Selmi's Heart Surgery


"I'm in God's Hands"

Posted on Wed, 06/05/2013 - 17:53 by Justina

Selmi was born in October of 1984 in Gaza. If you happened to pass Selmi on the street today, you would never guess this giant of a young man was born severely underweight and has struggled with medical issues all his life. “Selmi was born full term but weighed less than two kilos (four pounds),” explains his mother Hazjar. “The first three years of his life, he lived in the hospital more than he lived at home.”

Selmi was born with several congenital heart defects that were repaired in stages at different hospitals throughout his life. For the first seventeen years of his life, Selmi's parents were in and out of hospitals in Gaza and Israel, often staying months at a time in a medical facility. His father Ahmed attempts to list his son’s extensive medical history: “When he was one year old, we went to Tel El Shomer for a cath and a year later another cath. When he was four, he was in Hadassah Ein Kerem for 40 days. When he was six years old, he was admitted to Yukluf Dana Hospital in Tel Aviv for another cath. There were other places but I don't remember all of them.”

Even though each procedure gave Selmi some relief, the results were always short lived and Selmi would find himself back in the hospital again. Selmi's father explains the events that led them to Wolfson Medical Center and Save a Child's Heart (SACH). Ahmed begins, “When Selmi was about 10 years old, a friend of mine told me about an American man named Jonathan who was living in Rafah. My friend told me this man had helped many children in Gaza who had heart problems. We'd tried everything else, so I thought...why not?”

Ahmed and his wife didn't waste any time in getting touch with Jonathan to see if he could offer the same help to their son. “We invited him for lunch," recalls Hazjar. “I remember our uncle killed a sheep and we cooked faat (Arabic dish with meat, rice and bread). I still remember how kind he was and how he listened to us with real care. Our family will never forget this.”

Jonathan, the international coordinator for Shevet Achim (Brothers Together), was able to secure permission for Selmi and his mother to travel to Wolfson Medical Center for a heart evaluation. Over the next seven years, Selmi and his mother would make the journey from Gaza to Wolfson four times. “My son was 10 years old the first trip and 17 his last trip,” says Hazjar. “I think over that time period we spent about 13 months total in the Wolfson hospital.”

Selmi was diagnosed with severe congenital Aortic Valve Stenosis (AVS). AVS is heart problem caused by a malfunctioning valve. When a poorly working valve traps the blood flowing out from the heart, pressure builds up inside the heart and causes damage.

In order to correct the AVS, doctors scheduled Selmi for surgery in January of 2007. The procedure used was called a Ross Operation, and Selmi was the first SACH patient to undergo such a surgery. During a Ross procedure, a diseased aortic valve is replaced with another of the patient's own heart valves, namely the pulmonic valve. The pulmonic valve is then in turn replaced by a homograft valve (a pulmonic valve donated by another person). The benefits of this procedure are that the patient does not need to use blood thinners, has less chance of infection, and receives a valve that works like a normal human valve.

Selmi's parents remember the in depth consultation with SACH doctors in which they explained the pros and cons of the operation. “The doctors at Wolfson told us that our son was the first patient at their hospital to have this operation,” recalls Hazjar. “They also said that a special doctor from America was being flown in do the surgery. They gave us time to think about it before signing the release papers.” Having spent so much time with doctors at Wolfson, Hazjar said she and her husband were confident the procedure would succeed. “We knew the medical staff well and had seen the excellent care they had given Selmi in the past. We trusted them and felt sure this was the right thing to do.”

The memory of her son's big surgery day is still vivid and distinct in Hazjar's mind. “I was so afraid and couldn't stop crying,” says Hazjar. “I remember Selmi looking up at me from the bed and saying, 'Mama, why are you crying? I'm in God's hands; if he gives me life, I'll live and if he doesn't then I'll die. But the important thing is, I'm in God's hands.’”

After a 12 hour-long surgery, Hazjar received the news that her son had come through the surgery with no complications. She describes the joy and relief: "I remember that everyone was so happy about Selmi! The hospital staff had a big party to celebrate the success of the surgery and the American doctor who operated on him. I also remember Dr. Tamir telling me, ‘Don't worry mama, you will see Selmi grow up, get married, and have children. And when he has children, tell them I am their uncle.’”

Whether they were prophetic words or medical wisdom, they have come to pass. Today Selmi is 29 years old, and four years ago he married a lovely, gentle-spirited young girl named Nadia. They now have two beautiful children: a two-year-old daughter and a four-month-old son.

"The doctors and nurses in Wolfson were so good," says Selmi as he remembers his numerous visit to SACH. "We spent so much time there while I was growing up that they became a family to me and my mom." His mama smiles brightly and says, “Yes. I love the people at Wolfson and felt at home there. It made me happy when one of the doctors or nurses would say, ‘Hazjar, we are your family.’ I hope one day to go back with my son so that Dr. Tamir can see that all his words about Selmi have come true!”