Payveen's. She had been recently discharged from the hospital after her surgery, and before I could even offer a greeting, she exclaimed, “Marhaba!” She won my heart during this brief encounter, and the Lord blessed me with several weeks of sweet friendship with this girl before she returned home.

Payveen and her mother arrived in Israel just a few days before Christmas. Payveen's outgoing nature immediately captured the Shevet community. “Hi Jonathan! Hi Kristina!” Payveen would announce as they walked into the room. Her ability to engage others one-on-one and show them affection was disarming—it reminded me of how personal the Lord is, how He knows each one of us by name, and how He rejoices and delights in us.

From her first hospital visits, Payveen continued to spread her joy to anyone giving her an audience. “Zor jwana!” she complimented, nodding her head to the doctors and nurses. Pre-op CT scans, heart echos, and blood work wouldn't prevent Payveen from demonstrating love to the medical staff of Wolfson Medical Center.

Payveen's initial heart diagnosis was Aortic Stenosis, which meant that her aorta actually decreased vital blood flow instead of efficiently carrying blood out from her heart. After a short delay in a surgery date, Payveen was wheeled into the operating room as we waited anxiously for the results of her heart repair.

After a quick and smooth recovery period, Payveen's endearing voice echoed throughout the halls of Shevet Achim once again. Her musical prowess was evident in any song that involved clapping as she provided rhythmic beats and a sweet voice. Another Shevet volunteer and I even began to teach Payveen how to beat box, beginning with noises that sound like the words “boots and cats.” Payveen's head would bob up and down as she lay down some solid beats. Her joyfulness couldn't be contained by casual means, so Payveen used music to convey her exuberant personality and radiant spirit.

At the children's farewell party, Payveen shouted, “Hafla! Halfa! Bo Payveen (Party! Party! For Payveen!)!” In her pink and white princess gown, she blew kisses to everyone around the room.

She beamed as she opened her farewell gifts and grinned widely while watching her photo slideshow.

“Thank you!” she replied in perfect English as she accepted the presents and love of those around her. She swayed, clapped, and motioned as we all sang “My God is So Big,” a song which reappeared when we wished the families farewell the following morning.

The morning the families departed, I approached Payveen's mother. Knowing only a handful of Kurdish phrases (none of which could directly convey what I wanted to say), I merely smiled, placed both of my hands over my heart, and offered, “Payveen!” She returned my smile with genuine tears and a long hug. Somehow I knew I had effectively communicated my feelings.

Zephaniah 3:17 reads:

"The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
   he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing."

These specific verses remind me of Payveen and her warm personality, tender heart, and zest for life. I have a tangible example of how the Lord delights in us! And when does God rejoice more than when we live in His presence? He soothes us with tender love and affection, constantly reminding us we are wonderfully and fearfully made. And how glorious the music of the Lord must sound as He sings over us! God's fingerprints are so evident in Payveen's joyful spirit, sweet disposition, and repaired heart.

Thank You, Lord, for the reminder of Your goodness that is Payveen and how we've seen You show up in incredible ways in and through her. We pray that Payveen and her mother may have a cherished time back home in Kurdistan and thank You for the great plans you have for Payveen and for bringing this beautiful girl into the Shevet community!

A Welcome Ending

Posted on Mon, 02/03/2014 - 20:17 by Shannon Kelley

“Marhaba! Shalom! Hello!” Payveen exclaimed, offering an ear-to-ear smile to everyone in the echo waiting room. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, Payveen has Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that, among other attributes, provides her with low social inhibition, strong language abilities, and a particular affinity to music. Her warm personality makes anyone she interacts with feel like an old friend.

Because of this, Payveen happily hopped onto the echo exam table when it was her turn. “Hi!” she greeted her doctor several times throughout the exam. Payveen's mother looked stoically on, knowing if this echo went well they could be home in Kurdistan by this time next week.

“Khalas!” Payveen sang as she threw open the echo room door and reentered the waiting room once her exam was done. Khalas! It is done! Payveen and her mother were told this would be their last echo exam at Wolfson. They are cleared to fly home this weekend! Payveen even got to talk to her father on the phone, letting him know she'd see him soon.

