Yousif's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

Yousif Advances Towards Heart Surgery

Posted on Tue, 01/28/2014 - 00:06 by Philip Rasmussen

Yousif has been with us for nearly six weeks. Before leaving Kurdistan, his father believed he and his son would be back home by this time. Due to delays, a busy hospital, and his complicated physical condition, however, Yousif’s heart surgery has still not taken place. One such complication which had to be overcome before his surgery can take place was Yousif’s dental state. The cardiologists saw his poor dental health and ordered him to get his teeth fixed before heart surgery. It was towards this surgery that Kristina, baby Yousif and his father, and I headed just before sunrise this morning.

On our way there we prayed together for healing and protection for Yousif and read different psalms out loud. One of them was Psalm 113, where it says, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!”

It was a good reminder for us to start our day with-to praise Him who is worth all praise. The sun had just started rising around the time we heard these words, and little Yousif was resting in his Creator’s sunshine.

Upon arriving at the hospital, we waited for an hour and a half before Yousif was taken in and given general anesthesia.

His father was calm but clearly worried after having left his son in the operation room. For quite a while he went down to the end of the hallway and simply stood there looking out the window. Later though, we went outside to sit in a green area for a good hour and talked about our families. We were accompanied by a lot of bees, and our conversation turned to the subject of these small, flying animals. Here we discovered something new about our friend from Kurdistan: he is a beekeeper! He shared with us his wealth of knowledge about bees and honey.

After a while the dental surgeon came to tell us everything went successfully and we could come in and see Yousif. When we entered the recovery room, Yousif was slowly waking up from his anesthesia. He was crying and restless, and blood was coming out from his mouth. Though this seemed like something was wrong, we were assured it was a good sign of his coming out of the anesthesia without any complications. It was quite the operation for little Yousif. He had ten tooth extractions and four silver crowns implanted due to severe tooth decay and infection, and the whole surgery was considered high-risk because of the combination of his heart defect and the general anesthesia administered. Praise God that everything went smoothly. 

We started singing songs for little Yousif, and surprisingly he would stop his deep mourning whenever we sang. We sang his favorite song “Our God is So Great,” a song he recognized immediately and began making hand movements to. We also sang “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.”

Yousif was transferred to an observation room in the cardiac children’s ward for an expected overnight stay in order to have his recovery monitored.

He was still irritable and would fall in and out of sleep, but at one point he suddenly woke up and didn’t start crying. Instead we saw the first smile on his face since before the operation, which served to assure us that Yousif had not changed at all after his operation. He was easy and joyful once again.

When the doctors saw how well he was doing, we were told we could bring him back to Jerusalem this same day. We headed back home after a beautiful sunset, which reminded us yet again of the verse in Psalm 113. We have had plenty of reasons to praise God for His faithfulness throughout this day.

Disappointment Turned to Joy

Posted on Mon, 01/20/2014 - 22:20 by Kristina Kayser

Life at Shevet is constantly subject to change, due in part to uncertain hospital schedules and medical conditions. And while change is a reality that often presents itself with challenges, it can also be the catalyst for unexpected joy. For Shevet volunteer Philip and I, along with Yousif and his father, today was a day in which just such a joy was experienced.

Our group set out early this morning for Sheba Medical Center for Yousif's long awaited, high-risk yet necessary dental surgery. Yousif was in good spirits, creating a pleasant atmosphere in the car with his smiles and exuberance.

When we arrived at the dental clinic, all was in order for his procedure. Then as some time passed, we were told to expect at least an hour delay. Hoping to help ease any hunger pangs Yousif was feeling from his required fast, we tried to distract him with bubbles, games, and walking the hallways.

In turn, Yousif engaged other people sitting in the lounge by throwing his toy their way or sending them a friendly wave. The delay stretched into two hours, and our little friend grew tired of waiting.

