Heart Surgeries for Gaza Children

Shevet Achim’s work originally began with children from Gaza Strip. To this day, the highest percentage of heart surgeries we assist are for Gaza patients. The child usually has four phases of treatment:

  1. diagnosis in Gaza
  2. confirmation of diagnosis in Israel
  3. heart surgery, followed by a week in the hospital
  4. follow-up examinations to ensure proper healing.

Each week, Shevet volunteers assist on average twelve to fifteen children in phases two through four, transporting them between the border and the hospital, and being present through the treatment process with meals and encouragement. This blog follows these Gaza children, their families, and their ongoing stories of healing and hope.

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Ali from Gaza in Critical Condition

Posted on Wed, 07/27/2011 - 22:49 by Kristina Kayser

Yesterday, a little boy from Gaza named Ali had open heart surgery...times two. He was the first case of the morning, indicating that his repair required a greater window of time to complete. After being admitted to ICU, several hours went by before an all-out emergency arose. Donna (fellow Sheveteer) and I were waiting to enter ICU around 6pm to visit another child, whose surgery had just finished. Two attempts to speak with an ICU nurse brought the same response: a resounding "NO!" and a door slammed shut. There was no way of determining what was taking place or who was involved. But this we knew: something was terribly wrong. Moments later, we discovered Ali was at the center of all the commotion. His mother, distraught and weeping, was surrounded by women of many backgrounds and faiths, each pleading to God for her son's life. She is the young woman on the far left in the photo below. 

One machine after another was ushered into ICU with a thoroughfare of medical staff. Ultimately, Ali's condition deteriorated to the point of needing CPR. After being resuscitated, the heart and lung machine was reconnected to his small body. Two hours later, the second surgery concluded. The only glimpse I caught of Ali last night was in a brief passing by his bed. Doctors and nurses continued to hover close by. Judging by his size, he looks to be around eight or nine months old. All I knew was that he was alive, though both the doctors and his mother wore grave expressions. 
Donna and I left the hospital thankful to God that Ali's life was spared and deeply affected by the trauma we witnessed. This morning, Dr. Iyal relayed to me Ali's current status. He survived a very difficult night and continues to require the support of a heart and lung machine to pump blood through his body. Dr. Iyal also stated, "We are optimistic, of course, but being on this machine is not good." The contrast of Ali's small frame surrounded by a brigade of machinery is an overwhelming site. It is a battle of David vs. Goliath proportion, but he is not giving up. 
I spoke with His mother in the limited Arabic I know, expressing our love and trust in God's care for Ali. As we continue to intercede for this baby and his frightened mother, I believe there is hope. This hope stems from a word spoken by Isaiah, long before the coming of Christ, our source of hope. It is said of Jesus in Isaiah 42:3, "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." And so, we wait, and pray, and trust that Ali's life is in capable and strong hands. 
Update from Monday August 1:

This morning I arrived to find Ali's mother sitting in the pediatric unit at Wolfson. Suhail (Shevet member) and I asked how Ali was doing today. She responded that her son is no longer in need of the heart and lung machine. This is excellent news, considering that two of his life-sustaining organs are now functioning on their own. His chest cavity still remains open, giving doctors quicker access for intervention if a problem arises. When I tried going into ICU to see Ali, I was told another child was undergoing surgery and no one could enter ICU. We hope to see Ali soon and give you more details on his current status. In the meantime, please keep praying for baby Ali, that he will grow stronger by the day and that God's mercy will rest on him. 

Baby Abd El Aziz Passes Away

Posted on Sun, 07/24/2011 - 22:45 by Natalie Wisely

For many, death is the scariest thing they will ever face. To them, death is the end. But as believers, even in midst of the sadness of death, there is hope. In the midst of sorrow, God shows Himself as our comfort. Even if we don't understand why, we know that He is sovereign, good, and loving. We know that He has promised eternal life for His children. Death is not the end, but the beginning of something so much better!

Saturday morning, five month old Abd El Aziz from Gaza passed away. This sweet child was checked into the hospital on Tuesday, had surgery on Thursday, and was recovering well in the ICU when we visited Friday. The doctors were very pleased with how his surgery went and did not have any concerns. They checked on him at 1:00 am Saturday morning and he was doing fine. But at 5:00am, things had taken a turn for the worse and he died a couple hours later. From what the doctors can tell, his death was due to something other than a complication with his heart, but the exact cause is still unknown.

Since yesterday was Shabbat, it was impossible to transport the baby's body and his mother back to Gaza until today. We visited the hospital this morning to spend time with her, cry with her, comfort her, pray with her, and talk to her before she went home.

When we arrived this morning, we found her sitting with some of the other mothers outside on some benches. My heart broke for her and as we made eye contact, tears started streaming down both of our faces.

