Sara's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

I Could Only Imagine

Posted on Sun, 06/14/2015 - 15:18 by Sophie H.

When we arrived in front of Sara’s house, they were already waiting for us. After a lot of kisses from her sisters - in their culture it is common to greet others with kisses - we separated from the men and went to the girls’ room. We started taking pictures and they took as many as they could. The room was full of laughter as we were all so excited. Even Sara’s sisters who had never met us, but had seen us through Sara's pictures, we excited to see us.

As part of their culture, they first offer us water and then Kurdish tea and fruits. After all this hospitality, they took us to go shopping. They brought some gifts to show their love to us and we are so blessed by this beloved family!

During the sharing, I could only imagine how much she missed us and enjoyed the time with us. Now, all the memories became treasures for both them and us! I am so thankful that God provided the opportunity for us to see her. It was so good to see her doing well and meet her loving family. Thank you, God, for this precious life! I believe God’s love and light will keep shining in her whole family!

Princess Sara Bids Israel Farewell

Posted on Sun, 05/04/2014 - 23:17 by Kristina Kayser

Sara lives up to her name, which means "princess," in every sense of the word. She is a young lady with beauty flowing from her heart and reflected in a lovely countenance. While possessing the joyful exuberance of youth, she also carries herself with poise and grace beyond her years. I have loved watching the natural affection and compassion she freely gives to people, particularly children. To be called her friend is an honor, and to have witnessed the healing work of God in Sara's heart is a gift. Permit me now to share with you about her last days with us in Israel—days full of laughter, gratitude, and love.

Over the last one and a half years, Sara's heart underwent great transformations resulting in a completely mended heart. Dr. Sasson's seamless work was manifested in the way she grew from being cyanotic and easily wearied to having pink skin and an endless supply of energy. She couldn't wait to resume soccer games and water fights after her second surgery, and it was all I could do to keep her from diving into the waves at our recent beach outing. As Sara returns home, I have no doubt she will continue to grow stronger by the day.

Sara and her best friend Rozhgar became regular visitors in our downstairs office the closer their departure drew nigh. Whether it was to ask a question, bring a present, or just say hello, they never left without giving high-fives or kisses to everyone they met. The void of her presence is keenly felt in our home. Even now as I sit at my desk, I wish I could look up to see her walking through the door with her radiant smile. 

By way of celebrating Sara's life in addition to Rozhgar's, a festive party was held in their honor last Thursday night. Before this event officially began, the girls had sufficiently created an atmosphere of contagious joy. They had everyone in high spirits and ready to share in their cheer. We sang their favorite songs, including a rousing round of "Xudaim Gowraya" ("My God is so Great"), which states "there's nothing my God cannot do!"

As Sara sang at the top of her lungs beside me, I couldn't help but give praise to God with a full heart as well. It reminds me of the verses in Psalm 138, which say, "I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness..." (verses 1-2a). 

The party continued with ice cream sundaes and a time of sharing words of encouragement with Sara and her mother. I told them how they were like family to me and that their comfort and love uplifted me on many occasions. Life is a gift from the Lord, and Sara is such a beautiful example of His desire to restore all things. When gifts were later presented to her, a colorful hand-stitched quilt was included, similar to the one she received after her first surgery. Ironically, one of the framed sketches hanging in our upstairs living room is of Sara wrapped in that quilt. Thus, it only seemed fitting to take a picture of Sara holding her own portrait with the same pose. 

When Friday morning dawned, I was not looking forward to the unpleasant task of saying goodbye to someone I love so dearly. Sara has made our home and our lives sweeter and richer than they were before. Standing outside in the courtyard, we bravely made our farewell with the hope of seeing each other one day in Kurdistan. Her eyes, wet with tears, were still full of light. I can only imagine how excited she was to return to beloved family and homeland. Sara and Rozhgar yelled and waved goodbye from the window, giving everyone one last memory of their sheer delight.

May the Lord draw Sara ever closer to Him as her renewed heart beats to His glory and praise!

A Worthy Celebration

Posted on Mon, 04/28/2014 - 23:21 by Kristina Kayser

I think I observed every emotion save indifference in Sara over the last week leading up to today's potentially final echo appointment. Usually she has wavered between excitement and anxiety from day to day. We all shared her hope the doctors would find good results today and clear not only Sara but also Rozhgar to return home to Iraqi Kurdistan. In preparation for this special day, both girls bought new outfits and jewelry and decorated their nails in bright colors. They also took it upon themselves to be personal fashion consultants for Rahel and I, with specific instructions for what we should wear to the hospital. The balmy weather we found in Tel Aviv matched our bright outlooks and expectations perfectly.

