Hussein's Heart Surgery


Forget Not All His Benefits

Posted on Sun, 07/27/2014 - 23:30 by Sarah Powell

On the night of Hussein's farewell party, as we all took a moment to reminisce with him and his father about our time with them, one of the things I told them was that I often feel like I am not able to get to know the families that come here the way I would like to because of language barriers. However, with them it was different. Instead of giving up on me when I didn't understand what they were trying to say, they worked with me until I did understand. And I saw them do the same with many of us who did not really speak Arabic. It was because of their patience (and willingness to do a lot of pantomiming) that I was able to actually get to know both Hussein and his father well during their time here. They spent nearly four months in our home, and it was time well spent.

Hussein's story is an incredible one. In all reality, he should not be alive right now. Most children born with a heart defect like his don't live half as long as he did without medical intervention. And typically, they have to undergo heart surgery within the first couple years of their lives in order to survive the surgery; otherwise, the changes are too great for their body to handle. Yet, last Friday, we sent Hussein home with a fully repaired heart.

But Hussein's story is not only incredible because of his survival and healing. One of the conversations that I had with Abu Hussein (Hussein's father) that stands out most vividly in my mind is actually a conversation that stopped me and a couple others on our way out the door one day. He stopped us that day to tell us some of his family's story. His family has been removed from their home twice, forced to leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The first time, they fled from their home in the Golan Heights of northern Israel. The second time, they fled from their home in Syria. Most of us cannot imagine the difficulty of being driven from our homes with nothing and being forced to start life over again even once. Abu Hussein has had to do it twice.

The second time that their family had to flee their home it was because of escalating violence around them caused by the current conflict in Syria. When their family left Syria, Hussein's younger brother stayed behind to fight. If it had not been for his heart condition, Hussein would have stayed to fight also. In fact, just before he came to Israel, Hussein had attempted to return to Syria without his parent's knowledge. He was already sitting on the bus ready to go when suddenly his mom knocked on the bus window and told him that they may have found a way for him to get his heart fixed in Israel. Hussein had told one of our volunteers, Philip, that he strongly believed it had been God's will for him to come to Israel, and that is why his mom had found him on the bus that day.

Shortly thereafter, Hussein and his father arrived at our doorstep, full of expectation. However, they were forced to wait quite some time before Hussein could begin receiving medical treatment because the hospital was hesitant to give Hussein the discounted “children's price” that most of our patients receive, since he was already eighteen years old. At first, this waiting seemed like a setback, but – as always – God showed us soon enough that there was a reason He was causing them to wait. It was during this time of waiting that Abu Hussein began complaining of abdominal pain and was taken to a hospital in Jerusalem to be checked out. That was when it was discovered that Abu Hussein had a large tumor on his bladder, which was later confirmed to be cancerous. So while Hussein waited for his own medical treatment to be sorted out, his father underwent two separate surgeries in order to remove his tumor and later received several chemo treatments.

Only a few days after his father was discharged from the hospital, Hussein's hospital costs were worked out, and he was invited for his first appointment at Sheba. In the end, the time of waiting had been God's way of creating the perfect timing. If Hussein had started his medical treatment any earlier, he and his father may have ended up separated at some point while they each got treated in different hospitals. However, in God's perfect timing, just as Abu Hussein's treatment was finished, Hussein's treatment began.

The first steps of Hussein's medical treatment simply consisted of the doctors gaining a full understanding of his heart's condition. After doing thorough examinations of Hussein's heart with echos, EKG's, and a catheterization, the doctors concluded that 1) it was a miracle Hussein had lived so long with his heart in the condition it was in and 2) they were willing to attempt a Fontan shunt procedure on him. This procedure would be high risk, but Hussein's only other option would be to go without any surgery and continue living as he had been, i.e. with stunted growth and getting short of breath after walking only a few hundred meters. Once they had weighed these options, Hussein and his father both agreed that they wanted to go through with the surgery, and a few days later, Hussein underwent open heart surgery. The surgery was completed with no complications, and only a few hours afterward, Hussein was already drinking water and Skyping with his family. One week later, he was discharged and back at our Shevet home. Three weeks after that, he was discharged to leave. Hussein is a living, breathing miracle.

During their time with us, Hussein and his father became an integral part of our community. Abu Hussein was fond of critiquing each meal that we cooked, but also fond of helping out if he could.

