Hazhar's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

Lasting Friendship

Posted on Sun, 05/14/2017 - 22:12 by Ruth Zellweger

Today I had the joy and privilege to see again my dear friends Hazhar and his older sister. We met three and a half years ago in Israel, and since then they hold a special place in my heart. 

Together with my friends and co-workers John and Milly, and their two children, we arrived around lunch time in the small village where Hazhar's family lives. We were welcomed warmly by the entire family, which includes many children, older and younger. I was so happy to see that they had been able to stay in their home and did only have to leave for a short period of time when the Islamic State was near a few years ago. So many of their fellow Yazidi friends lost not only homes and earthly possessions, but worse their daughters and sisters to enslavement. In my heart I was so thankful that this family was spared from these traumatic experiences. 

My friend Hazhar was quite shy in the beginning. He has grown so much since I last saw him. He is now 11 years old and finishing fifth grade. His oldest sister, who had accompanied him to Israel for his heart surgery, had gotten married since and has now already had her own baby, Saman. She was her old lively and joyful self. 

We enjoyed a beautiful and delicious meal, and afterwards the women separated from the men.

While John spent time talking with Hazhar's father, the women and children went to a different room, having tea, and later nuts and fruit.

Hazhar opened up more and we recalled his time in Israel and all the volunteers he and his sister remembered. I contacted some of his old Shevet friends via Whatsapp, and some of them replied immediately, sending their greetings and love to this special family. 

When it was time to depart, everyone came outside and we took a group picture. 

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to see these precious people again. By having lived together closely in community, a special bond had been formed that is still intact. Even though we do not see each other often or talk on the phone, our friendship is lasting. Thank you God.

Precious Memories

Posted on Sun, 11/02/2014 - 21:20 by Ruth Zellweger

Before we went to Kurdistan in the beginning of October, Jonathan, Kristina, Sophie and I had talked about families we would visit for sure, as well as families we would potentially visit. After our arrival in Kurdistan it seemed that it would not work out for us to visit Hazhar and his family. But in the end, to our delight, the opportunity arose. Hazhar and his sister had become especially close to our community, since at the time of their arrival they were the only family at our house. They ate dinner with us, had some of the female volunteers as roommates, and even went with us on a team retreat in Netanya, staying for the first time in their lives in a hotel! Our Shevet community loves them dearly, and we knew that everyone was eager to hear how Hazhar and his sister are doing.

Upon arrival we were met by Hazhar, who was playing outside with several of his sisters. He greeted us with his beautiful smile. We were let in the living room, where his older sister served us cold water. Hazhar's mother had passed away just a few months before he came to Israel. One month after he came back to Kurdistan, his father remarried, and soon after his oldest sister, who had accompanied him, also got married and had moved out. He and his siblings had experienced many changes in a short time. It was interesting to observe them, all of them were very quiet and did not talk or laugh very much. However, they had in common a beautiful smile similar to Hazhar's.

We were eager to also meet with his oldest sister. After half an hour, Hazhar announced to us her arrival, and we went to the entrance to greet her. She was taken by surprise as she had not expected to see us. She had understood from her father that our mutual friend, John, had come by, but instead, it was us! With her arrival, the house became alive, with her joyful chatter lighting up the atmosphere. It was obvious that she is much-loved and missed by her younger siblings. She recounted Hazhar's and her time in Israel, remembering even small details, like: certain words a volunteer would use, or the nicknames Hazhar had given some of us. Being away from her family as one of their main care takers at that time, and being responsible for taking care of her younger brother in a foreign country certainly were not easy. However, she spoke very fondly of all of us and their time spent with us. While she was talking I suddenly realized that these are precious memories that will stick with her forever. She experienced something she most likely will never experience again, and we were privileged to spend a special time of her life with her and I am very thankful for that.

Before we left their house, we took some time taking pictures. I do not know if and when we will see each other again, but in my heart Hazhar and his sister hold a special place.