Sara was called in shortly, and I could see a shadow of worry pass over her face. Summoning up a fresh boost of courage, she prepared herself for the exam by getting a view from the doctor's chair. Even in stressful moments, Sara's fun-loving personality still shines through. 

This assessment was particularly thorough, as the doctors wanted to ensure every angle of Sara's heart was in proper condition. Sara winced as the ultrasound probe found its target. I told her to squeeze my hand every time it hurt, and she did so with gusto for the next twenty minutes or so. Somehow it felt as though we were bearing the pain together. 

Several doctors gathered around the monitor after the echo ended to review the images and discuss the prognosis. Meanwhile, Sara and her mother kept eyeing me to see if I knew the outcome yet. It felt like a long wait, but Sara bore it well. Her patience was rewarded in the end with wonderful news: she and her mother can travel home now! After two open heart surgeries across the span of nearly one-and-a-half years, Sara's heart is fully mended. Praise God for this incredible gift! Nothing could hold back this young lady's exuberance as she filled the halls with a celebratory Kurdish shout of "La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!" Rozhgar soon joined in on the festivities as she too received the same news. These two girls together are like a walking fiesta, and everyone around them cannot help but rejoice with them.

To make our celebration complete, our happy crew traveled to the nearby seaside to picnic and play in the water.

Sara charged fearlessly into the waves, soaking up every minute in the cool, blue waters.

I loved splashing and frolicking with her, but mostly I loved watching this brave and hopeful fourteen-year-old enjoy the gift God has given her—the gift of life and of a new heart!

Sara is truly my sister and my friend, and I love her dearly. My life has been enriched by her presence. As she goes from this place, may she live to know the immeasurable love of God for her—a love whose depth is greater than the deepest sea. 

Good News For Sara!

Posted on Tue, 04/22/2014 - 20:39 by SV

Today we visited Wolfson Medical Center for another one of Sara’s post-surgery follow-up echoes. In addition to her echo, Sara bravely endured the painful process of having her surgery stitches removed. The doctors are optimistic concerning her future improvement and reduced one of her medications, which is a good sign. Her final echo is scheduled for Monday, and if the results are positive (as we think they will be), she will be going back to Kurdistan next week with a new life on the horizon.

Sara continues to rapidly heal, and today as she was waiting for us to leave the hospital she started jumping around the hospital's playground. She looks great, and her physical activity levels are progressively rising.

We are thankful for God’s grace in Sara’s life, as she no longer has to come back to Israel for any further surgeries. We pray the two surgeries she had will help her grow as a normal teenager and pursue a life full of adventures.

An Encouraging Follow-Up

Posted on Thu, 04/10/2014 - 22:00 by Rahel Eschler

Today was another important day for Sara’s recovery. Hopefully she will soon be on her way back to Kurdistan in full health. We headed out this morning towards the children’s cardiology department in Tel Aviv to get Sara’s heart checked for any fluid build-up, as she is still on different heart medications. Sara was in a good mood and was joking around, which makes it so easy to be around her, even when we had to wait for a long time before we were called into the examination room.

Our examining doctor was from Romania and is doing an internship at Wolfson Hospital to become trained in pediatric cardiology. She was sensitive and respectful to Sara and her mum during the whole procedure of checking Sara’s heart thoroughly. She tried hard to find any fluids, especially in the pleural gap, but thankfully she couldn’t find any build-up, no matter how hard she tried. She then started to examine the heart’s functions. This revealed colorful images on the screen turning from blue to red. The examination also gave us information about Sara’s blood flow and speed.

During this whole procedure, Sara looked like quite comfortable lying on the examination table. She followed the images flickering across the screen with interest, but every now and then she couldn’t keep her eyes open. When all the necessary information had been collected, the examining doctor asked us to wait for the senior doctor. At that point Sara was bothered by a bad headache, so she laid her head down on my lap to get some rest.

A little while later, Dr. Tamir took a close look at the echo results and commented, “This is a nice repair.” He didn’t sound worried, although he did add there is some blood flowing back from the pulmonary artery into the right ventricle. Due to his receiving a distracting phone call, I wasn’t able to ask for more information about the seriousness of or the possible treatment for this problem. Sara’s medicine remains unchanged, and she was invited to come back in one-and-a-half weeks for her next follow-up echo.

