Rayan's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

Brought Together

Posted on Mon, 06/22/2015 - 00:54 by Ruth Zellweger

A little over a week ago, Sophie and I had the opportunity to visit Rayan and his family. Rayan and his mother had enriched our Shevet community two years ago. He then was an adorable little boy with longer hair.

He and his father came to pick us up at another family's house. It took him maybe half an hour, but then he had warmed up and was playing and goofing around.

After half an hour we arrived at their house, where we were met by Rayan's mother and two brother. Rayan is the middle one. It was a joyful reunion with Rayan's mother, who asked about all the different volunteers that she knew from her time in Israel.

Rayan's father is serving in the Pershmerga, the Kurdish army, and we were glad to hear that our visit coincided with his leave. They are a very sweet and unique family, having three sons but no daughter. The girls are usually the greatest helpers for their mothers in Kurdish households. Rayan's mother does not have this kind of help, but it seemed not to bother her. She enjoyed watching her boys playing and running around.

Soon after our arrival, we also started talking about how Rayan is doing now, two years after his heart surgery in Israel. Rayan's mother showed me his last echo report, and mentioned that one of the cardiologists had said that Rayan might need another surgery, but he needs at least a diagnostic cath to understand better how to raise his oxygen saturation, which is currently only in the 70's. Of course she is worried about this, and I told her that we would be in contact with her and the cardiologists to figure out how to best care for Rayan.

We had three nice meals together; dinner, breakfast, and lunch. Every time, Rayan's mother blessed us with her very delicious, homemade bread that she makes once a month and then stores in a special pot.

Before we left to visit Shana and her family, we took time to take some pictures.



Rayan's father drove us to our new destination, accompanied by his wife and son. And Shana's house we were blessed to watch the joyful reunion between the two mothers, who had been in Israel at the same time. About half an hour later, two journalists from an Israeli newspaper arrived to interview the families. The fathers shared freely how grateful they were towards Israel, for allowing their children to come for heart surgery. It was very nice, that both fathers also serve with the Pershmerga, since the main focus of the article was how the Kurds are fighting against the Islamic State.

God had orchestrated the timing of our visits with these two families. I am very thankful for the opportunity to be in the country currently to follow up on children like Rayan. God has begun a good work in his heart and life and I am looking forward to see how He will continue.


A Farewell to Remember

Posted on Mon, 08/26/2013 - 00:24 by Ashley Baugh

After a successful final echocardiogram this week, Rayan and his mother prepared for the trip back to northern Iraq. In addition to a farewell party, and lots of hugs and kisses, Rayan and his mother received some gifts to take home: a beautiful head scarf, a Kurdish bible, a handmade quilt, some toys and vitamins for Rayan. 

The farewell party was a great evening of celebration; both for Rayan’s healthy new heart, and for the relationships built during their time at Shevet Achim. We all enjoyed tea and some delicious peanut butter cookies made by Susan, while singing praise songs, exchanging stories and watching a DVD slide show of their journey to a new heart.

Rayan has made a big impression on everyone here. His vibrant personality, numerous facial expressions, and charming smile make him hard to resist. Many of the volunteers agreed that he has great potential to be a strong leader in the future, and having this healthy heart takes him one step closer to fulfilling his potential in life.

Just days before leaving, Rayan and his mother accompanied Kristina and some of the other families on a trip to the Garden Tomb. 

The story of the Messiah’s love, death and resurrection was shared and Rayan’s mother was very curious and receptive, asking questions and lingering for quite a while around the tomb.  It was great way to end their time in Israel!

It was bittersweet to see Rayan and his mother go. Of course we are all thrilled and excited that Rayan is healthy, and will soon be reunited with the rest of his family. But it is also sad to lose their presence in the Shevet house, as they brought many smiles and laughs to the community. Just before their departure, we prayed for their safe travels, and that God would richly bless and protect their lives and continue to reveal himself as they settle back in at home. Hugs, kisses and many thanks were exchanged. 