After the rest of the echos were done, we had the opportunity to accompany all of the children and mothers who had hospital visits today to the beach in Tel Aviv! A picturesque landscape of vivid blue sky, seashell-littered sand, and clear Mediterranean water welcomed us as we exited the van. Before eating a delicious meal of chicken and rice prepared by the mothers, we all enjoyed wading out into the waves and squealing as they began to splash too high.

Payveen then began to sift through sand to collect small treasures. I stopped to watch her, thinking on how I see God's image in her sincerely thoughtful and affectionate nature. Part of Psalm 139 reads:

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
   I awake, and I am still with you.”

It has been a blessing to witness Payveen's speedy recovery and be a small part of her story here in Israel, and I stand amazed by the vastness of the Lord's thoughts and plans for her life. As with all the grains of sand we saw today, we can't even begin to quantify a fraction of God's love for this sweet girl. Father, we praise You for the great work You're doing in Payveen's life and for all the days You’ve written for her!

Home is on the Horizon

Posted on Mon, 01/27/2014 - 20:25 by Nick Boyum

Two weeks after receiving life-saving open-heart surgery, Payveen traveled back to Wolfson Hospital today to receive a follow-up echo. The echo ward was jam packed, full of children of varying ages and temperaments. Smiles, tears, and laughter were in abundance. Payveen soaked up all the commotion, moving from family to family proclaiming "marhaba!" (“hello”) and inevitably complimenting all the nurses and women on their beauty.

When her turn came to receive her echo, she practically leapt into the echo room. Much to no one's surprise, her results were excellent. After a quick, painless removal of a couple stitches, she was promptly scheduled for one final echo this upcoming Monday. If her results are as good as they were today, she will be back on a plane to Kurdistan quicker than she can compliment an Israeli doctor! Join with the Shevet team and our followers abroad in celebrating the Lord's provision and love in this precious young girl's life.

From Surgery to Shevet

Posted on Sun, 01/19/2014 - 21:43 by Rahel Eschler

Only five short days ago, Payveen underwent her heart surgery, consisting of a complete repair of her Aortic Stenosis. This morning we received a pleasant and surprising phone call from the cardiac children’s ward in Tel Aviv. Payveen’s mom told us with overwhelming joy today is going to be their last day at the hospital. She even requested some bread for her daughter’s ride home, which further proves Payveen’s ability to leave the hospital—healthy appetite is one of the signs of good recovery and healing.

So this afternoon we set out from the hill of Jerusalem to bring our Sunshine back home to the Shevet base. We found Payveen with her mom, packed up and ready in the waiting area. Payveen was doing some crafts with a teacher from the hospital. When she saw us, her whole face broke into a smile, and she proudly showed us her new work.

I could tell she was happy to see us.

I later met the nurse in charge, and she let me know Payveen is on no more medicine, besides the thyroids hormones she was already taking before the surgery. This good news was followed by the report that the doctors are already expecting Payveen back at the hospital for a follow up echocardiogram in one week. These were great notes to end our pickup of Payveen on!

The recovery of Payveen’s body sped up after an unexpected complication in the beginning, as mentioned in an earlier blog post. Payveen overcame these first difficulties quickly, and she is now with us in Jerusalem to recover fully. She is almost the same cheerful and open girl she was before surgery. Only her tiredness betrays the huge transition her body has gone through. In the car on the way home she kept talking about her “hafla” (“party” in Kurdish) she was going to have tonight. She emphasized her plans with some moves, but a few minutes later she was laying her head on her mom’s lab and falling asleep. We thank our faithful Lord for His goodness in Payveen’s life and entrust Him with this little, precious girl.             

Unexpected Complications

Posted on Thu, 01/16/2014 - 22:28 by Marisa Schindler

Late last night we received a phone call from Payveen’s mom telling us Payveen was experiencing seizure-like muscle movements. This is a known complication which can appear after surgery. To find out if these activities were seizures or not, the doctors took a CT scan of Payveen's brain. Thankfully they found out the spasms were not seizures, but simply muscle tremors (a result of post-surgery medication). Based on these results, the doctors changed Payveen’s medications.

When we visited her today, she looked drowsy and lethargic as a result of these strong, new medications. Several times she woke up and gave us a dreamy-eyed gaze. As I stroked her face, she gave me a little smile which showed me she is aware of and comforted by beloved people around her.

Despite her muscle tremors, Payveen was moved to the children's ward today. She is in a stable condition and getting the care she needs for a good recovery. Let’s pray for an extra portion of strength for both Payveen and her mom.