A Visit With Hazhar

Posted on Thu, 02/20/2014 - 17:20 by John M.

On February 14th, John and his family visited Hazhar. Hazhar and his sister had returned from Hazhar’s heart surgery in Israel a little less than a month earlier. Here is John’s account of the visit.

On February 13th, we had some friends drop in on us. Hazhar and his father, uncle, and sister came to visit us in our apartment.

Hazhar was not feeling well, so his family was taking him to his local pediatric cardiologist for a check-up. They came to us to ask about the medical problem. Over Skype the nurses at Shevet Achim (Kristina and Ruth) helped make sure Hazhar’s sister knew how to administer his prescriptions correctly and reassured Hazhar’s family that sometimes small issues would come up during the healing process.

When Iraqi-Kurdish children return from their surgeries, all neighbors and relatives come over to visit the family. In Hazhar’s case, we were waiting until the visitor traffic died down before traveling to see him. Hazhar’s dad, however, asked us during their visit when we would come, so we decided to make the trip to his home the next day.

His sister made a roasted chicken lunch and scolded us for not calling her earlier to tell her we were coming.

She wanted to treat us to her homemade yogurt using fresh sheep milk and didn’t have time to prepare it for us. We always say to our friends “Zeḧmet nechekir!” (“Don’t trouble yourself!”), which is a local expression that never actually stops anyone from going out of their way to be hospitable. A few days after this visit, Hazhar’s sister ended up dropping off a pot full of her rich, country yogurt when she was back in town as a small token of her appreciation, not only for us but for everyone who worked to save her brother’s life.

Hazhar lives in a village not far from Alqosh, which is traditionally known as the Prophet Nahum’s hometown (Nahum 1:1). Much of the year the surrounding wheat fields and pastures are dusty and parched from the sun’s intense heat.

Perhaps the Prophet Nahum drew some inspiration from his local environment when he spoke these words: “In whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers…” (Nahum 1:3-4).

Our visit, in contrast to this, came after heavy winter rains had fallen and watered the grass, thus transforming the whole landscape into a lush prairie (for about four months out of the year, Kurdistan’s mountains and plains turn green). God gave us a beautiful, sunny day to celebrate Hazhar’s fixed heart! After lunch, our daughter Ashty saw the grassy expanse and could not wait to walk in it.

That day, however, the medications were taking their toll on Hazhar’s poor stomach, and he was not his usual smiling self.

In fact, he wasn’t able to eat during the whole day we visited. Thankfully he has gotten better since then and fully regained his appetite.

In the Book of Nahum, God spoke to His people about their deliverance from an oppressive enemy: “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him [. . .] Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace!” (Nahum 1:7,15). This passage may also stir us to thank God for delivering this boy from an oppressive enemy called congenital heart disease. We can thank God for how He has touched this family with a little bit of His peace!

At the end of day before we left, we finally caught our weary friend Hazhar smiling as Ashty amused him and his father.

Patiently-awaited Healing

Posted on Sun, 01/19/2014 - 22:31 by Nick Boyum

Hazhar’s story is like those of so many children who pass through Shevet’s doors: initial tragedy, anxious anticipation, patiently-awaited healing. It is a great display of God’s love for each and every one of His children.

Before any of us even met Hazhar or his sister, they had to face something far more painful than they could ever imagine: recently losing their mother. Shortly after his sister inherited all her mother’s household responsibilities, she and Hazhar packed their bags and traveled further from home than they’d ever been to seek out medical care from a people whom they had no reason to believe were their friends. It is no surprise their arrival in Jordan, and shortly thereafter Israel, was not an occasion worth smiling about.

Their first couple weeks in Israel were rough, but volunteers and friends at Shevet began to see the Lord’s love working in each of them. Although there were no other Kurdish families to keep them company, smiles started creeping onto their faces as they began to feel like part of our family on Prophet Street. Many trials still lay ahead, but it was beautiful for us to behold our new brother and sister feeling more at home. The next weeks were full of fun, laughter, and new friends.