One observation I made is that this boy is blessed with a patient and gentle father. He may be outside his comfort zone in being the primary caretaker for his son right now, but he is doing an excellent job of ensuring Yousif is not only provided for, but loved. The affection he demonstrates toward his son is equally reciprocated when Yousif wraps his arms around his father and holds him tight.

Finally the dentist emerged to bring us word that Yousif would not have his dental surgery today. Complications from a surgery earlier this morning had arisen, not leaving enough time to safely continue with Yousif. There is still hope, however, that another date this week can be arranged. When I began to translate this information to Yousif's father, I expected deep disappointment and the need for consolation. Instead this man's first question was, "So, Yousif can eat now?!" He was so happy and ready to prepare food for his son after thirteen hours of fasting. And with hardly a pause his next question was, "Since we're here, can we go to the beach?" What a wonderful idea! 

Leaving the city's cement jungle behind, we set our sights on the Mediterranean's balmy coastline.

Sunshine, turquoise waters, and a picnic lunch created the perfect recipe for a lovely afternoon. This was the first time Yousif and his father had ever seen the sea. Not one minute was wasted as each of us relished in God's creation. Yousif, small as he is, seemed undaunted by the crashing waves.

He also made a new Israeli friend, quite quickly I might add, and greeted her with a hug.

The sea, among other things, is a great place to be refreshed and gain perspective. Today was a striking reminder that God's love is vaster than the deepest ocean and that in the midst of change, His love is constant. Here are a few more pictures from our day to enjoy!

In and Out

Posted on Wed, 01/08/2014 - 19:29 by Nick Boyum

Today little Yousif was discharged following his catheterization and over-night stay at Sheba Hospital. Shevet volunteers Nick and Ruth walked into the ward as Yousif and his father were walking out, discharge papers in hand! This immaculate timing afforded the group a couple moments of relaxation in the food court, where Yousif practiced one of his new talents: winking. And not more than a wink later we were all back on Prophet's Street in Jerusalem! Please continue to pray for a surgery opening soon for Yousif. 

"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him..." (Psalm 37:7).

On the Way

Posted on Tue, 01/07/2014 - 22:10 by Philip Rasmussen

We arrived at Wolfson just in time for part of our crew to see Yousif and his father before Yousif was rolled into the cath room. The father went in to be at his son’s side as the anesthesia started working. He was clearly moved when he eventually had to leave his son.

He pulled out his newly-acquired tablet, though, and Skyped his family back home in Kurdistan while he waited. His family members seem to have good relationships amongst each other. Being away from his wife and six other children is tough on him, but he is a strong father. 

After the father talked with his family, we all sat down and had lunch together - a primitive meal containing some pita bread, cheese, and hummus. It could definitely have been more luxurious, but for a day like today the simple way of sharing everything together and having fellowship in the center seemed just right. 

A good one and a half hours later, the door opened, and we saw sweet, little Yousif getting rolled into the secondary ICU.

Many doctors and nurses were around him during the first ten minutes, which caused the father to worry a little bit, but we were soon told everything went very well. Yousif’s stomach and chest were working hard and moving a lot while the anesthesia was still in his body. He cried after he began to wake up and was unhappy about all the different items attached to him. The only thing that could stop him from crying was when his father bowed down and held his head towards Yousif’s head while enveloping Yousif in his arms. It is evident the father loves his son, and that Yousif likewise loves his dad. In fact the only word Yousif can say is ‘baba’—‘father.’

Yousif’s father is grateful for a smooth procedure and said he was happy to have finally begun the treatment process. “Now there are hopefully only two big things left,” he said, referring to Yousif’s future dental surgery and heart surgery. 

We had to wait for a bit as one of our other children was taken in for an echocardiogram. When we returned to Yousif’s bed a little later, we found him in his normally cheerful mood. He was sending big smiles to all of us. If you ever meet Yousif, there is an easy way to make him smile: just start clapping your hands. He loves it! 

