Yousif's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

Joy in Abundance

Posted on Sun, 11/02/2014 - 21:13 by Ruth Zellweger

While reflecting on our recent visit with Yousif's family in Kurdistan, I scrolled down his old blog entries and one attribute of little Yousif comes up over and over again: his never-ending joy. Yousif has impacted our lives in many ways, and he and his father are beloved members of our Shevet family. Over the past months we regularly skyped with them, and as soon the word would spread that Yousif was online, most of our volunteers would gather in the office.

We would then sing his favorite song with him, which goes like this:  "My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there is nothing my God cannot do...". Most of us have learned to sing this song in Kurdish, including the motions that go along. And it is always a delight to see our little friend joining in.

Jonathan, Sophie, Krisitina and I were picked up by a relative of Yousif's family, who took us to their house, which is surrounded by beautiful nature. When we arrived we were greeted by Yousif, comfortably in his mother’s arms, and followed closely by his father. Even though we had planned to leave after a few hours, we decided to stay for the night, which gave us more time to spend with the family.

It is obvious how much Yousif is loved by his parents and siblings. He is an important and valued part of their family. When you see this precious boy so full of life and joy, you automatically want to join in with him. He is full of crazy ideas and keeps his family busy; one cannot simply leave him alone. Since we last saw him, he started walking! With the same strength and determination, he continues to grab things and throw them as far as he can.

He is strong-headed, wild, still missing his front teeth, loves his little brother Fawzi to pieces, and has the cutest smile ever.

Yousif's mother and sisters prepared a special meal for us, which was delicious and beautifully arranged. This family received us with great warmth and hospitality. While Kristina and I had to excuse ourselves to rest a little bit, Sophie spent time with Yousif's older sister who showed her some of the sights of their village. The next morning, we all had breakfast, which included honey from their own bees! When we prepared to leave, all of their family came outside to bid us farewell.

Each of us hugged and kissed Yousif one more time, and then we waved goodbye, as the car slowly left the village. We thank God for the beautiful work He has done in Yousif's life. He is a shining example of living life to its fullest, and has taught me to enjoy the moment. May he never lose this special character trait!

Revisiting a Joyous Heart

Posted on Tue, 04/01/2014 - 22:32 by John M.

On March 25th, Milly and John traveled to visit Yousif for a post-surgery check-up at his home village, which rests between the high walls of Kurdistan’s mountains. Yousif had been home for three weeks after his return from surgery.

As we drove over one mountain range and traveled down across a valley, we took a picture of the beautiful landscape. 

Later we found out from Yousif’s father the area used to host a Jewish population. The village bears the name “Holy” in one of the local languages spoken by the Jewish people who once lived there and still spoken today by Iraqi Christians.

Upon our arrival at Yousif's home, we were greeted by two parents and a family happy to see us. 

We played a small role in comparison to all our friends and partners at Shevet who helped Yousif receive his heart surgery (and dental repair too), but his family blessed us anyway with their friendship and lavish portions of food. They prepared a great feast as a sign of their gratefulness for all who took care of their son.

Yousif’s uncle also showed us kindness by giving us a ride to and from the village.

As you can see, Yousif looks swollen due to one of the medications he is taking. 

While we were visiting, we checked with medical staff at Shevet and with Yousif’s local doctor on how his healing process is going. Overall he is doing well, and his local doctor plans to gradually take him off his swelling-inducing medication.

At one of the most scenic spots in Iraqi-Kurdistan, Yousif’s father requested we take a picture of him with his son and send it to Kristina and friends at Shevet Achim. 

We thank God for Yousif’s life, his repaired teeth, his heart, and all God’s provisions through partners and donors to save his life. The boy who came from a mountain village called ‘Holy’ is well on the road to full health.          

“For the word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does [. . .] In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in You” (Psalm 33:4, 21-22).

An Ode to Joy

Posted on Sun, 03/02/2014 - 23:52 by Philip Rasmussen

Before I began typing this farewell blog, I quickly skimmed through all the previous blog updates on Yousif, which made me smile, laugh, and take deep breaths. You don’t need to see many pictures to realize Yousif’s personality is one of extraordinarily-striking charisma! I think this can be seen by simply watching his whole face radiate delight. Yousif’s life stands as a testimony and example to all of us.

Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep from experience. God has been faithful to Yousif, who in his weak stage of health could have been neglected. When Yousif's case was first presented to two different cardiologists, both agreed he was inoperable due to his age, type of diagnosis, and high risk for serious post-surgery complications. These facts were taken into consideration, but it was decided to get one more opinion. It was then determined Yousif still had a window of time in which his heart could be preserved. Moreover, the benefits of surgery appeared to outweigh the risks. In the light of his story, we are reminded of our Lord’s pursuit of invaluable lives.

