Rayan's Heart Surgery

northern Iraq

A Sweet and Gentle Blessing

Posted on Sun, 02/09/2014 - 22:21 by Becky Lantz

On December 22, our precious, little friend Rayan arrived to receive heart surgery. The brown-haired and brown-eyed girl showed up at Shevet with blue lips and blue hands, clearly in need of surgery. This was a big step for Rayan, but also a change for her family as well. Rayan left behind her home, her friends, and a little sister and father. Not knowing how long their stay would end up being, both Rayan and her mom came to Israel with very little knowledge of what this time in their life would look like. Deuteronomy 10:18 says, “He (God) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” I love this verse because I think it speaks directly to the heart of Shevet’s ministry. I have never thought of God’s heart for the alien until I came to this community where we and those we serve are all aliens in Israel.

It was clear upon their arrival Rayan and her mom were intimidated, scared, and definitely out of their element. Coming to live in a new culture with new faces where your language is sparsely understood takes an immense amount of courage and determination. I will always greatly admire the parents at Shevet who love their son or daughter so much that they leave everything familiar in order to save their child’s life.

Rayan and her mom arrived eight days before I did, and I remember meeting them for the first time. Rayan was shy and hid behind her mom quite a bit at the beginning. Before her surgery she was slowly coming out of her shell, taking in the world around her and trying to understand the odd foreigners from over seven different countries surrounding her.

In her first few days here, we found out she needed a two-part surgery. Rayan’s first assessment at Wolfson revealed she would need one surgery to receive a shunt to enlarge her arteries and then later need to return to Shevet several months later to have a second surgery for heart repair.

Waiting was a huge part of Rayan’s journey, and as I reflect on her time at Shevet, I wonder how God used the waiting and obstacles for His good. We trust He used this waiting period in some way. Rayan was admitted into the hospital to have surgery on December 29, but on the day of her surgery the ICU shut down due to an unknown virus, and a week of waiting passed by at Shevet. With Rayan’s mom six months pregnant and Rayan’s high oxygen-depravation, this was a hard week for them. Nevertheless, they made it through, and on January 6, Rayan was readmitted into the hospital.

Finally, the process of giving Rayan a healthier heart and a new life began. It was clear her mom was excited about the prospect of her daughter having a much healthier and happy life, as she was beaming for the next few days. Finally surgery day came, and even though there were many tears shed by both Rayan and her mom, the surgery was successful! Praise God!

The time of healing was trying. Rayan had a persistent fever which didn’t break for about a week. This meant Rayan and her mom both had to stay in the hospital until the fever reduced. While Wolfson has an incredible staff that cares deeply for its patients, it was clear this was a hard time for both of them.

Finally after much waiting, Rayan and her mom returned to Shevet! We received them with open hearts, so happy to see this sweet, little girl recovering and healing so well. Rayan’s skin was no longer blue, but pink and vibrant thanks to a successful surgery.

Through the days and weeks leading up to Rayan’s departure, Rayan became more and more outgoing. It was a joy to develop a strong bond with her and her mom before they left.

I remember the first time Rayan grabbed my hand as we were playing in the park together. She not only showed me affection, but also opened up her little life to me in a small way. My favorite memories with her are blowing kisses to one another whenever I saw her first thing in the morning and the huge, toothless grin she would give. Her mom and I also shared a special bond, even though our communication was minimal. One day she asked me what my name was. I told her, “Becky.” She thought I said, “Buckley,” so for the rest of their time at Shevet, they fondly referred to me as “Buckley,” which always provided a few hearty laughs.

I will greatly miss both Rayan and her mom. When I decided to come to Shevet, I immediately began praying the people at this ministry would become a family to me. God has answered that prayer in big ways so far, and I’m thankful Rayan and her mom were a part of that answer.

We had a farewell party for all the children leaving last Thursday evening, and with three children leaving, it was quite the celebration. Rayan sat quiet and poised, trying not to show her excitement as she was showered with gift after gift:

As it came time for us to say our farewells to Rayan and her mom, we all remarked on how well Rayan was healing and how much she had opened up since her arrival. One volunteer described Rayan as a blossoming flower, who slowly opened herself and her beauty to all of us at Shevet. I love this imagery because it makes me think of how God intricately and uniquely designs all of us with care. He does not haphazardly make us; He designs us with thought, thinking even about the smallest details of our personality. In the same way He created the flowers of the field, so He created us to be beautifully different and unique.

I learned several things from interacting with Rayan and her mom. One of the greatest things I enjoyed watching was the relationship between Rayan and her mom. It was clear from day one Rayan’s mom had a deep, unreserved love for her daughter. I will never forget the way she often pushed aside her own struggles and discomforts with pregnancy or a new culture and chose to love her daughter in a time of need. Rayan would often cry during echoes or IV’s, and her mom was right by her side the whole time. It was so sweet to see the strong bond between a mom and her daughter.

