Yousif's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

From Brokenness to Beauty

Posted on Sun, 11/02/2014 - 21:45 by Kristina Kayser

One of our greatest hopes in traveling to Kurdistan this October was to visit several homes of families who had lost a child while in Israel. Nearly ten months ago, we had a beautiful baby named Yousif with us in Jerusalem. He was the delight of his mother's eyes and brought joy to us all. His smile literally lit up the room and captured many hearts.

Yousif passed away unexpectedly on the eve of his surgery, December 16th, 2014, leaving us all in a state of shock. Our community sought the Lord and trusted Him to bring healing to our broken hearts. In my last blog about Yousif, I wrote, "While I do not expect to ever find a formula for or the perfect answers to the issues of pain and grief, I find myself more and more convinced of one thing – our deepest sorrows are comforted and our greatest hopes for redemption are only to be realized in the resurrected Messiah." 

Time went on, and I often wondered how Yousif's mother and family were doing. Jonathan, Jesse, and Agnes visited them in April and promised to come to her home again. So, with longing hearts for our dear sister, Ruth, Sophie, and I prayed that God would make a way for us to see her during this most recent visit. Yousif's family happens to live in a very war-torn city that experiences frequent terrorist attacks. We were given several warnings and requests not to go to this area. This advice was not taken lightly, and we prayed for God's wisdom and leading. In the end, our team did have peace about going to Yousif's home, and I believe the Lord strengthened our faith in the process. 

Yousif's mother sounded so happy on the phone when I told her we were coming to her house. She likewise greeted us with the same love and warmth we experienced from her in times past. There was a smile on her lovely face once more, and I could tell she wasn't just smiling to be polite; she was truly happy. As we spent time with her, she told us that for months following Yousif's death, she battled nightmares and sleepless nights. Her four-year-old daughter, Nargis, also had a difficult time understanding where her beloved brother had gone. The grandmother was tearful that day when I spoke with her about her grandson. There was, however, evidence of new hope growing within their hearts. Yousif's mother is pregnant and due to deliver a boy this month, whom she wants to name Yousif, in honor of the son she lost. Nargis is a cheerful and energetic little girl who has blossomed in a season of sorrow and brought much joy to her parents.

Yousif's father is a gentle but courageous man, putting his life on the line time and again as a local police officer. We were blessed to get to know them more as the day went on, sharing a delicious meal together and meeting other relatives who live close by. 

One of the most beautiful parts of our visit was hearing Nargis sing two Kurdish songs that her mother had learned in Israel. One is a children's song called "Xudaim Gowraye" ("My God Is So Big"), which says that nothing is too difficult for the Lord. The other is a worship song called "Har To Pirozee" ("You are Awesome") that states that God is awesome in His love, His truth, His healing, and in His deliverance. Even though Nargis wasn't in Israel, it was evident that her mother thought it important enough to pass these songs on to her little girl at home. This is just one example of how we often don't know the impact our words, our actions, or even our songs have in the lives of others. May God be glorified. 

My heart rejoices in the healing that has taken place in Yousif's home. There is an old idiom that says, "Time heals all wounds." But to go further than that, I would say that it is truly the Lord who is able to restore joy where there was once only sorrow. He alone can turn brokenness into something beautiful and raise up new life out of despair. Praise God for the ways He is doing these things for Yousif's family. My prayer for them is that they would come to know Messiah as the true source of joy, comfort, and perfect love.

In the Land of the Living

Posted on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 20:49 by Kristina Kayser

Life is beautiful. Life is also fragile. Every day we live to see the sun rise and set again is a gift from our Heavenly Father. But when a heart stops beating and a life on this earth ceases to be, what then? How do we handle the crushing weight of sorrow and the pain of separation which death brings? How do we comfort our own hearts, let alone the heart of a mother who just lost her precious child? Where does our hope lie? 