Interestingly enough, we saw this kind of love displayed between Yousif and his earthly father. 

We observed how his father had an almost unbelievable amount of patience. Prior to coming to Israel, Yousif’s father did not perhaps fully foresee the amount of work and responsibility required to care for his son over the ten weeks they were with us. But not only did he have patience, he powerfully showed goodness and love towards Yousif over and over again. I clearly remember a time when Yousif was awakening from his general anesthesia and was crying. The only thing that could stop his tears was when his father bowed down and held his head towards Yousif’s head while enveloping Yousif in his arms. The love between father and son was evident. In fact the only word Yousif can say is ‘baba’—‘father.’ ‘Baba’ was heard all over the house throughout Yousif’s stay at Shevet, whether in times of excitement or anxiety.

Yousif and his dad lived in our staff living quarters and shared life with us.

They ate meals with us, cooked for all of us, saw us working in the kitchen, joined in card games, celebrated Christmas with us, etc. Yousif is a smart boy and quickly picked up the tradition of holding hands in thanksgiving before a meal.

His cheerful and humorous behavior gave us many good times. Ever since he came, he was generous with blowing kisses, and after his surgery he apparently found himself able to add some extra charm to his wind-blown smooches. Every time he blew kisses, he would also blow bubbles, letting spit fall down his chin.

Countless times Yousif scooted into our dining room to join in whatever was going on. He sought fellowship and gained energy from us all, which was wonderful to see in such a young boy. He became a little brother to many of us—a very energetic little brother. He always seemed on the move. Every now and then, though, there was an exception to the rule.

We were glad to celebrate this family and all the good times we shared together at their farewell party on the eve of their travel to Kurdistan. Yousif was in high spirits the whole evening, bouncing, clapping his hands, blowing kisses, and throwing things around. Many volunteers shared their love for Yousif and his father and their gratefulness for Yousif’s against-all-odds, healthy heart. It was a sweet time, and Yousif received the many presents with awestruck eyes.

Early the next morning, we all gathered in the courtyard to pray with Yousif and his father and say our goodbyes.

Yousif’s father took the whole stack of tissues out of a volunteer’s hand as he let go of his emotions during the farewell and while getting in the van. This was an emotional side of the father we saw often, and we pray that God will work through this man's precious, sentimental heart. We hope to follow Yousif’s future steps through the wonders of Skype, and we send out our thanks to all of those who have contributed in prayer and support to Yousif’s heart surgery and recovery. It has been amazing to see his financial and health needs met! Praise be to the One who has created Yousif and who will take care of him. Amen.

One Last Visit

Posted on Sun, 02/23/2014 - 22:57 by Kyle Carlson

Today Yousif went to Sheba Medical Center for his final echo to determine whether or not he is well enough to travel home. Yousif has had an amazing recovery thus far and continues to grow in strength everyday. His joy has the uncanny ability to light up the room and put a smile on everyone’s face. It is safe to say he has captured each volunteer’s heart here at Shevet.

Yousif had an EKG before his final echo.

Like all children, he doesn’t enjoy the doctor’s office. The wonderful staff at Sheba, however, did a great job comforting Yousif as they performed these crucial tests.

After his EKG, Yousif transferred rooms for his echo. The exam results were extremely encouraging. The doctor said Yousif was doing well enough to go home! This news was music to the ears of Yousif’s father, and put a big smile on his face. He has gone from watching his son go through an intense and critical heart surgery to seeing him well on his way to a complete recovery!

After hearing such wonderful news, it was time to celebrate. We had a few hours to spare, so we headed for the beach. It was smiles and laughter from the time Yousif felt the sand between his toes to the moment we left.

Yousif’s imminent departure is bittersweet news for many here at Shevet Achim. Much of a volunteer’s heart is invested in each and every child and family coming through Shevet Achim, and we all grew used to seeing Yousif’s smiling face every day and hearing his voice throughout the halls.

When a child returns home from Shevet, though, it means they had a successful surgery and recovery, and that makes everything we do and feel worth every minute. Today we are thankful for Yousif’s health and for the last few months we’ve had with him. He has been a joy to us all.

Above is Yousif’s name in Kurdish, carved in the sand by his father. In the distance near the water, stands Yousif’s dad. He is incredible and worthy of special mention. He cares so much for his son Yousif, as shown by his day-to-day love and attention. He spends every hour of every day with his son, leaving no time for himself, and he does this with a smile on his face and without any complaining. Yousif has a loving family waiting for him back home and an abundant life ahead of him! 