He took it upon himself to solve our mouse and rat problem, and caught mice in his little trap cage more than once. After showing his catch to some unsuspecting female volunteer to frighten them, he would let the mice go on the other side of the street because he did not want to kill them. He also loved to show me sensational videos that he found on his Facebook wall, most of which were either clearly staged or badly animated, but which he always believed to be completely real and true.

Hussein was always happy to help out around the house. He even joined me on twice-weekly shopping trips whenever he was able and made friends with all of the workers at the supermarket we go to. Near the beginning of his time here, a short term volunteer, Shannon, began giving Hussein English lessons. After she left, I took over giving him those lessons, and he was happy to teach me Arabic along the way too. He was involved in every part of life on the base, including going to the park with the other kids, walking our dog, and cleaning the front courtyard.

I also had several conversations with him about faith, his family, and Syria which consisted of him explaining things to me in Arabic with accompanying animated gestures until I understood, and then me replying and asking questions using Google Translate. It was in those conversations that I learned the main reason he wants to go back to Syria is not necessarily because he wants to champion his people's cause (although that's part of it too) but because he doesn't want his brother to be alone there. I learned that the top story of his house in Syria was destroyed in an explosion, so before his family left Syria, they had all been crammed into the bottom floor of their home for some time. I learned that many Muslims in Syria right now see Syrian Christians as their friends in the fight against the Syrian government. And finally, I learned that even in the midst of the tragedy that he and his family have experienced, he still believes somehow that God is merciful and should be honored and thanked.

The other thing that I shared with Hussein and Abu Hussein at their farewell party was they they had become like family to me. Hussein had become like a brother, and his father had become like a slightly ornery uncle to me (and yes, those were the exact words I said to them). And it was true. Most of us were sad to see them go in one way or another. And Hussein and his father seemed to feel the weight of the goodbyes as well. They had become close not only to us volunteers but also to all of the other families in the house, and it showed as we bid farewells on Friday morning. However, it was also a joy for them – and us – to know that they were finally going to be reunited with their family again after nearly four months away from them. They went with Jonathan to the site of Abu Hussein's old home in the Golan Heights, to the Sea of Galilee, and then on to a lengthy crossing of the border before they eventually arrived home and were joyfully reunited with their family.

Hussein and his father have encountered much calamity in their lives, but they have also encountered great blessing. Hussein himself is truly a living miracle, and his newly healed heart is a gift from God. We pray that Hussein and his father will retain all that they saw of God's goodness here as they move forward in this new season of their lives.

Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgives all you iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies you mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103:1-5

Bittersweet News

Posted on Sun, 06/29/2014 - 20:39 by Nick Boyum

Hussein has been waiting for this day for a long time. And a good measure more waiting was done today, because there were many patients in front of us in line to receive echoes at the hospital. Nick brought along his authentic Jerusalem souvenir backgammon board, which helped the both of them and Dawod pass the dull hours in the waiting area.

In fact, the first two games were won by Hussein, but he brushed off his victories with the humility of a true champion. After a quick EKG, and then the following echo, the moment had come. There was a brief moment of silence, then the doctor spoke the words that make the hours and days of waiting worth it: "He looks really good." He wants to see the results of one more blood test to ensure his INR has remained stable, and he added that Hussein should be mindful of keeping his water intake at a minimum to reduce chances of build-up around the heart. But all things considered, he could be discharged and, if the Lord wills it, back in Jordan by week's end. On that note however, it is important to remember that his father has recently started a six week chemotherapy treatment, which if unavailable in Jordan could greatly delay their departure. This seemed to be fantastic news for everyone but Hussein. He smiled weakly, and asked a lot of questions. It was then and there that I realized how much our community has attached ourselves to him and his father, and them to us. The look in his eyes was not outright disappointment; it was the realization that he would soon have to pack up and say farewell to his new family. In fact, he had already said goodbye to one of his best friends on Prophets Street already earlier that morning.

Hussein, our community shares your bittersweet feelings of triumph and apprehension. Friends, join with us in praying that the next couple days confirm Hussein's healthy state, and that his heart would find joy in the notion of returning to his family in Jordan.

Echoing Praise

Posted on Sun, 06/22/2014 - 22:01 by Kirsten Perow

During Hussein’s echo today, he received the incredible news that there was no trace of fluid in the pericardial sac around his heart! The news came as a big relief, not only because Hussein has been on an insanely strict liquid intake restriction of 1000 mL per day, but also because it means he is doing exceptionally well only 3 weeks after major surgery.