Moving Forward Slowly

Posted on Wed, 01/15/2014 - 20:12 by Jesse Tilman

Seeing Payveen today was heart wrenching even though she is doing well. In the ICU she was supposed to be sedated, and when Rahel, Eilin, and I walked up she was sleeping peacefully.

After just a few moments of talking with her mother, though, we saw her open her eyes and turn her head to look at us while giving a small moan. She’s extubated and has an oxygen mask which makes her throat dry. In between rounds of sleeping, she often asked for water during our time there. The nurse came by eventually and told us Payveen is doing well and recovering. Just getting to pass this good news to her mother was a blessing.

At every small move Payveen made, her mother winced, wanting to bring relief to her. We explained right now Payveen just needs to sleep, and it wouldn’t be good for her to have water that could get into her lungs. We comforted Payveen's mother and reminded her she needs to be eating, sleeping, and keeping up her strength for both of their sakes. It will be just a little while longer in intensive care, and then Payveen will be up and around again, Lord willing.

Payveen's New Heart

Posted on Tue, 01/14/2014 - 23:45 by Ruth Zellweger

Payveen has her own special ways of making a day brighter. She easily wins the hearts of the people she meets. The nurses in the Operation Room (OR) today were no exception. Who can possibly resist those lively, sparkling brown eyes and that big, joyful smile? 

Shevet volunteer Shirel and I met Payveen and her mother in front of the entrance to the OR.

We made it just in time to be with them before Payveen’s surgery. The next forty-five minutes we spent together in the pre-operating room. We took pictures, sang songs, and Payveen talked to her father on the phone.

It was obvious Payveen's mother was anxious, and she needed all her strength to not break down in front of her daughter. Finally the moment of separation came, and Payveen was taken to the OR. She didn't cry when she was wheeled away. Her beautiful brown eyes were locked with her mother’s eyes. Once Payveen was out of our sight, her mother couldn't hold back her tears.

Together we stood in the hallway for several minutes. After Payveen's mother calmed down, we went to the children’s ward, had tea, and spent time visiting with the other Kurdish families who are currently at the hospital. Often her mobile phone would ring, a family member from her home country asking how everything was going. The waiting became more intense and emotional after 12 o’clock passed. We stood in the hallway in front of the Intensive Care Unit, waiting for Payveen to be wheeled by. It wasn’t until 2 o’clock that we saw the bed with the escort team coming. Payveen’s mother started crying and almost couldn’t believe everything was over.

Later in the ICU we made sure ourselves everything had gone well.

There had been no complications during the surgery, and the doctors were able to do a complete repair of Payveen’s heart. At the moment, Payveen is receiving medication to help her sleep and keep her without pain. The doctors are hoping to wake her up tomorrow morning and then extubate her. 

Each time a child survives an open heart surgery, a miracle occurs. We cannot take it for granted everything goes well. Once again we praise God that He has held His hand over a precious little one, and we pray Payveen’s recovery will be smooth. 

Looking Toward an Exciting Day

Posted on Mon, 01/13/2014 - 20:03 by Rahel Eschler

Today was the day Payveen and her mother have been longing for: admission day for Payveen’s heart surgery tomorrow. They both were excited and happy to roll in our fully-packed van with several Kurdish families towards the hospital. Even the longer stops on the highway we were forced to make didn’t ruin their good mood.

At the children’s ward, Payveen used all her language skills and greeted the doctors and nurses in different languages. The examining nurse was not only impressed by her skills but also pleased with her cooperative behavior during the examinations.

Payveen was a bit afraid of the hurting needle, so she buried her head in my lap. But with combined efforts, her mother and I comforted and distracted her, so that she only felt the sharp and short pain of the puncture.

After the whole procedure was over, the nurse disappeared out of our sight and came back soon with a sweet reward for Payveen, which brought a beaming smile.

Afterwards Payveen and her mother settled into their room next to their well-known Kurdish friends.

To complete this exciting day, we gathered the Kurdish families and went with them to explore the shopping area. Payveen posed amidst some flower arrangements with ice cream from her mother.

We left Payveen in good medical hands, and we thank the Lord for all his blessings. We pray for a peaceful surgery day and for God’s hand to be upon everyone involved in the surgery tomorrow. We praise his great name!