As we were heading to the playground by the ward, which has became our meeting place for the last few days with our Kurdish families, Sara started to slowly feel better again.

And soon after the playground, she was already wandering through the ward cheering up little ones and best friends who needed encouragement.

What a sweet personality she has. It’s an honor to be her “bigger sister.” 

First Follow-Up Echo

Posted on Mon, 04/07/2014 - 21:53 by Miriam Svensson

Today I accompanied Sara and her mother back to Wolfson Hospital for a follow-up echocardiogram. After getting her files at the children's ward, Sara led the way to the echo room. We sat down to wait outside together with several mothers and children from various countries. Eventually it was Sara's turn to go in.

The ultrasound examination was performed mainly to ensure the amount of fluid around Sara’s heart and lungs has not increased. The doctor told us everything looks good. There is still a little fluid left, but less than the day before. With this happy news, we left the echo room and spent some time with the other families in the children's ward.

We continue to praise the Lord for His good works in this beautiful, young girl.

The Strength of Sara

Posted on Sun, 04/06/2014 - 20:45 by Aaron Meyer

Today was truly a day that the “Lord hath made!” With Sara leading the way, we returned from the hospital and entered the Shevet courtyard, Sara’s steps taken like a champion returning from a glorious victory. Her smile beamed brightly in the noon-day sun, as its rays gently kissed her face and rejuvenated her every passing moment. It seemed to me this day the “Lord hath made” was designed specifically for our sweet Sara as a gift to her from our Father.

We found out today Sara would be returning home with us after only six days of recovery from the surgery she had last week. When she shared the news with us, her relief to leave the hospital was apparent. Praise the Lord for the strength He has given her! Tomorrow she will return for a follow-up heart echo, but for tonight she rests peacefully in her own bed back on the Shevet base.

This was the first time I met Sara, and I must say it was truly a privilege. She has a caring and loving heart, and I enjoyed watching as she brought smile after smile to little Dyako’s face during our time at the hospital. 

Sara blessed me with many other wonderful memories this afternoon as well. As I sit here thinking back on them, I can’t help but smile. One event occurred while we were walking back from the cafeteria. I had just learned it only took her six days to recover enough to return home, so I looked over at her, patted my bicep, and said, “Sara, you are strong, very strong.”  Her response was not through words (as I do not know Kurdish), but merely through a huge, joy-filled smile. The moment was simple enough, yet it reached deep inside me, reminding me of God’s eternal love for His children. Through His grace and strength, He has given Sara the ability to continue to share that contagious and beautiful smile!

Later as Sara and I shared a small table as a seat, I pulled out my iPad and opened up a game (Bejeweled, for all you avid players out there). I then matched three colors in a row to show her how to play, and she instantly continued connecting the colors with a glowing smile. Every move made correctly drew out a child’s giggle from her, which in turn brought out a giggle of my own. It was a moment probably considered ordinary in the U.S., but on this day in this place with this precious little girl, it became a timeless memory forever etched in my mind. I find her laughter and smile have that memory-altering effect.

Thank you, Father, for this day You have made.

A Milestone Each Day

Posted on Wed, 04/02/2014 - 22:52 by Ruth Zellweger

It was such a pleasant surprise to find Sara in the secondary ICU when Miriam and I visited her yesterday. She was talking, smiling, drinking water, and enjoying the time with her visitors, including her dear friend Rozhgar. Later that evening the hospital called and informed us it was necessary to insert another chest tube into Sara. The reason was not to drain excessive fluid but instead to deal with pneumothorax (a condition where there is an abnormal collection of air or gas in the pleural space separating the lungs from the chest wall). 

Early this morning we went again to Wolfson Hospital for Rozhgar’s surgery, as well as to see how Dyako and Sara were doing. I happened to enter the secondary ICU just as an echo was performed on Sara. The results were satisfying. Only a little fluid is left around her heart and lungs.

After three hours of fasting and a chest x-ray, Sara’s fluid-draining chest tube (not the one inserted for the pneumothorax) was removed, and Sara was cleared to move to the children’s ward! This was exciting news. Within only two days, Sara has moved from the operating room to the ICU to the secondary ICU to the normal children’s ward. Her healing thus far has been incredible.

Sara’s happy mother (and Rozhgar’s mother as well) tried to make Sara as comfortable as possible in her bed.

Later in the afternoon, Shannon joined our little group. She had been observing Rozhgar’s surgery, and Sara wanted to see all the pictures Shannon had taken. We spent an hour together until it was time to return to Jerusalem. Behind us we left two happy mothers and a tired Sara, who is doing astoundingly well.