All of these are questions I have pondered and wrestled with in the face of death. Like coals rekindled, these questions are ablaze in my mind once again with the passing of Yousif on Monday. And while I do not expect to ever find a formula or the perfect answers to the issues of pain and grief, I find myself more and more convinced of one thing—our deepest sorrows are comforted and our greatest hopes for redemption are only to be realized in the resurrected Messiah. 

I first met baby Yousif and his mother at a hospital in Iraqi Kurdistan last February.

He was a wisp of a child, so weak and blue at just three months of age, with a cry that could barely be heard.

His young mother hovered over him, love and fear mingled on her face. At this point, no one knew if he could even survive the arduous journey to Israel in order to receive heart surgery. So we prayed and watched as God sustained him through not only one, but two journeys to Israel, his heart strengthened in the interim period by a palliative shunt procedure. It was, therefore, with great joy that our community welcomed Yousif back into our home four weeks ago. His sweet spirit and disarming smile could win any heart. Our affection and attachment to Yousif's mother likewise deepened. It was apparent her baby, though a little bigger and a little stronger, was still very much in need of a second operation. Thus great relief was felt when Yousif was admitted to Wolfson last Monday for surgery the following morning. The surgery, we knew, carried a degree of risk, but no one suspected Yousif would pass away on the very eve of this long-anticipated event. Perhaps it was the suddenness and timing of his death that made our ensuing disappointment so devastating. 

I remember begging God to keep Yousif alive when word came he was receiving resuscitative chest compressions. Jesse and Sonia were present as every measure of intervention was taken to rescue him. Meanwhile, another team of volunteers hurried to Tel Aviv, only to find out en route Yousif had died. Tears intensified when I spoke with Yousif's father on the phone and heard his voice break. When we arrived at the hospital, Yousif's mother was in anguish. Her voice resounded with cries of "My son, my sacrifice! Oh God, why did he die...the night before his surgery—what shame! Yousif, how your father loved you! How your father loved you!" She held us tight one by one as her weeping echoed down the quiet halls. The pain was palpable. We surrounded her with love, praying that somehow God's comfort could be felt through us. When I saw Yousif, all I could think about was how perfectly beautiful he was. His cheeks felt like smooth silk beneath my fingers. How I wished to see him open his eyes and smile at us again. More tears fell. Sophie and I walked his mother out of the hospital, our arms around her and holding her up on either side. What a picture this engraved on my mind of what it means to "bear one another's burdens." 

That night felt longer than usual, as though morning would never come. But it did come, bringing with it bright winter sunlight as we gathered to pray and bid Yousif's mother farewell. Our drive to Jordan was a quiet and somber one, the tension punctuated by an acute awareness of Yousif's silent presence. Is there any greater sorrow than a mother losing her child? Yet in the midst of our grief, God, Immanuel, the One who clothed Himself in humanity and bore our deepest pain, was with us. That evening He took care of us, giving us favor at the border crossings and guiding us up the mountain to Amman.

Rest came during the night, and a foretaste of joy with the dawn. 

Yousif's mother began to open her heart to me Wednesday morning. We sat and looked through pictures and videos on her phone, laughing and reminiscing together about Yousif. One video she took just two nights before he died struck me in particular. In it, I was swinging a contented Yousif in my arms as several of us sang, "Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home."

The lyrics continue, quite prophetically, with, "I looked over the Jordan, and what did I see coming for to carry me home? A band of angels coming after me, coming for to carry me home." At that moment, my heart took comfort that Yousif was indeed home with Jesus. Our conversation then turned towards the eternal and the hope to be found in Messiah. Only then did this gentle woman begin processing with me the events surrounding her son's death. We held each other and cried. Both of us confessed we did not understand why, but we chose to trust the Lord, who is greater than death. I shared with her the Scripture from Psalm 27:13-14 that says, "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord." I will never forget this time with her. 