Observing this bond always gives us a chance to reflect on our relationship with our heavenly Father. Though we were his enemies, He loved us without reserve. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, everyone to his own way; and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). And yet we are told, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see the light and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11). There is no comparison to our heavenly Father’s love!

We ask as Rayan and her mom return back to their home that you would continue to lift them up in prayer. We were able to share the gospel with the families during a trip to see the Garden Tomb, which is right down the road from Shevet. We ask you would pray for the Holy Spirit to do a work in their hearts and lives and for the gospel to penetrate their hearts, leaving them with a longing to know Jesus as their Messiah.

Good News of Great Joy

Posted on Thu, 02/06/2014 - 22:31 by Becky Lantz

Today was filled with joy for Rayan and her mother. As we headed to Wolfson for Rayan's final echo, I could tell Rayan's mom was excited about the possibilty of being able to go home this weekend. Her excitement was not unfounded. Today was the oh-so-joyously awaited day of Rayan’s official discharge and release to head home this weekend! Praise the Lord!

Rayan was one of the first children I met when I came to Shevet about a month ago. She quickly won my heart with her warm smile and gentle kisses.

Communication might be an issue for us since I only know a few words in Kurdish, but this has not stopped us from developing a bond through coloring Cinderella pictures together, giving each other high-fives and fist pounds, and sharing a common love of bubbles and balloons.

Even though it's been a long journey for both of them, I praise God for bringing Rayan and her mother to Shevet in this season of their lives. It would have been easy for Rayan to be lost in the crowd of children in the Middle East in need of heart surgeries. I wholeheartedly believe God had a hand in Rayan making it through to her operation. I pray one day she looks back on this time in her life and understands and knows God's heart for her. I pray He healed her heart so she may one day know His heart. 

Rayan Nears the Finish Line

Posted on Tue, 02/04/2014 - 00:12 by Kristina Kayser

I have long believed if you earn the trust of a child, you have been given a beautiful gift. Rayan is a child, quiet and shy, who came to Israel with barely a peep heard from her lips. Much like a spring blossom, however, Rayan's personality and smile have emerged slowly but steadily, growing lovelier all the while. In the meantime, I have fallen in love with this girl. She has not only become my friend and little sister, but also my assistant nurse. Every time I'm upstairs doing the children's checkups, Rayan is right beside me, testing the thermometer and stethoscope out on herself and the other kids. She seems to love listening to the sound of her heartbeat. I tell her someday she will grow up to be a doctor or nurse.  

Rayan's heartbeat was under the spotlight again during today's hospital visit. This time, though, it was Wolfson's cardiology team on the other end of the stethoscope and echo probe. Four weeks of post-op recovery have been completed, and Rayan's return home is imminent. Dr. Alona was impressed with the positive test results. She was quick to announce only one more echo on Thursday is required before Rayan and her mother can return to Kurdistan. Joy was apparent, and a mood of celebration began to grow. 

What better way to proceed then to carry our joy to the seaside? Two vans carrying four Kurdish families, seven volunteers, and a delicious picnic lunch were soon greeted by sun rays reflecting off turquoise waters like a thousand strands of diamonds. A collective gasp of awe and delight could be heard as the sea came into view. Over the next hour or so, hospitals and heart surgeries seemed a distant recollection. What stood before us was a vast horizon filling each soul with hope. 

I mistakenly presumed Rayan would be intimidated by the crashing waves. Holding her in my arms, I walked along the water's edge. She laughed and laughed as we began spinning in an impromptu waltz.

No sooner had I set her down on the sand then she raced toward the water. Quicker than a wink, she continued deeper until I swept her up again, barely avoiding a super soak!

Rayan was fearless! 

Perhaps this courageous spirit of hers is a gift from God to carry her through the next several months until she has to return to Israel for the final step of her heart repair. Praise the Lord for the healing that has already taken place and for the healing I trust is still to come. 

A Positive Echo

Posted on Mon, 01/27/2014 - 19:47 by Becky Lantz

As the sun rose this morning in Jerusalem, the Shevet volunteers gathered for morning devotions, and I was reminded of Psalm 65:8: “You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.” We’ve been blessed to have four healthy children slowly but surely recovering from recent heart surgeries, and today all four of them had echoes, including little Rayan.

Rayan and her mother were all smiles on the way to Wolfson, but as we arrived I could tell Rayan’s mom was feeling a little uneasy, especially since Rayan’s long stay at this same hospital had ended only a week ago. It came time for the echo, and I watched as Rayan's mom held her head high and offered up a prayer as the echo began. The relationship between Rayan and her mom is quite strong, which has been a beautiful thing to observe. Since my time at Shevet, I’ve seen the bond between the children and their mothers and been struck with how a mother’s love is unending. When I compare this to my heavenly Father’s love, I am astounded at how relentlessly He pursues, cherishes and loves His children.