I quickly walked over and gave her a long hug, before sitting down beside her and holding her hand. As we cried, she looked to heaven, her eyes full of questions. I didn't have the Arabic vocabulary to encourage her, so instead I prayed that the promises of God would be true in her life, that as she mourns she will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). I thank God that there were other women at the hospital this weekend to spend time with her and that we had a few hours with her today to show her His love.

Keep this family in your prayers. Right now their grieving is raw and real. They are full of questions that only God can answer. But I pray that one day they will be able to say, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 13:55). And I pray that through this sad time, they will find the hope that comes with knowing Jesus. As He said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25).

Many Adjectives, Many Lives

Posted on Tue, 07/19/2011 - 22:10 by Natalie Wisely

Lovely, adorable, energetic, tiny, special, sweet... All words that I often use to describe the Gaza kids. But at the end of the day, I find there are not enough words to describe how unique and amazing each of these children are. I was talking to a coworker today, expressing my excitement at how each one was doing and telling stories of the ups and downs they are going through. "You just love all of them!" she replied. And it's true. In getting to know these children, I am beginning to better understand how much God loves each and every one of us. Even on our bad days, when we scream and cry, he loves us. He is sad when we are sad, he laughs when we laugh, and he rejoices when we rejoice. Today, I had the honor of rejoicing with God and all of the Gaza children in the hospital as we received many good reports.

Two of the children that were in the hospital last week have been sent home. Fourteen-year old Nabil had surgery last Monday, was moved into the Children's Ward late last week and was released to go home this past Sunday. We thank God that his time at the hospital went so smoothly. It is a blessing that the boy suffered no complications and was able to return home so quickly. Karam was also sent home. Unfortunately, the little boy got an infection and had a high fever last week. He will recover in Gaza and then the doctors will reschedule his surgery as soon as he is better.
The four children that were in the hospital last week and were still there today are all doing very well.
Sami is still recovering in the Children's Ward, slowly gaining strength. We are optimistic about his recovery, but know that for now, patience is key. This little guy needs a lot of TLC, which thankfully, his mother is always happy to provide.
Nour has been moved from the ICU to the Children's Ward. Last week was a difficult one for the girl. She was vomiting and had diarrhea frequently. The doctors were also concerned about her breathing and wanted to hook her back up to a ventilator. During the weekend, however, Nour improved greatly. Last week it looked like her recovery would be long and difficult, but her turn around has been nothing short of miraculous.
Mai had surgery last Thursday and is also doing well. While we were at the hospital today she was moved from the ICU to the Children's Ward which shows her recovery is going smoothly.
Ahmed had surgery yesterday and is recovering in the ICU. He was extubated this morning and still looked a bit groggy. When I said good-bye to him today, he slowly lifted one hand and waved it back and forth. This small gesture showed me that, despite his post-surgery exhaustion, this energetic little eight-year old will be up and running again soon.
There were also four new faces in the hospital today.
Bara's surgery was completed yesterday. He, like Ahmed, was extubated today and is recovering in the ICU. The doctors are pleased with how his surgery went and expect his recovery to go just as smoothly.
Gadeer was admitted for surgery yesterday. Her calm, collected attitude made her seem much older than her thirteen years. This mature girl does not seem at all nervous for her surgery that will happen later this week.
Abd El Aziz was also admitted yesterday. The adorable baby's surgery is scheduled for tomorrow morning.
Israa was admitted for surgery today. This curious and energetic girl did not seem the least bit frightened by the hospital. I pray her lively spirit remains as she heads into surgery this week.

A New Batch of Faces and Hearts from Gaza

Posted on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 19:36 by Natalie Wisely

As I walked down the halls of the children's ward looking for the Gaza children and their mothers, I was greeted by almost entirely new faces. Most of the children that are checked in for surgery are brought to the hospital on Tuesday. However, once their surgery is done and they have recovered, they can be taken back to the border whatever day of the week the hospital releases them. At times, trying to learn to recognize the new names and faces can be a bit discouraging. But then I remember, new patients are not a reason to be upset, but a cause for rejoicing. It means that children that I knew and was praying for are doing well and have returned home to their families. It also means there are new friends to be made, new people to bless, and new people to show God's love to.