We hope to bring Yousif and his father back to the Shevet base here in Jerusalem tomorrow. I think I speak on behalf of all of us when I say we miss the joy Yousif’s presence adds to our household. Thank you, Lord, for sustaining Yousif and his dad this day, both physically and mentally!

First Steps

Posted on Mon, 01/06/2014 - 22:34 by Philip Rasmussen
Yousif was born with a complicated heart defect, and there are, therefore, several steps to go through before his big heart surgery. One of them is the very reason why we went to Sheba Medical Center today. The doctors would like to have him catheterized so they can get a good idea of how Yousif’s heart looks. Today we admitted him for his catheterization, which is scheduled for tomorrow morning. But the first thing we did today was to go see an anesthesiologist in the dental department who took a look at Yousif and his physical condition. Yousif’s teeth are in a poor state and need to be taken good care of before he can go through a difficult heart operation. It is great to see that the dental staff take Yousif’s case very seriously and want to be prepared as much as possible. We are still waiting to hear from them about a date for his dental surgery. 
Not only is Yousif a special case from a medical perspective, but he is truly a special, enjoyable boy, who every single medical worker we have interacted with today has shown great love and care for. And Yousif knows how to make friends, whether by sending cute smiles or getting loudly excited with big arm movements. He continued his good behavior the rest of the day, which we spent in the pediatric department. We ended up waiting three and a half hours for one of the wards to clear up a place for Yousif and his father to stay in. Thanks to God, good weather, and an always cheerful little Yousif, we managed to pass the waiting time with heads lifted high, though the waiting was very unexpected. I admire Yousif’s father’s steady love and patience with his son. Though he several times told me how exhausting and what a big challenge it is to be primary caregiver, I always saw a calm father caring for him. During our waiting time the father found out that a pencil cap could be used as a whistle – to great fun for both father and son.
Finally the ward were ready to receive us, and Yousif and his father were installed in a room together with an Arab family that we have come to know during our visits the last weeks. So I’m sure they will be in good hands. Please pray with us for continued patience for Yousif’s father and a smooth cath procedure.

The Value of a Life

Posted on Thu, 01/02/2014 - 22:28 by Ruth Zellweger

Going for a walk with our dog Shevie is usually an adventure. She attracts people, and you never know who will stop you when you walk by. There are people who comment on her beauty. Others ask her gender and race. But most of all people enjoy her playful and loving behavior. One lady in particular knelt down for a few minutes and then embraced Shevie tightly. In these moments I often think Shevie is far more than just a dog we found and took in–she is a friend and a blessing for anyone who needs love and attention, including baby Yousif.

Even though it means additional work and expenses, we would not trade Shevie for anything. 

Today Shevet volunteer Philip and I had the honor of accompanying little Yousif to his dental assessment at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv. Yousif's father was well prepared and ready, and we left Jerusalem without any delays. The father understands the importance of Yousif’s dental treatment prior to open heart surgery, but he also knows this treatment will extend Yousif's time in Israel for several weeks. He was happy, however, to see work on Yousif begin. 

At the hospital we waited for half an hour, during which Yousif won the hearts of the people around him almost immediately.

Who can possibly resist his open, cheerful smile or his games of peek-a-boo or him waving his little arm for good-bye. Even grumpy or somber-looking people cannot help but return a smile. During the dental assessment, however, Yousif lost his smile and cried loudly.

But the experienced dentist didn't need much time to get all the necessary information. Eight of Yousif's teeth will have to be pulled, others will need a filling, and the back teeth will have to be covered with crowns. Yousif quickly calmed down once the assessment was over and once he felt safe in his father's arms. 

Before we returned to Jerusalem, the men had lunch together while I went to the administration office to have the costs for the dental surgery calculated. When I heard the estimated amount, I had to catch my breath for a moment. It will be a great additional expense. 