I watched as his mother wiped a tear from her eye as they climbed into the van. It choked me up to see Rayan’s little bottom lip pucker when Kristina walked out of his sight.

They will be missed. But please continue to pray for Rayan and his family - depending on how his oxygen levels fare in the future, he may need further treatment.

Celebrating Good Times!

Posted on Sun, 08/18/2013 - 22:41 by Susan Kent
We were all smiles loading into the van this morning for what we hoped would be Rayan’s final echocardiogram. Rayan was full of energy on the fun indoor playground at Sheba hospital, taking the ‘train engineer’ roll quite seriously and strictly instructing Nick and Kristina to keep their feet inside the car as he ‘drove’.
To our collective relief and delight, the doctor was pleased with the echocardiogram results, promptly released Rayan, and approved his return home to Kurdistan this week! Kristina suggested a celebratory trip to the beach was in order. Rayan’s mom quickly agreed, while Rayan adamantly declined, although he had never been to the beach before. In the van ride to the beach we tried to hide our laughter as he insisted ‘fish are dirty’ and screamed at his first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. His mother was patient and sweet as we all moved  Rayan closer to the water while he protested strongly in her arms.
When Nick found an abandoned starfish mold, Rayan discovered sand is fun. Then we started handing him a small stone, which he happily tossed into the sea. Each time we would retrieve the stone, he moved closer to the water until his feet were fully submerged in the warm, blue/green Mediterranean. We playfully referred to this stone as his Ebenezer ‘stone of help’ as he was able to (mostly) overcome his fear as long as there was a stone to throw! We had a sweet time celebrating and praising the Lord for the healing He has done.

Full Day for Rayan

Posted on Thu, 08/08/2013 - 19:50 by Rahel Eschler

After being back at Shevet Achim for a little over a week and enjoying our community, we took Rayan in yesterday for his first cardiogram. We only waited a short time time to see the doctor, and Rayan had fun playing in the meantime. As the nurse called him in, Rayan would only come along hesitantly. But once we got him to lay on the examination table, the nurse played a game with him while attaching the cords of the EKG. She was very successful and he was giggling a lot. In keeping with his good mood, the examination was done without any resistance on the part of Rayan. The doctor performing the echo was very pleased with the functionality of Rayan’s heart. But over all, he needs to have another catheterization in six to twelve months to close a residual ventricular septal defect between the two lower chambers of his heart. However, this was to be expected as the surgeon left this small hole on purpose to let his heart adapt slowly and safely to it's new conditions.  

Later on in the day, we needed to have the stitches in his chest removed. But that was just too much for Rayan. He screamed at the top of his voice till the nurse and the doctor had finished doing their work.

We rewarded him after all of this with an ice cream. He really loved it. You could tell this from the way his eyes sparkled and the traces of the delicious treat left around his little mouth.

On the way back to Jerusalem, Rayan was celebrating himself by making funny faces and noises while the rest of the car was sleeping. He’s just such a showmen and it’s a pleasure to have him around. He will be with us for some time longer until his doctors are finished adjusting his blood thinner medication. Let us praise the Lord for his faithfulness in taking care of Rayan’s life.

Rayan Home Again

Posted on Sun, 07/28/2013 - 22:02 by Kristina Kayser

Exactly two weeks following open heart surgery, Rayan was finally cleared to return to Jerusalem. His mother has been aching for this day as much as her fun-loving and rambunctious little boy has been. I noticed earlier this week that Rayan had all the symptoms of "cabin fever." And though small in stature, he often resolved to inform anyone within earshot of his imminent departure. Meanwhile, his mother tried her best to assuage Rayan's disdain one day after another with her calm and patient spirit.

The purpose for Rayan's extended post-op recovery in hospital was not due to any cardiac issue; rather, it was a matter of combatting a bacterial infection with antibiotics in addition to achieving an acceptable INR (blood-clotting) range. His most recent lab results indicate that the infection is gone and his INR result is stable. Rayan's heart is also recovering so well, that doctors discharged him on only one medication! 