Yousif's mother flew home to her family with Yousif's body on Wednesday evening. I believe she left knowing she was loved, that her son was loved. And loss is made endurable by love. We will always hold precious Yousif in our memory and in our hearts. Each day of his life was a gift beyond worth. 

To those who have been praying with us, words cannot express our gratitude. My continued prayer is that Yousif's mother and family will come to a greater knowledge of the Father's love for them through His risen Son. Take heart, my friends. We have a King who "in all our trials, [was] born to be our friend," who is also able to bring beauty from ashes and swallow up death for all eternity.

Awaiting That Day

Posted on Mon, 12/16/2013 - 23:04 by Jonathan Miles

Yousif was called in for surgery a day ahead of schedule today. He cried during the preparatory blood work and insertion of an IV, but his oxygen levels seemed stable and he soon fell asleep for 15 minutes.

Yousif awoke again with a start and began crying in earnest. The excellent nursing staff gave him immediate attention, but his oxygen levels crashed to zero as he entered a full-blown cyanotic spell. A full crew of doctors and nurses worked on him for a half hour and the senior cardiologist returned emergently to the hospital, but they were unable to revive Yousif.

Their pain at losing Yousif on the very eve of his lifegiving surgery was so evident. We tried to comfort them with the promise that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father's knowledge.

The grief of Yousif's mother was terrible to see, as her day of hope suddenly became the day she feared the most. Our team wrapped her in many loving arms. But this pain will take much time to heal, and not fully until the resurrection. How we long for the coming of the one who will wipe away tears from all faces, and swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:7). Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Back at Prophets Street

Posted on Thu, 12/12/2013 - 17:50 by Nick Boyum

Kristina, Rahel, and I put Jerusalem's ten centimeters of snow in our rearview mirror and set out today for Wolfson Hospital in warm, sunny Tel Aviv. Patiently waiting there to be taken home were little Yousif and his mother. It only took about twenty minutes to secure a discharge letter, and then we were walking out the door! After the snow on our van attracted a couple curious stares in the parking lot, we were headed home.

As we climbed the mountains up to Jerusalem, I was reminded of Chris Tomlin's lyrics from his song "Indescribable," where he writes "Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go or seen heavenly store houses laden with snow?" What a beautiful, snowy night to host Yousif's return to Prophet's Street!

The other families were on hand to welcome him home and took the liberty of organizing a snowball fight to celebrate the occasion.

We ask for your continued prayers as Yousif recovers here at our cozy home in our own holy winter wonderland.

A Peaceful Catheterization

Posted on Wed, 12/11/2013 - 23:07 by Marisa Schindler

My alarm clock wakes me up at 5:30 AM. Little Yousif has an upcoming catheterization at 8 AM, and I need to be there for it. A look outside the windows assures a rough and stormy day with a lot of rain and cold. Our ride to the hospital, however, runs smoothly, thanks to Jesse’s safe driving and God’s protection on our way.

At this time, we don't know the hospital changed the schedule for the catheterization to about six hours beyond what we expected. The first thought to enter my head upon discovering this news is "Oh wow, really?" This is going to be tough for Yousif, hungry as he is during his abstinence from food and water, and for his mum, who will be feeling all the pressure and anxiety for six hours more than expected.

Feeling the storm from outside becoming an inner storm in me, there is nothing else I can do other than sit at their side with co-workers Sophie and Jesse. How can I encourage Yousif and his mother during this difficult time of waiting?

It is fabulous experiencing how God brings little rays of the sun into our storm of waiting with the result of full peace and joy. There is no room for frustration or impatience. We enjoy a joyful time together talking, laughing, and watching videos of Yousif’s last surgery. What a blessing we receive from God, which fills our hearts with thankfulness. I think Yousif also experiences this peace, as he falls asleep several times during our wait. 

After six hours of sitting, the nurse calls us to the surgery room where the catheterization will take place. On the way, the eyes of Yousif’s mum turn red, and I can see water slowly filling her eyes until tears are dropping down her cheeks. What a sorrow it must be for her to give away her beloved child for the next couple of hours – even though it promises a better future for Yousif. During the next two hours, we try to dry her tears, comforting and helping her.