Just as Hazhar was preparing to get his long-awaited operation, the hospital postponed his surgery. Then it was postponed again, and then again. It was a hard, trying time for all the families awaiting surgery, but we continued to witness the Lord softening their disappointment and reminding all of us of His sovereign timing.

Finally the day arrived. As Hazhar was wheeled into the pre-op room, he was in good spirits. Despite being faced with the biggest trial of his whole, little life, Hazhar was a prime example of calm and collectedness. Handing him over to the doctors was not difficult, knowing they had proven themselves time and time again as true menders of hearts.

Aside from one small scare in the ICU following Hazhar’s surgery, he made a miraculously quick recovery. Weak at first, his smile was always evident. As the days passed and the Lord’s healing work progressed, his grin grew alongside his strength. His last days and weeks on Prophet Street passed in a flash. It was not long before we gathered together to say farewell to our little miracle and his brave, devoted sister.

As we thank God for the miracle He worked in Hazhar’s heart, we also thank Him for His continued love in Hazhar’s life. May the Lord continue to bless you, little Hazhar, and may you grow up a strong and proud bearer of the new heart God has given you.

“May the Lord bless and keep you; make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Hazhar's Final Echo

Posted on Mon, 01/13/2014 - 19:38 by Ruth Zellweger

Today was a day of rejoicing for Hazhar and his sister, as it saw their travel to Wolfson Hospital for Hazhar's final echo. Our drive to Tel Aviv was a joyful one. Besides Hazhar and his sister, Shevet volunteer Rahel and I took Anes and Payveen as well to be admitted for their open heart surgeries tomorrow. 

At the Echo Department we waited for over an hour until it was our turn, but once we were in the room everything went smoothly.

Within two minutes Dr. Alona announced Hazhar was discharged and cleared to return home. She also stopped the only medication he was on for his heart. Both brother and sister were equally excited—and playful. Dr. Alona left the room, and Hazhar decided it was now his turn to be the doctor. He climbed onto her chair and pretended to perform an echo on his sister. 

Then we all went to the children's ward and joined our other hospital families.

After a while they wanted to go to the little supermarket of the hospital. It was such a joy to watch them. Each of them is an important member of my Shevet family. There were Payveen and Anes, who will be having their heart surgeries tomorrow. There were Dalya and Rayan, who are recovering well from their heart surgeries last week. And there was my friend Hazhar, who had just been discharged. Together with the mothers, aunt, and sister, this made a lively group. We laughed a lot, and I think it was a day both Hazhar and his sister will keep in good memory. 

A Joyful Echo

Posted on Mon, 01/06/2014 - 21:12 by Rahel Eschler

Today I had again the honor of being Hazhar and his sister’s companion for another echocardiogram, which brings them one step closer to their return back home to Kurdistan. They were full of great expectations and in a good mood. 

As we arrived at Wolfson Hospital, we spotted our friends from Shevet sitting on the grass, soaking up the sun’s rays. They were waiting alongside a Kurdish aunt for her niece to be done with her heart surgery. We joined their peaceful atmosphere and split our lunch together. 

After that strengthening meal, we headed towards the echocardiogram rooms. The waiting area was filled with a handful of laughing, playing kids. We expected a long waiting time, but Dr. Alona called us for Hazhar’s examination relatively quickly. Hazhar is experienced with echocardiograms by now, and knew how to get ready for his ultrasound. Without a wink, he led the doctor to do her work. And she was pleased with the results of his echocardiogram. Everything looks perfect with his heart. Hazhar agreed with thumbs up. 

We were told to reduce almost all of his medicine, and Dr. Alona wants to see Hazhar one last time in one week for his final echo. Hazhar’s sister didn’t complain at all about staying a few days more than she hoped. Instead we all rejoiced together about the good results. We thank the Lord for a beautiful and successful day. We want to treat our dearest ones with God’s love and to enjoy every minute with them in their remaining days at our Shevet base.       