Happy and Healing

Posted on Mon, 02/17/2014 - 19:38 by Agnes Bruna

It was a privilege (and fun) to go with Yousif and his dad to Sheba Hospital for Yousif's first post-surgery echo. Yousif was happy and bouncy during the journey; he especially liked us waving (and Philip using his horn) when we passed the other Shevet van going to Wolfson Hospital. He fell asleep shortly before we got to the hospital, much like his father and Philip did while waiting in the hospital.

Yousif loved playing in the soft-play waiting area.

Even in the short time I’ve seen him after his surgery, he seems to be getting increasingly more confident, especially physically. I love his shuffling around on his bottom (his prefered method of movement), and I see him getting faster every day.

As he was called in for his ECG and oxygen level check, however, he was not so pleased. I think it takes a lot of trust to step into these echo exams, especially for one so little who cannot always understand what is going to happen. It was lovely to see his father’s love and comfort during this time.

It was a wonderful picture of how our relationship with our Heavenly Father can be when we trust Him during life’s difficulties—He always comforts us when we turn to Him. Luckily the ECG did not hurt Yousif, except for a little bit when the nurse took the stickers off.

Yousif was well-behaved during his echo, thanks to Philip’s distracting singing! The doctor seemed pleased with his recovery and even asked when we would like him to go home. Hopefully, if his recovery keeps progressing the way it does, next week could hold his last echo before he goes home. Let’s keep praying for his complete healing, though we will miss his happy, little face terribly when he leaves.

Discharged Joyfully!

Posted on Fri, 02/07/2014 - 16:51 by Shannon Kelley

Just five days after his surgery, Yousif has been discharged from the hospital! The Lord's hand was over all of the details today, as the discharge papers and necessary medications were in hand almost as soon as we arrived to pick him up. We sang “My God is So Big” to Yousif while we waited for one last document, and Yousif's joyful smile beamed as he joined in with clapping.

After waving goodbye to the hospital, Yousif spent the van ride home to Jerusalem peacefully napping. Needless to say, the Shevet community is blessed to welcome Yousif and his father back to the house, and we pray God will continue the great work He's begun in Yousif's life.

From Purple to Pink

Posted on Wed, 02/05/2014 - 23:05 by Sarah Powell

Today we entered the ICU in search of Yousif and were told he was not there anymore. We gladly moved toward the secondary ICU, expecting to find him there, but once again he was nowhere to be seen. In the end, we finally found him in a regular children's ward room, only three days after his surgery!

When we arrived, Yousif was fast asleep, but his father was so excited to see us that he eagerly woke Yousif up.

Little Yousif's grumpy morning face quickly turned to a smile as we began to sing his favorite song, and throughout the rest of our visit he freely gave out smiles.

He even attempted several times to throw the toys we presented to him, which proves he is getting back to his old self quite nicely.

We were all amazed at how his little fingers, once a dark purple before his surgery, are now vibrantly pink and oxygen-filled.

His oxygen saturation was hovering around 97% while we were there and even went up to 100% for several minutes. It is so beautiful to see the way Yousif is healing. Please join us in continuing to pray for his full recovery and thanking God for sustaining his sweet life. 

Yousif's Steady Road to Recovery

Posted on Mon, 02/03/2014 - 22:26 by Becky Lantz

It was a bright, sunny day as the families packed up the vans on 29 Prophets Street and headed towards warm, breezy Tel Aviv. After dropping off the families at Wolfson to have a few child echoes done, Philip, Sophie and I headed towards Sheba to visit our little buddy Yousif after his heart surgery yesterday. The three of us were excited to see how he was doing as we made our way to the hospital. After making a long ascent through the parking garage to the pediatric ward, we finally arrived to the sight of Yousif’s dad awaiting our arrival.

I was touched by his response when I asked him how he was. He mouthed the words, “Bashi,” which means good in Kurdish, but I could tell he was holding back tears. It was clear he was thankful to see a few familiar faces in an unfamiliar place. It seemed like such a small thing for us to visit his son, and yet when one feels alone the presence of others can mean more than words can say.

As I walked into the ICU, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw Yousif. I turned the corner and saw him lying on a bed with his dad standing nearby. I walked toward him and called out his name, and he looked up with a huge, toothless grin on his face.

One of my favorite things about Yousif is his smile, not just because of how cute it is, but also because it can light up a room or lighten the load of any stranger.

At one point his dad left and a nurse came in to draw blood, which made him panic a little. He clearly didn’t like having his dad absent, so Sophie and I tried to distract him by singing his favorite Kurdish song, “My God is so Big.”

His favorite part is the clapping at the end, and after three rousing renditions he seemed to calm down a little until his dad returned.