Sunday, three of our children returned to Gaza. Three year old Dema, who was so scared of the hospital, recovered very quickly from her surgery and was able to leave the building she hated so much and return to the comfort and familiarity of home. Hopefully, when she returns to the hospital for follow-up echoes in the coming months, she will be less frightened since the scariest part of the whole ordeal, the surgery, is over. Fawze, a little eight-month old boy also headed home on Sunday. His recovery went just as quickly and smoothly as Dema's, so he was also able to return home after less than a week at the hospital. Our third child to go home was Selma. This nine-month old will need a heart transplant in the future, but for now, she is able to return home and enjoy spending time with her family.
There were a couple familiar faces in the Children's Ward today. Nour, who was originally admitted for neurological testing last week, had heart surgery on Sunday. It went very smoothly and the seven month old girl is recovering in the ICU.
Sami is also still at the hospital, though he has finally been moved from the ICU to the Children's Ward. The five-month old is doing much better this week, but is still hooked up to a nasal cannula which provides extra oxygen to his weak lungs.
Four new children were also admitted this week for heart surgeries.
Nabil, a fourteen-year old boy, had his surgery on Monday. He is doing well and was extubated today. When I visited him in the ICU, he was just beginning to slowly wake up. The next couple days will be painful for the boy, but I know he will be grateful for the freedom and energy his new heart will give him in the future.
Mai is an adorable one and half year old little girl that we admitted today. Her surgery should be sometime this week.
Karam is also a year and a half old. This cute little boy is so full of life, but underweight for his age due to his heart condition. As I was playing with him, I also noticed that his fingernails were blue due to the lack of oxygen in his body.
Ahmed was our third child admitted today. The eight-year old boy will also have surgery this week.

Building Relationships Quickly

Posted on Sun, 07/10/2011 - 20:21 by Natalie Wisely

Friday visits to the hospital are much more relaxed than a typical Tuesday. Tuesdays we are transporting almost a dozen kids from the Gaza border to the hospital for echos, checking some in for surgeries, and then taking those who are not checking in back to the border. But Fridays are completely different. Fridays are relaxed and all about the relationships. It is amazing how quickly I come to care for these moms and children like they are my own family. I might have just met them on Tuesday, but when I visit again on Friday, I am received with a hug and kiss on both cheeks. And even though I don't speak the language, I can still have a beautiful time of enjoying the mother's company and playing with the children. I feel privileged to get to sit by them through all the ups and downs of their time at the hospital. Today I was able to continue to build relationships with the five children that are at the hospital, recovering from their recent surgeries.

Dema, the nervous little three year old we checked in on Tuesday, had surgery Wednesday and is now in the ICU. She is still very overwhelmed by the whole ordeal and tears are always threatening to spill down her cheeks. But her mother is always close by, trying to come up with ways to make the girl smile. As I sat with them today, I realized there was a change in Dema's mother. Her face still looked exhausted, but her eyes held a hope where before there was only uncertainty and fear.
Fawze also had surgery this week and is recovering in the ICU. The little eight month old was fast asleep, so I didn't tarry long near his bed, but I glanced up at the monitor as I walked away and saw that his oxygen level was good. It looks like his surgery was a success and he is recovering well.
Sami is still in the ICU. Of all the children at the hospital right now, he is probably in the most critical condition. His surgery went well and he is stable, but his recovery is progressing very slowly. His tiny body was very weak before the surgery and now is struggling to recover.
Nour was admitted for neurological testing this Tuesday. We are waiting to hear the results from that before the doctors proceed with her heart surgery.
Selma, a tired little nine month old, is in rough shape. The child is not sleeping well right now and therefore, neither is her mother. Selma is almost always crying from exhaustion, but her cries are hardly louder than a whisper. Today, I heard more of her story. Selma has had her first surgery this week where the doctors put in an artificial vein to help with blood flow. But her heart condition is so severe, eventually she will need a heart transplant. She will have another operation when she is two years old and then hopefully have the heart transplant when she is twenty. It looks like Selma has a long time to go before she is completely well. In the mean time, we pray for strength and peace, both for her, and her mother.
Yesterday, nine month old Amen returned to Gaza! I'm sad I didn't get to say good-bye to the joyful little boy, but I'm glad he was able to return to his home and family.

Tears and Flexibility the Themes of the Day

Posted on Tue, 07/05/2011 - 22:11 by Natalie Wisely

While there is definite wisdom in making plans, I find that flexibility is also very important, especially in the Middle East. Anything we plan may or may not happen. In the end, I

Each One A Child Of God

Posted on Thu, 06/30/2011 - 22:54 by Natalie Wisely

With so many children from Gaza in the Children's Ward, it can be difficult to highlight each of their stories. However, each of their lives is so important to God and none can be overlooked. Please remember these are God's children who are precious to Him, and please remember these children in your prayers!