Although Hussein may appear stoic in the photo, he was actually joyfully discussing the good news with his father and the doctor. He was also very excited to now have a fluid allowance of 1500 mL per day, but is eagerly anticipating the following week for his next, and possibly final echo! One would think a major health condition such as Hussein’s might slow one down, but not Hussein. He exhibited such passion and helpfulness today as he showed me around the hospital I had never been to, as well as introduced me to all the doctors I needed to meet, even though it was often a lot of effort to locate them. On the way to and from the hospital, Hussein insisted on practicing English, which he has been studying in his free time, and being a typical young man by requesting the van loudly play his favorite songs. Praise God for the increasing good news for Hussein, and praise Him for the time we are all able to spend with the special young man.

Finding Patience in Him

Posted on Sun, 06/15/2014 - 21:06 by Philip Rasmussen

Hussein had his big surgery only two weeks ago, and today was the first time he was invited back for an echocardiogram since he was released from the hospital.

On his first day back from the hospital, Hussein was very weak and did not feel ready to be at home. During the week he has improved a lot, but has still spent most of the time on his bed doing nothing active. For the past week he has only been allowed to take in one liter of liquid per day, which has been driving him insane. He is also feeling stiff in his back, and it hurts a lot when he tries to move some of his upper body muscles. It’s difficult for him to believe that time will do its work regarding these issues. Therefore he was glad to have an appointment with the echo clinic today to get a medical update and to be able to ask some of the questions he has.

Hussein was called in relatively quickly to get some initial tests done - EKG and weight. Thereafter his echo followed, which revealed that he has a smaller amount of fluids around his heart and in his lungs. The doctor didn’t see it as something to worry about, and actually increased his fluid allowance. He also encouraged him to be a lot more active in order to see how the fluids react on this change. Hussein is therefore invited for an echo next Sunday. In Hussein’s ears it was both good news and bad news; he still does not believe that it will get better with time. I tried to remind him of his condition one week ago and how much he has improved. There is nothing he would rather like to do than to go back to his family and friends in Jordan.

We almost always ask you to pray alongside us for patience for our patients, and today as well I ask this of you. It seems to be so easy to get frustrated and stop looking at things we can be grateful for. Hussein has an awful lot to be thankful for, as he went through a two step surgery in one operation and has been healing very well. Thanks for your continued support.

Stronger Than Ever Before

Posted on Sun, 06/08/2014 - 23:20 by Rahel Eschler

It was only one week ago when Hussein underwent his life-changing successful full heart repair. After a hard week of recovery and overcoming several difficulties along the way the cardiologist decided today Hussein was ready to be discharged. We received the good news from the head nurse at Sheba by a phone call while we were visiting some of our children at another hospital in Tel Aviv. It was late afternoon by the time we made our way to the children's cardiac ward at Sheba hospital, where Hussein and his dad were staying.

After the previous echoes had shown some plural effusion, he was treated with diuretics, and the physiotherapist made sure he would do his breathing exercises to prevent a lung infection. The echo performed earlier today showed significant improvement, as there were no more signs of pulmonary congestion or infiltration to be found. Nevertheless, Hussein is still on several medications to support his heart condition, one of them being a blood thinner which requires frequent blood tests. Hussein is still pale and not yet full of strength, but the day will come when he will grow even stronger than ever before with the help of his new heart.

It is quite unusual that teenagers are able to get full heart repairs, due to their age. This fact makes Hussein’s life even more of a special miracle, and we praise the Lord for this huge gift of abundant grace towards this young man. As these two men have a strong longing for their family back in Jordan, I invite you to pray with me for them to remain patient and endure for the remaining phase recovery.

A Healing Heart

Posted on Thu, 06/05/2014 - 22:30 by Ruth Zellweger

The volunteers and Kurdish and Syrian families at Shevet Achim form one big family. We live together and share in each other’s joys and burdens. Hussein and his father have been part of my Shevet family for several months, and I was eager to see Hussein after his open heart surgery four days ago. Liliane and I were on the way towards the ICU at Sheba Hospital when I suddenly saw a familiar face: Abu Hussein. He was in the waiting area of the echo department, and Hussein was sitting on one of the couches next to him!

When Hussein recognized us, he got up and welcomed us warmly. My heart rejoiced when I saw him doing so well. 

After a while, Hussein was called in for an echo. He climbed on the bench, and the echo technician started the procedure. She was interrupted several times by Hussein’s moaning from discomfort. Then the cardiologist took over and examined Hussein carefully.