A Quickly-Healing Heart

Posted on Mon, 12/30/2013 - 22:20 by Rahel Eschler

This overcast morning we headed out with our precious cargo in our backseat: seven-year-old Hazhar and his older sister. After arriving at the children hospital, our charges were already hungry from our hour-long journey to Tel Aviv. Fortunately, Shevet volunteer Kristina had brought some Kurdish food with her.

This fit well with Dr. Alona’s time schedule, as she was having her lunch break too. 

Once in the echo room, everything went quite fast. Dr. Alona was pleased with the results of the heart surgery performed two weeks ago and was able to reduce Hazhar’s fluid-lowering medicine intake. Hazhar’s sister was overwhelmed by happiness as Dr. Alona shared the outcome of his echo cardiogram.

God-willing, we will be waving Hazhar and his sister off to Kurdistan in about two weeks. There will be one more echo cardiogram in another week to confirm the steady healing of his heart. We’re sharing their joy and are once again amazed by God’s grace. 

Hazhar's Christmas Day Homecoming

Posted on Wed, 12/25/2013 - 22:48 by Ruth Zellweger

Today was a special day. Not only did we celebrate the birth of our Messiah, but we also joyously received the news that Hazhar's stay at the hospital has come to an end. We received a phone call in the early afternoon from Wolfson Hospital informing us Hazhar was cleared to come to Jerusalem. It was a time of rejoicing when we spread the news in our Shevet community. 

Kelsey and I were the privileged ones to pick him up. When we entered his hospital room, Hazhar and his sister greeted us with beaming smiles. In all my excitement about them returning home, I forgot to bring Hazhar's clothes from Jerusalem. So Hazhar had to travel in his pajamas. 

Before we arrived in Jerusalem, we made our imminent arrival known to our fellow volunteers. They decided to surprise Hazhar and his sister by all standing behind the front gate. Once Hazhar entered the courtyard, they all jumped out and welcomed him, creating quite the joyful stir. We are so thankful to have Hazhar back with us, and we praise God for his healing and pray for his continued recovery.

An Early Christmas Gift

Posted on Tue, 12/24/2013 - 23:54 by Ryan Foley

Hazhar is doing very well this Christmas eve! His pain is down quite a bit, and the doctors think he can return to our community in just a few days. He's even able to walk a bit.

It was my first time to see him since just after his surgery when he was still sleeping.

It was a grand reunion with chocolate, hugs, and our seemingly only common word: "babaganoush." I showed him some pictures and video of his best little friend, Hamoudi. He was glad to know his friend is in good spirits. 

We played a few card games until we were all worn out. Before we left, he learned to give a timely, seasonal greeting. 

We anticipate his presence at the base VERY soon!

A Wink and a Smile

Posted on Sun, 12/22/2013 - 23:58 by Nick Boyum

Four days after Hazhar’s open-heart surgery, he gave us his first post-op scare. On Friday morning, a couple hours after being moved out of the secondary ICU into the children’s ward, his heart rate began climbing. His body’s only response to medicine was a drop in blood pressure. After a heart echo revealed fluid around his heart, doctors performed an emergency operation to insert a fourth chest tube to drain the fluid. 

Add two days and subtract three chest tubes, and that brings us to this morning. Hazshar was sitting up in bed, eating and, most importantly, smiling!

He was still weak, but full of energy, which he used to call all his friends back at Shevet in Jerusalem. He talked to volunteers Jesse and Ryan for several minutes and inquired about many others, laughing and smiling the whole time. He even took time out of his busy schedule to teach Shevet volunteer Nick how to count to ten in Arabic.

It was such a blessing to sit for almost two hours with Laila and Hazhar and watch the healing surgery God is performing on our little Iraqi treasure’s heart each and every minute. Keep Hazhar in your prayers this week as he continues to recover!