Today was a celebration in the Children's Ward. Three of the eight Gaza children that are currently in the Ward were able to return home after successful heart surgeries!
Rahaf, now eight months old, has been in the hospital for over two months. It was a long ordeal leading up to her surgery as she tried to gain enough strength to undergo the intense operation. After the surgery she spent weeks in ICU hooked up to every kind of machine to help sustain her life. Yet, slowly, slowly, she has recovered. Today was a joyous event as Rahaf and her mother left Wolfson hospital. We are excited that they are finally able to return home, although Rahaf's mother's funny and joyful spirit will be missed! Rather than dwell on her own fears and worries, she was quick to encourage and comfort other mothers whose children are having surgery. Our prayers go with her and her daughter.
Adnan was also discharged from the hospital today. This five year old boy's electric smile lights up any room and his mischievous personality has certainly kept us all on our toes while he has been at the hospital. It was beautiful to see the joy he has for life. I know his cheerful spirit will continue to bless his friends and family in Gaza in the same way it has touched us here.
Aya, a little one and half year old girl, was our third patient to go home today! We were excited to also be able to send her along with her mother back to their family in Gaza.
For now, four other children remain in the hospital, either prepping for surgery or recovering from a recent operation.
Anas is seven months old. His recovery has gone very quickly and he was moved from the ICU to the children's ward yesterday.
Sami's tiny little frame is hard to ignore. His critical condition makes his five month old body look more like a newborn. He was admitted last week for observation. When I saw him today, he struggled to breathe, even with the help of a ventilator. This baby needs our prayers. He has a long way to go before he will be strong enough for surgery.
Selma is a little nine month old girl, admitted this week for surgery. We pray her surgery happens soon and her recovery goes smoothly!
Amen's surgery yesterday went well and he is now in the ICU. This little nine month old boy will hopefully have a vibrant new life once his recovery is complete.
Earlier this week, I also met little Yahya (this name in English translates to John). This little boy is unlike the rest of our patients because he is not at the hospital for heart surgery. He is actually lacking an important enzyme that helps with digestion. As a result he is not able to eat without having loose stools. For a two year old, or anyone for that matter, this is rather unpleasant. Shevet Achim partnered with Save a Child's Heart last year to bring in donations of special formula for this boy. We are happy to report that this was a success and he is doing much better. His most recent visit to the hospital this past Tuesday was scheduled so that doctors could chart out a very specific diet for him, one that he will follow for the rest of his life. But this young boy's troubles have in no way crushed his spirit. He is by far one of the sweetest, gentlest, happiest children I have ever met. I am just happy we could help improve his quality of life so he can continue to spread the joy that is in his heart.

With Gaza Children on a Quiet Day

Posted on Tue, 06/21/2011 - 22:18 by Natalie Wisely

The hospital waiting area in Tel Aviv was eerily quiet this afternoon, despite the half dozen families from Gaza that were scattered about waiting their turns. Of the eight children we escorted to the hospital today from the Erez Crossing at the north border of Gaza Strip, six of them were under the age of two. Since they are too young to understand what is going on and are easily frightened, they are usually sedated before they have their echo, which is a very non-invasive and non-painful procedure. 
As the children slept, I was able to move quietly about the room, mingling with the parents and seeing the kids. As always, there are usually one or two who catch my eye for various reasons. Today, I felt overwhelmed with compassion for little Sami Alheky. Even though he is five months old, Sami appears to be more the size of a newborn and lacks the usual chubbiness of a healthy baby. He is one of the first kids I have seen whose physical condition obviously reflects the broken nature of his heart. The doctors also recognized the intensity of his situation and he was admitted to the hospital immediately, not for heart surgery (although he will need this eventually as well), but for intensive care. I pray their care will help Sami quickly gain the strength needed to undergo a major surgery.
The rest of the children (four with evaluations and three with follow-ups) had excellent reports. Anas, a seven-month old boy, was admitted for heart surgery which will hopefully happen soon. We were also able to return little Aya home to Gaza. When I first met her and her joyful grandmother last Friday, Aya had just completed her surgery and was in the ICU. Remarkably, even though it was only a couple days after the surgery all of the tubes that had been helping her breathe had been removed. Her swift recovery continued and now, only a week and a half later, we were able to escort this tottering toddler back home. Seeing a broken heart made whole was a beautiful way to end the day.

Transforming Attitudes and Hearts

Posted on Tue, 06/14/2011 - 21:38 by Natalie Wisely

Each child that is brought to Israel to receive a new heart is a miracle. But there are days like today, when I must shamefully confess that I am tempted to look past the faces and just see the numbers: 7 children, 3 for evaluation echoes, 4 for follow up echoes, 1 admitted to surgery. I just want to get them in and out without incident. But as soon as I stopped, and took a second to gaze at each child

Santa Sprees in June

Posted on Fri, 06/10/2011 - 17:48 by ryan


Today, with the help of a group of women from Kalispell, Montana, I was Santa Clause.
My mother and a group of her friends in my hometown in the Rocky Mountains have been sewing hand-made Raggedy Anne dolls, and shipping them across the ocean to the children at Shevet Achim in Jerusalem. This morning, I stuffed 7 of these dolls in a canvas hand bag, and boarded my august sleigh