Yousif is on the road to recovery. His dad told us he had some milk the night before, which is a good sign of improvement. While the surgery went well, however, Yousif is still in a tenuous place, and his recovery will be a long process. Please continue to keep him in your prayers. Please also pray for his dad to find peace in this time of waiting for his son’s recovery and for the Lord to reveal Himself to this family as the ultimate Healer of all things.

Yousif's Big Day

Posted on Sun, 02/02/2014 - 22:15 by Nick Boyum

Morning dawned over a gloomy, overcast Tel Aviv sky as Yousif's father waited in anxious anticipation. The biggest day in his son's life had finally arrived. This was the day skilled doctors would attempt a complicated AV canal repair in little Yousif's heart. Nick, Kristina, and volunteer Yousif arrived at Sheba around 7 am and were welcomed by little Yousif's grumpy cries echoing down the otherwise quiet and dark halls of the ward.

His mood and hairdo suggested he was not happy to see us, but as he warmed up to being awake, he was back to throwing everything handed to him in no time! In a short while, a nurse came in to do his morning checkup, and the first of many tears emerged. We all got the impression Yousif knew something big was happening. He was calm between spurts of tears brought on by nurses and doctors suddenly surrounding him, and minutes later he was in the surgery ward playing happily on his new, favorite plastic horse.

More tears came as doctors made preparations to take him into surgery. The anticipation was building, and everyone was softly pushing back Yousif's hair and laying empathetic arms around his father's shoulders. Finally the moment came. After placing a soft kiss on his son's forehead, his father watched through tears as his son disappeared behind the pre-op doors in the loving arms of a small crowd of doctors.

The previous vacuum of anticipation was replaced by waiting, followed by more waiting. It was astounding how calm Yousif’s father remained. He promptly reached into his bag and began preparing us all tea and coffee; his hospitality in the midst of the uncertainty was inspiring. We shared the operation waiting room with one other family, with whom we quickly became friends. Exchanging cookies, sweets, and small talk alike, it was clear Yousif’s father felt comforted by sharing this experience with others.

Although few words were exchanged, it meant everything to him to have others at his side. 

After many hours passed, a doctor stepped in to announce the other family's child's surgery was finished. We all shared smiles and handshakes, and they disappeared through the doors. Soon after, the long-awaited moment arrived: Doctor Mishali himself came in to announce Yousif's surgery was a success, repairing both the AV canal and the large hole in his heart. The relief on Yousif’s father’s face filled the room, and we followed Yousif's hospital bed through the halls down to the ICU, where he was to spend the night.

Our last stop of the day was little Yousif's bedside in the ICU.

He was still under the influence of the anesthesia, but we all felt a great sense of peace watching his soft, steady breathing and listening to the machines beep cheerfully along at the tempo of his new heart, which was busy satiating his deprived blood vessels with fresh, oxygenated blood.

Praise God, who has delivered into this beautiful boy's chest a fully-repaired mechanism of healing and love! Thank you all of those who interceded diligently on Yousif's behalf in prayer, and please continue to keep him in your prayers, as he has many difficult days of recovery ahead of him.

Yousif Admitted for Surgery With Tears

Posted on Sat, 02/01/2014 - 10:00 by Kristina Kayser

Just as the final light of Shabbat gave way to the cooler colors of dusk, our community gathered in the old stone courtyard.

It was time to send our dear Yousif and his father on their way to the hospital. After nearly six weeks of waiting, Yousif now finds himself on the eve of his heart operation. 

Earlier this week, Sheba's chief surgeon, Dr. Mishali, informed us an AV canal repair carries a 4-7% risk for mortality. The doctor stated while the surgery itself is not very complicated, Yousif is at risk for a complication called pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs) due to his age and Down Syndrome. His previous echocardiograms and catheterization, nevertheless, confirm surgery would be beneficial. 

Yousif's father has been mentally and emotionally processing this decision over the last weeks and days. He is a quiet, contemplative man who possesses a tender heart. As volunteers and other Kurdish families surrounded them in prayer last night, he did not hide the tears streaming down his cheeks. This man loves his son deeply. Everyone in our community has grown to love and care for him and his son as well.

Our prayers were lifted in faith, believing the Messiah is able to bring healing and life to Yousif. As we continue to intercede for Yousif, may our hearts cling to this truth of which the psalmist wrote, "I will lift up my eyes to the hills—from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2).

Ruth and Marisa accompanied Yousif and his father to Sheba Medical Center this evening to admit them into the cardiology department. Another team of volunteers will be on hand Sunday for Yousif's surgery, and we ask that you stand with us in prayer and hope.