Waiting soon leads to a reward, showing us a little boy in good health, lying in a bed, and being pushed by two doctors back to his room.

After a short cry, Yousif gives his best smile over his whole face. He still needs a couple of minutes to breathe extra oxygen, but he feels secure in his mum’s arms.

I’m happy to tell you Yousif is now ready for his surgery. The date is not arranged yet, but our prayer is that it will arrive as soon as possible. We also appreciate your life-changing prayer. To Yousif and his mother, I have this one blessing to give as Yousif's surgery approaches: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26).

Traveling Towards a New Heart

Posted on Tue, 12/10/2013 - 20:45 by Jesse Tilman

Yousif was scheduled for admission today at Wolfson hospital for a catheterization prior to surgery. We arrived close to noon and headed to the children's ward. His mother's meek demeanor showed even more as she quietly followed us through hallways. We were a bit worried that Yousif's continued lung infection would lessen his chance of admittance, and sure enough the nurse doing preliminary inspections soon started asking about it. He came from Kurdistan with the cough and has been steadily getting better, but she told us he would need to be inspected by Dr. Tamir. We headed upstairs to the echo department and Dr. Tamir's office and waited. Yousif soon made new friends with the staff and volunteers with his winning smile and joyful laugh.

After a while Dr. Tamir could see him and, after listening to his lungs with a stethoscope, cleared him in less than 5 minutes. We happily passed on the news to the mother as we walked back to the children's ward on the other side of the hospital.
There we renewed the normal admission process with the blood test and other less dramatic assessments.
Soon we were dismissed to a nearby room and began to get to know the neighbors there. Some children from Ghana and Tanzania occupied the beds next to us, and the mother from Ghana soon became a friend as we shared information and pictures of family.
As we left, I thought how the camaraderie of going through the same procedure was already uniting these mothers sitting together. The literal meaning of Shevet Achim is "brothers sitting together," and the spirit of our community's endeavor was there!

Yousif's First Re-Assessment

Posted on Mon, 11/25/2013 - 21:59 by Rahel Eschler
This morning, Yousif and his mother were all ready to hit the road to the familiar Wolfson Children's Hospital to get done the first re-evaluation since his first surgery in May, where the doctors fixed his heart with an emergency treatment through a temporary shunt. This shunt saved Yousif’s life and helped his heart to grow stronger through the last months. 
Yousif was proudly wearing a blue cap with a matching scarf. His mother wrapped him up to keep him warm as he recovers from a lung infection.
As soon as we arrived at the hospital, Yousif already had the chance to make first contact with the grassland in front of the hospital. He thought it was fun, and his smile beamed like sunshine.
After undergoing a few exams, some clouds temporarily arose on his face, and some tears were shed. But after being quite patient with the doctor as he collected all the blood drops he needed, we headed to see Dr. Alona and Dr. Hanita performing the echocardiogram. Yousif didn’t cry a lot, but he moved with all his different parts of the body. Once he tried to help push the ultrasound head, and the next time he tried to reach the keyboard. Although he tried to help, the doctor wasn’t pleased with his behavior. So she gave him two shots of sleeping medication. This helped a little bit to calm him down, but the best help was still his mother giving him his bottle.
Yousif’s oxygen is around the seventies because of his temporary shunt, which helped his body to adjust better to the new situation. The low oxygen level makes his skin shining blue. Before the doctors will perform the full repair of his heart defect, called Tetralogy of Fallot, they will need to do a catheterization first to get all the information about his heart condition they need.
Most likely there is a long waiting time till the catheterization can be done. So please pray with us for this cheerful Mum with her precious son that she will keep her good attitude and that he would get his treatment as soon as possible.
In the Psalms it is written: “I trust in you, oh Lord; I say 'You are my God.' My times are in Your hand.  Make Your face shine on Your servant; save me in Your steadfast love!”