What an amazing recovery! God has answered our prayers for healing and a quick recovery in grander ways than we have expected or even dared to ask for. Even though Sara is weak and still needs the chest tube treating her pneumothorax, her speedy recovery is a gift from God. A milestone is happening each day. What more could we ask for?

Rapidly Recovering

Posted on Tue, 04/01/2014 - 22:02 by Miriam Svensson

When we arrived at Wolfson Hospital today, we received the good news of Sara’s transfer to the secondary ICU. Her mother greeted us with smiles and accompanied us in to see her.

Sara looked a bit tired but amazingly well considering it has been only one day since her operation. She has been extubated and is breathing nicely with the help of a little oxygen. Her throat is sore after the intubation, but upon seeing us she smiled and seemed happy to see us.

Soon after our arrival, Rozhgar come in to see Sara, and it was lovely to watch the two friends kiss and chat together.

They laughed and posed willingly for pictures.

I was glad they had this opportunity to encourage each other. The thought came to my mind it is because Rozhgar's operation has been delayed that they had a chance to meet today. It's beautiful how God makes all things work together for good. 

Please pray with us for Sara's recovery to continue smoothly.


Posted on Mon, 03/31/2014 - 23:45 by Co-authored

Kelsey Cannon shares her experience with Sara's surgery below:

I have never seen someone so excited for their heart surgery before. 7 AM found myself and two other Shevet volunteers sitting in a waiting room with Sara and her mother while Sara casually joked about her impending surgery and liberally gave of her affections through kisses, hugs, and smiles. 

Kristina had the insight to observe it seemed as though Sara was psyching herself up for the biggest race of her young life. And indeed the more we sat there, and the more I observed her genuine enthusiasm and bravery, the more I sensed she was ready for this big step.  

Before she could burst with anticipation, Sara was wheeled off to begin her surgery. I had the immense honor and privilege of holding her hand and joking with her all the way into the operating room. Much to my surprise and admiration, this young woman didn’t flinch at all as the surgical team began their prep work. She was even smiling all the way up until the anesthesia put her to sleep. 

Over the next four hours, I was also able to watch the surgeons at the Wolfson Medical Center complete a full repair of her heart defect(s) - Tetralogy of Fallot. 

As I seemed to be the only one in the room watching instead of doing something, I decided to do what Sara had asked me to do earlier this morning: take lots of pictures and video clips. Below are a few captured moments of Sara’s heart surgery:

Throughout the procedure, I was amazed at the respect, dignity, gentleness, and precision with which the staff treated Sara. Once learning I volunteered for Shevet Achim and was familiar with Sara’s life, some asked for a confirmation that she was, in fact, from Iraq. After the affirmation she was, there were nods of acknowledgement all around and almost a redoubling, it seemed, of the efforts put toward the task at hand. I was truly touched by the value they placed on Sara’s precious life, regardless of any political or social animosity existing between their home country and hers. The differences which might exist between their respective backgrounds might as well have been a world away. In the operating room and throughout the entire hospital it was simply neighbors loving and taking care of neighbors. Witnessing this level of love cannot leave one unchanged. 

SV shares her side of the surgery day below:

Over the course of the surgery, Sara’s mom was brave during the entire time of waiting.

She seemed worried but calm at the same time. It helped to have the support of all of us there, comforting her when she had tears in her eyes.

While we waited, we had a great time enjoying each other’s company. Time flew by, until suddenly it was time to go outside of the ICU and wait for Sara. Soon after we arrived, the surgeon came to tell us the surgery went well with no complications and Sarah was doing great.

We waited about one hour after we got the news until we saw Sara coming through the hallway straight to the ICU.

We were so impressed with her vitals, which appeared to be normal! She also looked beautiful and was showing some movement in her arms and legs. If she continues to remain stable, the medical staff might extubate her tomorrow.

It was beautiful to see the support of Rozhgar and her mom to Sara during this time. They were there during every single step of her admission and surgery. It’s impressive to see how much love Sara and Rozhgar have for each other, knowing they are going through almost the same process of a life-changing surgery. They have become good friends, and this friendship will help both of them recover even faster.

Sara’s heart underwent a beautiful repair. She has her devoted mother at her side and the support of Rozhgar and Rozhgar’s mother. Let us all rejoice and thank God for this beautiful gift of healing in Sara’s life, and we pray her recovery will be as smooth as possible. Please join us in prayer for her healing!