Rayan bid the nurses goodbye and walked the whole way to the car by himself. With a casual, yet confident stride, he seemed to be savoring this moment as though it were a victory lap. Not even his mother could hurry him along. Regrettably for Rayan, his sweet ride home was a small Hyundai Elantra and not one of our big white vans. I apologized profusely. His only consolation was the hope of his next voyage being in a more illustrious vehicle.

The Shevet community was so happy to welcome Rayan and his mother home this evening. There were many hugs and kisses shared as they entered the old stone courtyard. Praise God for the beautiful healing taking place in his heart and for the gift of having them under our roof once more!

Mr. Giggly and Rambunctious

Posted on Thu, 07/25/2013 - 20:57 by Trevor Salazar

Today was a relatively good day for Rayan. His current condition is very stable, and this is apparent in his ability to run around the play area at Sheba. The only current problem keeping him at the hospital is that his INR (blood-clotting rate) is too low for the doctors to feel comfortable with him being discharged just yet. The doctors are shooting for discharging him on Sunday after they adjust his INR medication, coumadin. While his mother seemed weary about staying at the hospital longer, Rayan's attitude matched his good condition. For the majority of our visit his was giggly and rambunctious. The only times he threw his tantrums were when people weren't doing what he wanted when he wanted them to. As far as visits go, our visit with Rayan went very well and there are high hopes for the next few days.

It's Hard to be Little

Posted on Sun, 07/21/2013 - 22:58 by Kaytlin Butler

Rayan planted a little kiss on each of our cheeks this afternoon when Kristina and I arrived at Sheba. Though we expected to find him still in secondary ICU, we were pleasantly surprised to see that he had been moved to the children’s ward where he and his mother can have a little more privacy as he continues to recover. However, in spite of an initially cheerful visit, it quickly became apparent that both he and his mother were anxious to return to Jerusalem.

My grandmother often said as her grandkids grew up, “Sometimes it’s hard to be little.” I kept thinking about that statement today as we watched Rayan struggle to put his frustration into words. As time passed, he altered between spells of playfulness and irritation, caught between his naturally cheery disposition and an overwhelming desire to leave the hospital. When it was time for us to leave, he emphatically pleaded for us to stay longer - an absolutely heartbreaking request coming from such a sweet, little voice. Restraining the energy of a four year old to the narrow parameters of a hospital room is also proving to be very trying for his mother as well.

At this point, it is only a matter of time before Rayan is discharged. Meanwhile, please pray for patience and encouragement for both Rayan and his mother as they wait. We hope to have them both home with us very soon!

Steady Progress

Posted on Tue, 07/16/2013 - 22:58 by Susan Kent

Rayan continues to make amazing progress following his complex heart surgery. Unfortunately, the healing process can be uncomfortable - especially for a lively three-year-old boy.

Fortunately, I was able to distract him briefly with bubbles and a few books while his mother rested close by. But Rayan's big accomplishment for the day was being moved from ICU to secondary ICU! We are so thankful for the miracle of healing we see already in little Rayan. Please continue to pray with us for his full recovery as well as rest and comfort for his dear mother.

Rayan's Rapid Recovery

Posted on Mon, 07/15/2013 - 23:30 by Kristina Kayser

It happened again - that moment when I find myself in awe of how quickly a child rebounds after open heart surgery. Having witnessed the many complications that can arise during and after this operation, a positive outcome is never one to be taken for granted. Rather, it is something to rejoice in and give God all the glory for. Today, my sincerest thanks were directed heavenward on behalf of little Rayan.