A Round of Applause

Posted on Sun, 11/24/2013 - 22:45 by Jonathan Miles

Yousif reached Jordan this weekend full of joy and smiles, despite wheezing from a chest infection, and quickly captured the hearts of our coworkers Elizabeth and Ryan.

Tonight he reached Prophets Street in Jerusalem safely by God's grace, and his first exams at the hospital are set for tomorrow morning.

Returning Soon

Posted on Tue, 10/15/2013 - 13:50 by Kelsey Cannon

Yousif’s first journey to Israel was nothing short of amazing. After meeting him at a cardiology screening in Iraq, his dire need for medical intervention placed him at the top of our list of children to help come to Israel for heart surgery. However, because of an acute respiratory illness coupled with policy changes at the Interior Ministry delaying his Israeli entrance visa, Yousif’s travel and treatment date were put off for several months at the expense of his life. When he eventually made it to Israel, he was quickly taken to Wolfson Hospital, where both medical staff and camera crews were eagerly waiting to see him. Yousif's unique story had made national news.

One crucial yet palliative surgery later, Yousif’s heart was in much better condition than when he had initially arrived. And only a short month after that, we saw him released to go home, with his doctors advising that he return to Israel in four months for his final corrective surgery.

That time has now come. We expect Yousif to be with us in Jerusalem in several weeks time for the second, grace-filled installment along his journey to receive a completely healed heart.

Until We Meet Again

Posted on Sun, 06/02/2013 - 19:43 by MadelynMiles

Before Yousif and his mother even arrived in Israel, our staff knew of his urgent condition and even worried about taking care of him with some of our nurses temporarily away. The weekend we expected to be receiving a very blue and sick Yousif, a staff training session was given by nurse Kristina to help us understand how best to care for him and certain signs to look for. All of us were nervous, and prayed for God's provision. In the end, Yousif had a virus and was deemed too sick to travel, delaying his arrival by several weeks. Our nurses returned and we breathed a sigh of relief. But truthfully, the situation was no less desperate or urgent.

I traveled with Yousif and his mom, bringing them and two other Kurdish children across the border from Jordan to Israel. The car trip through the Jordan Valley that normally takes about five hours took us seven hours. For some reason, Yousif's mother was put through extra security measures that day, and as her only translator, I had to be with her through it the whole way. I came home exhausted, glad to return to my normal work routine. But for Yousif's mother, nothing routine lay ahead of her. Getting to Jordan was only a small part of the journey, and first thing the next morning, she went to hospital and handed her baby over to foreign doctors to open up his chest in surgery.

We recounted all of this to Yousif's mother during their farewell party this past Friday, Yousif was content to lie in my arms and play with my hair. Meanwhile, we all shared with his mother how impressed we all were with the great faith she had shown to come here. It is no small feat for any of the Kurdish mothers, but especially for this young mom whose baby's condition was so urgent and desperate, we commended her. She is a woman of great faith.

We did our best to bless her in the name of the Lord, and bestowed many gifts upon her and Yousif--stuffed animals, hand cream, baby formula, onesies, and especially the crowning gift that all children receive, a hand-made quilt from a ladies church group in Florida (a HUGE thank you to Joyce Hensley and her group for all the love and work you put into these quilts!).

Even the process of figuring out when and how she and Yousif would return home to Iraq took faith. The plan changed multiple times with many variables, but the entire time her attitude was gracious and trusting everything would work out. In then end, she faithfully went to Jordan even though we told her we couldn't guarantee she would get a ticket on Saturday, and may have to stay in Jordan until Wednesday. She accepted this and left in faith. It paid off, and she flew home on Saturday.

We miss the precious smile of Yousif and the sweet presence of his mother here at the Shevet house. But we are thankful she is able to return home for the time being. We prayerfully look forward to seeing this precious duo again in the fall--Lord willing.