Even though she cried throughout part of the echo, Rayan was a brave girl and tried to lie as still as possible while the doctors checked her heart.

Their verdict was to take Rayan off some of her prescribed medication, which is a sign of improvement. Rayan will need, however, at least two more echoes before she can return home. Even though this may not be the time frame desired by Rayan and her mother, we choose to have joy because she is recovering. Please continue to pray for Rayan’s healing as she and her mother remain with us in Jerusalem.

Back Home at Shevet

Posted on Mon, 01/20/2014 - 16:55 by Jesse Tilman

Rayan has made large strides in her recovery, and the staff at Wolfson hospital was happy to send her home with us to Jerusalem today. She is virus-free and alert to the world around her.

And much to my joy today was probably the first day she felt comfortable enough around me to take my hand and walk a little bit.

Her mother was glad to be returning with us to the Shevet building. She and Rayan leave behind roommates and playmates from around the world as they exit the hospital, but the new life awaiting them outstrips any regrets.

Weathering the Storm

Posted on Sun, 01/19/2014 - 20:53 by Kristina Kayser

Every journey has its challenges, and sometimes those challenges prove too difficult to bear. For Rayan and her mother, their hospital stay is proving to be increasingly trying. Twelve days have passed since Rayan's successful surgery, but she's not yet ready to return home to Jerusalem. A nagging fever of unknown origin has required IV antibiotic treatment in recent days, and blood tests have confirmed signs of an underlying infection. Because the fever spikes sporadically and doesn't appear to have any effect on Rayan, her mother doesn't see the necessity of remaining at the hospital. Moreover, she expected to be away from our home no more than one week, so each day beyond that is intolerable in her opinion. Being six months pregnant also intensifies her personal struggle. 

The good news is Rayan had her first day without a fever today, and doctors are hoping it won't return. Her echo also showed positive results this morning.

At this point, the next few days should tell us if Rayan is infection free and healthy enough to be discharged from Wolfson. Just by looking at this lovely girl, you can tell her heart is well on its way to being restored. I praise God that despite a longer hospital recovery, Rayan’s beautiful smile has not faded.

Please join us in praying that her mother and she will experience fresh strength and joy from the Lord and that their burden will be lifted soon. 

Rayan Stronger by the Day

Posted on Mon, 01/13/2014 - 00:03 by Kristina Kayser

Rayan's spirit and personality seem to be thriving just as much as her heart following surgery. While it has only been six days since her operation, each day finds this sweet girl stronger, bolder, and more cheerful. Shevet volunteer Marisa and I were pleased to find Rayan sitting up in bed this morning with a big smile on her face. The best part about Rayan's smile, aside from her four missing front teeth, is the fact that her lips are now a beautiful shade of pink.

After experiencing some labored breathing on Friday, she has since recovered and is breathing fine without any oxygen supplement. The temporary palliative shunt Dr. Sasson created has increased her oxygen saturation from the 60th to the 80th percentile, giving her newfound strength and joy. 

As a way of celebrating her good health, I bought Rayan a special treat which I remembered she enjoyed on a previous occasion—strawberry yogurt. Before her surgery, I bought one for myself and gave her a small taste, supposing she wouldn't like it (Kurds have a very selective palate). I realized I was quite mistaken when she licked her lips and quickly asked for another spoonful. We ended up sharing the whole cup, with Rayan scraping the sides for the last bit! So, today we sat side by side savoring each bite of our very own yogurt cups. 

Doctors are monitoring Rayan's progress and are hoping to send her home to us in the next few days. IV antibiotics due to a recent fever are almost complete. At that point, if all is well with Rayan's heart, we will be ready to receive her in Jerusalem once again. Praise God for His faithful and beautiful healing in our little friend!

A New Heart Beating!

Posted on Thu, 01/09/2014 - 22:20 by SV

This morning, several Shevet volunteers and I traveled to visit Rayan in Wolfson Medical Center. As we arrived at the main floor, we ran into Rayan leaving the ICU! 

We were so happy to see her moving. She looked incredible, and soon she was comfortably situated in her new home. As her mom hugged her, she looked quite comfortable, and she soon drifted off to sleep, looking like the little princess she is. 

Only two days after her surgery, her new heart is making a tangible difference in her appearance. Her previously blue features are being restored to a normal, healthy hue.

Our God is faithful to the prayers of His people, and Rayan is a living testimony of the healing power God loves to show His children. 