On our way home I was reflecting on all the things I had observed and heard today. I realized that, for most people in Israel, Yousif must be a rare sight. There are hardly any children in Israel with Down Syndrome, since Israel has one of the highest abortion rates in the world and often offers abortions free of charge. I recalled the waiting time and how Yousif approached the people around him. He was not demanding special attention, just freely sharing his love and his smile with people. And they responded. It was beautiful to watch the transformation taking place in their faces.

Throughout his life Yousif will be in need of special care and attendance. He probably will never be able to live on his own. One could ask if the investment in Yousif's healthcare is a waste. There is only one answer: NO! His life is precious in the eyes of his family as well as in ours. He deserves the best care possible. But most important of all, it is God, Yousif's Creator, who puts a great value on his life. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows(Matthew 10:29-31). 

Both Yousif and Shevie have a special place in my heart. My life would be so much poorer without them. And so I am very thankful for the times I can spend with them.

May there be many more to come. 

Yousif's First Check-Up

Posted on Tue, 12/24/2013 - 23:12 by Marisa Schindler

Yousif just arrived in Israel last week, but he already had his first check up at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv today. Although we faced a long waiting time for all his appointments, Yousif’s presence brought so much joy into our situation. He loved smiling and exploring the whole hospital playground. The slide especially was his favorite activity, besides sitting in a toy house screaming and laughing loudly.

I noticed too that Yousif's dad always brought security and comfort to him. In his father's arms or even sitting next to him brought a big smile on Yousif's face.

Only at the electrocardiogram did Yousif’s joyful manner turn into a loud but short cry to show us he wasn’t amused at all with the EKG. He also liked to throw things around. He threw his sock right away into the nurse’s face. She couldn’t hold back her laughter and said, 'This is the first patient who threw something on me.' At that moment all Yousif's tears stopped, and he smiled again while everyone else laughed. 

After the EKG we went to the echo appointment, which took us a while. 

Surprisingly Yousif didn’t argue or cry at all, and the doctor could already tell us his echo results before we left. He told us the surgery will be difficult because of the nature of Yousif's heart defect (atrioventricular canal). Yousif's heart is currently experiencing unwanted blending of oxygen rich and oxygen poor blood. To restore a better blood flow, the doctors need to build a separation wall between his heart's right and left ventricles, along with creating a missing valve. To top it all off, Yousif can only have heart surgery after a prepatory dental surgery. Please pray with us that God will protect and heal Yousif through these surgeries in the upcoming weeks. 

Yousif Ramsi is in Israel!

Posted on Fri, 12/20/2013 - 22:08 by Ryan Foley
Yousif showed up in Amman with his father on Tuesday, cheerful after the long trip. 
He is a happy and bright little boy, and he loves to sit and take in everything around him. But if I looked at him too long, he got shy and hid his face from me.
After a little while, though, he warmed up to the Shevet volunteers and other patients. 
We decided to attempt a crossing with a letter of permission but no official visas in hand for Yousif and his father. We wanted to get him into capable medical hands with no delay! With lots of prayer and asking the Lord to use us as empty vessels, we successfully made our way into Israel. Praise Him!

Bright Future for Yousif

Posted on Mon, 11/25/2013 - 20:31 by Kelsey Cannon

Hailing from one of the northernmost cities in Iraq is two-year-old Yousif. Yousif was born with a heart defect known as an atrioventricular canal. This heart defect occurs in about five percent of all people with congenital heart disease and is also commonly found in children with Down syndrome, like Yousif. An atrioventricular canal is characterized by three separate defects: an atrial septal defect (ASD), a ventricular septal defect (VSD), and a malformation of the atrioventricular valves. These three defects work together to ensure that blood can freely move between all four chambers of the heart, allowing non-oxygenated and oxygenated blood to mix. The long term prognosis for those who have this defect surgically corrected is wonderful, as most go on to lead healthy and productive lives. We hope for this bright future for Yousif, as he is expected to arrive in Israel for medical treatment within the coming weeks.