For starters, he was already awake and breathing on his own a mere two hours post-op. He proceeded to sleep well during the night, and by early this morning was enjoying a few spoonfuls of chocolate pudding. It's important to note that Rayan's Fontan shunt procedure yesterday was no 'walk in the park.' While being a particularly risky surgery, the recovery period is known to be an arduous one. Thus, you can imagine my delight upon finding Rayan awake and in good spirits this afternoon. Sucking happily on his pacifier, he looked up at me with eyes bright and full of life. "Chowani bashi, gian?" ("How are you sweetheart?") I asked, to which he responded, "Bashm!" ("I'm good!").

There was no denying the look of joy and relief on his mother's face as she gazed down at her son. A great burden had been lifted from her shoulders. God had answered our prayers in greater ways than we had hoped! What a joy it was to savor this moment together. Meanwhile, Rayan began playing a game of possum, proving that his charming antics were no worse for wear. He closed his eyes, feigning sleep, and then opened them ever so slightly to see if I was watching.

Both Rayan's presiding doctor and nurse agreed that he is doing remarkably well and free from any complications. In the next few days, they hope to remove his chest tubes and transition him out of ICU. God is healing Rayan in ways too great to measure! Truly, He "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think." Ephesians 3:20

Surgery Day

Posted on Sun, 07/14/2013 - 23:09 by Kaytlin Butler

When we arrived at the ICU before Rayan's surgery, he was still resting peacefully and smiling through his pacifier in his sleep. While Kristina and I stood around his bed, his mother told us that when he was just four months old, the doctors told her that he probably would not live to see another month. Yet, at eight months old, Rayan underwent his first surgery on the seventh day of Ramadan in 2009. Today, on the sixth day of Ramadan in 2013, at four years of age, he underwent the final repair on his heart.

Rayan woke up with a mess of bed hair and a little confused at seeing so many of us around his bed. He sleepily looked at his mother and whimpered, “Mommy, let's go home.” Once she had held him for a while and he was fully awake, he transformed into the happy, goofy little boy that the hospital nurses seem to have fallen in love with. With a big smile on his face, he went into a chorus of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Kurdish while shaking his little legs for emphasis. Once he made sure that we were fully engaged, he started contorting his face into odd expressions to make everyone laugh. It was so sweet to watch him cheer up his mother as she laughed at his banter through anxious tears. He continued with the same jokes all the way to the operating room, teasing the anesthesiologists and playing games with the escorting nurses. Encouraged by her son's bravery, his mother held back her emotion until she returned to us in the waiting area.

Since coming to Shevet, I have been continuously floored by the special bond between these mothers and their children that so perfectly embodies sacrificial love. We took a walk while we waited this afternoon to look at some of the flowers growing around the hospital and casually discussed which ones Rayan's mother had never seen before, which ones would make good wedding flowers, and where they all grew. However, her face lit up when she saw the morning glories growing on the fence across the parking lot. She said that the same flowers grew in her yard in Kurdistan. Though being away from home and family during a time of emotional duress is painful and frustrating, it is a choice that these mothers make willingly every day that they are with us in order to save the young lives of their children. In spite of the stress of the day, I think this small reminder of home brought her some comfort.

Sometimes these small comforts, whether they come in the form of morning glories or a cup of tea, help when simple words of encouragement seem hollow. Language barriers become so much more apparent when surgery day comes. Since I do not have children of my own, sometimes offering assurances like “It's going to be okay” or “He's doing great” just do not seem to be enough. These are the days that I particularly admire the fervor with which my coworkers continue to pursue their study of the Kurdish language out of love of these families. Today though, I was particularly thankful for Kristina's Kurdish language skills and her ability to clearly communicate the love that we all feel for both Rayan and his mother.

Rayan's surgery lasted a total of three hours and went wonderfully. The surgeons were very happy with the procedure and continuously assured everyone that he was doing just fine. Once we left the hospital and saw that he and his mother were settled in for the afternoon, we got a phone call from the hospital saying that he had already been extubated and was transitioning well. However, as with all open heart surgeries, the next 72 hours are critical. Please pray for Rayan as his body recovers from this procedure and that his mother may have peace of mind in the coming days.