Comforting Love

Posted on Wed, 01/08/2014 - 22:28 by Rahel Eschler

Today around noon we left chilly Jerusalem and made our way without delay to Wolfson Hospital in the pleasantly warm Tel Aviv. I was excited to see Rayan on her first day after surgery and was curious about what condition I would find her in. As Shevet volunteers Kristina and I entered the ICU, the doctors had just finished their daily visits. We got the news that Rayan’s condition allowed the doctors to extubate her this morning. She was lying peacefully in her bed, still connected to a lot of tubes, when we arrived to see her. I couldn’t see Rayan’s mother anywhere near. So I stepped near to Rayan and observed her for a moment.

What a precious girl she is. Even in her fragile state she looked pretty with her long eyelashes, thick eyebrows, and her face framed with her beautiful, dark hair. I found out the other day her highlights are not natural. The mother colored her own hair, and she thought it would also look good on her daughter (I agree with her). Rayan still needs a lot of supporting oxygen, but she is able to breathe on her own, even though every breath seems to take quite a bit of effort for her. 

I know how important a mother is to her child, especially when the child is in unfamiliar situations or experiencing pain or fear. But I became even more aware of this truth today once Rayan woke up from her sedated sleep and started to cry for her mother. The nurse was not pleased at all that the mother had been gone for so long. So I felt responsible to step in to comfort Rayan. She wouldn’t calm down from only the sight of me, so I started to stroke her head and whisper the only Kurdish song I know in her ear. At the same moment the hospital clown walked by and took notice of the crying child. She joined me in singing the melody. This comforted Rayan and brought her back to an unsettled sleep. In between she would open her eyes for short moments to ensure I was still next to her. The sight of this helpless, unprotected little girl stirred up in me deep feelings of caring love. It made me think of our loving Father in heaven who is a Comforter to us in every situation. The Bible says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 

Rayan’s mother finally came back into the ICU. She had been having a lunch break outside. Rayan was released to see her mum and tried to reach for her with small arms, wanting her as close as possible. That’s what these small children need the most beside medical care to recover: their caring, loving, and familiar parent at their side. 

Rayan and her mum still have a long way to go, but first steps are already being taken towards recovery, and they will not be alone during this journey. Will you join us as we walk this road together with them in love and prayer?     

A Special Day

Posted on Tue, 01/07/2014 - 23:18 by Ruth Zellweger

Surgery days are special days. As each child is unique, so are their surgery days. Some times are peaceful, others are the opposite. Some mothers won't eat and drink until the surgery is over, others gain new strength by enjoying a meal. Often mothers receive many phone calls from their families, feeling the support from far away. Other times they experience pressure instead. Some mothers like to go for a walk during the waiting, others sit the whole time in the waiting area close to the ICU until the surgery is over. Most parents are eager to see their child after the surgery. But some mothers are afraid to enter the ICU, choosing instead to wait till the next morning. You never know what the day will be like. You guess and assume, but sometimes you might be completely wrong. 

But though there are unpredictable moments, there is one time during the surgery day when all the parents I have accompanied so far react the same way. It is the moment in the pre-operating room, after the child has been taken to the Operation Room (OR). There has not been a single parent who has not shed tears after their child was taken. Rayan's surgery today was not an exception. 

Shevet volunteers Shirel and I went to Tel Aviv early in the morning to be with Rayan and her mother. When we arrived at the ward, we found Rayan wide awake, pretending to write some important notes on a paper.

Soon it was time to go to the OR. As soon as she was laid in the bed, Rayan started crying. So her mother took her in her arms and carried her all the way.

The transport nurse wheeled the empty bed after them. We spent half an hour together in the pre-operating room. Rayan's father called to talk one last time with his precious daughter before the moment of separation came.

And as every other mother before her, Rayan's mother sobbed for some time in my arms after her daughter was wheeled away. 

Eventually she regained her composure, and we went to find Shirel. Once we were together, we walked back to the children's ward, where we proceeded to have breakfast. Time went by quickly, and we decided to go wait in front of the ICU.

A few minutes after 12 pm, Rayan was wheeled into the ICU. It happened so fast we almost missed it. Rayan's mother was overjoyed, and a beautiful smile lit her face. We saw Dr. Sasson, the surgeon, standing in the hallway and asked about the surgery. Everything had gone well, he said, and the first part of Rayan’s heart repair was successful. A shunt was created for the pulmonary artery to improve the oxygenation of the heart. We all rejoiced over the good news. 

After lunch we went to see Rayan in the ICU.

Everything looked well. Shirel and I left a few hours later with the good feeling that Rayan was well taken care of. It was a special day in many ways. We are so thankful for Rayan's life and pray that her recovery will be smooth. Thank you for joining with us in lifting her up before the Lord.