Hussein eventually found a position that brought him some relief from his discomfort. Ten minutes later, the echo was finished, and the results revealed a beautifully-healing heart with only some minimal pleural effusion. A miracle has taken place in Hussein’s life! If he continues to heal well, he will be discharged soon. We are very much looking forward to this.

Hussein walked back to the ward he is currently staying in.

We could tell he was tired from the examination, and after a while Liliane and I bid him our farewells. I am thankful God has sustained Hussein, and I am looking forward to his return to our Shevet family. 

Progressing Well

Posted on Mon, 06/02/2014 - 22:15 by Lina Sara

Today Jesse and I traveled to the hospital to visit Hussein and his father and check on Hussein’s progress after his surgery yesterday. I was especially excited to visit Hussein today. I had asked Jesse recently how Hussein was doing and was surprised to hear he was already awake. His quick healing thus far has been astonishing, and I was happy to hear of his rapid recovery.

When we arrived at the hospital, the doctors were making their rounds and checking on all the patients. We waited until they were finished with Hussein and then stepped inside to spend some time with him and his father. Hussein is doing much better today, and the doctors told him he can begin eating again soon. He seemed a little stressed and bothered, however, from being in the hospital, so I tried to calm him down and encourage him to relax in order to speed up his healing process.

While we were with Hussein, his physical therapist came in to help him with his breathing. She asked us who we were, and I was able to share about our work at Shevet Achim and how we chose a verse from the Psalms to represent our ministry. She was happy to meet Hussein and his father and said she wished they were able to return to their own country.

Overall, our visit to Hussein seemed to help calm Hussein down. His father too was more relaxed after we arrived. Both of them consider all the Shevet members to be their family, and they have found real care and love amongst us. Please continue to lift Hussein up in your prayers, asking the Lord for his continued healing.

The Great Physician's Favor

Posted on Sun, 06/01/2014 - 23:22 by Philip Rasmussen

A group of community members headed out this morning to be with Hussein and his father at the beginning of Hussein’s big day. We were told the doctors would have a meeting in the early morning with them, and we wanted to see father and son afterwards and hear their thoughts concerning Hussein’s operation. We were first called in around 10 o’clock after the doctors had finished their meeting. The long waiting time surprised us, but we had peace about the doctors’ lack of pressure or rushing. It was clear they were taking Hussein’s case seriously.

The surgeon told Hussein and his father that Hussein was basically a walking miracle. Normally patients with his kind of heart defect are treated within one year, but Hussein’s heart has been functioning for nineteen years without any intervention, which is an amazing feat. The surgeon said there are areas in Hussein's body which have lacked proper oxygen for nearly twenty years and which could possibly be provided with better oxygen flow through surgery. He informed our Syrian friends the operation involves a 5% mortality risk. In their ears, this risk didn’t sound frightening, however, and they decided to move forward.

Hussein was rolled into the preparation room just half an hour later, and the medical team was standing by, ready to take him into the operation area. The call came to wheel him into surgery, but Hussein's father was not present. Motioning to the medical staff to wait, Hussein quickly made it clear he really wanted to see his dad before he was taken away.

Two staff members ran around the building as a result, searching for Abu Hussein. The medical staff was friendly and told us they knew it was very important to have family time before such a major event. After around ten minutes, father and son were reunited and said their goodbyes in an emotional, long hug.

There was a lot of love and affection evident between the two of them, and it was heartbreaking to witness, even more so because they come from a culture which esteems respect and obedience within a father-son relationship more than other cultures.

We settled down in the waiting area shortly after Hussein went into surgery. Abu Hussein took some time to speak with his wife and children in Jordan who were worried about having their dear son and brother enter into a risky surgery. These absent family members might sometimes go through harder times than those members we are able to assist here in Israel. I often wish we somehow could do more for these long-distance family relations, but lack of relationships make it difficult. In this case, we can ask our Lord (who is not limited in space or time) to be their strength and comfort.

Around three-and-a-half hours later, we were told Hussein would soon be rolled into the ICU. A little later the surgeon came and told us everything had gone well and they had repaired all that was hoped to be repaired. Abu Hussein, in a mixture of joy and other emotions, took the surgeon’s head tightly in his hands and kissed him three times on his forehead. It was evident the father felt much more relaxed after the news. He started talking and opening up more, sharing his thoughts and feelings. We talked about how the next days will be the most critical for Hussein, something which Abu Hussein is fully aware of.

Some time passed, and we were called in to see Hussein in the ICU. At first he was still intubated, but soon he started waking up and coming out of the anesthesia.

His rapid recovery from surgery was surprising to all of us. He removed the oxygen mask from his mouth, and his oxygen saturation was reading at an amazing 97%. It was amusing for many of us to observe Hussein as he was still half-awake, half-asleep (a state of awareness which can create many funny comments and behaviors). He kept begging us time after time to raise the head of the bed, even though it was in the highest position it could go!

Before we left the hospital, we saw Hussein drinking water and Skyping with his family! We could not have asked for better signs of healing, and we invite you to pray alongside us for a steadfast recovery for Hussein. We have many reasons to give thanks to the great Physician, who has shown His faithfulness over and over.

Trusting With Our Whole Heart

Posted on Sat, 05/31/2014 - 22:20 by Kristina Kayser

Our brave friend Hussein from Syria is on the cusp of a potentially life-changing event tomorrow. Plans are now in order for him to have open heart surgery early Sunday morning at Sheba Medical Center. For most children born with heart defects, surgical repair should ideally take place within the first few years of life. It’s quite exceptional, therefore, that Hussein (who celebrated his nineteenth birthday yesterday) is just now beginning treatment. It's also amazing how the Lord has sustained him and given him the grace to grow into a young man. 

Following a successful catheterization on Thursday, Hussein was freed to return home yesterday on a short leave. The timing was perfect, as he and his father were able to join us for a peaceful Shabbat dinner, followed by a birthday party upstairs with our other Syrian and Iraqi families.

Hussein seemed happy to be surrounded by friends and laughed as we sang him two different versions of the song "Happy Birthday." Despite still being sore from the catheterization, he insisted on helping pass out our dessert of ice cream and baklava. Once everyone was served, we presented Hussein with a gift that included a Shevet T-shirt. I told him he is a walking miracle and every day of his life has been a gift from the Lord. We also praised God for the joy of knowing him and desired that he be given many more years to know and love God more. 

This afternoon, Hussein and his father had a candid conversation weighing out the risks and benefits of having open heart surgery. Surgeons are recommending a Fontan shunt procedure, which generally carries a higher mortality rate and can lead to a very difficult recovery period with compromised cardiac function, particularly for older patients. The only other option presented is for Hussein to not have surgery at all and continue functioning as he has been. This was sobering information, but both Hussein and his father are still in the mindset of proceeding forward tomorrow to the operating room. 

Prior to the scheduled time for surgery tomorrow morning, doctors will meet once more to consult together and speak with Hussein and his father. Please pray for God's will to be done and for Him to shed light and give wisdom in making the best decision for Hussein's life. 

Hussein is of age to consider the significance of the choices being given him. He says he is not afraid and God knows the days written for him. The last Scripture I shared with him before he left for the hospital this evening comes from 2 Chronicles 16:9. It says, "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him." Philip translated for me into Arabic, and we encouraged Hussein to trust the Lord with his whole heart. May we do this as well as we pray and stand beside our brother. 

Our community gathered together to pray for and say goodbye to Hussein just as the last light of Shabbat faded.

It was apparent he has become a special part of our home and a precious friend to us all, including our dog Shevy. Hussein made a point of saying goodbye to her before he left. 

The Lord is to be praised, and we trust He will be glorified still more and more in Hussein's life! 

Hussein's Catheterization Complete

Posted on Thu, 05/29/2014 - 23:11 by Kristina Kayser

Today on the eve of his nineteenth birthday, our friend Hussein underwent his first cardiac catheterization in Israel. Having already been through this procedure in Jordan, he had a good idea of what to expect. He even balked at the idea of having to sleep in the hospital overnight, feeling it was too much time to spend at the hospital for such a small operation. This guy was calm and confident, as was his father. 

As our crew traveled to Sheba early this morning, Yousef received a phone call from Hussein's father saying Hussein had just been taken into the catheterization lab. Unfortunately, a good deal of traffic prevented us from arriving at the hospital until a bit after the phone call. Once Yousef and I arrived, however, our waiting time was relatively short. I was expecting Hussein’s procedure to last at least two hours, but he finished after only an hour or so. I looked up to see the transport team emerge with Hussein's gurney and wheel him towards the intermediate ICU. Dr. Danielli then approached us to say the catheterization went well. He also said Hussein’s surgery could be as soon as Sunday!  

Back in the intermediate ICU, Hussein was sleeping peacefully under the effects of anesthesia.

When he began to wake up, however, he was in great discomfort. The poor guy moaned in pain and kept asking for his mother. I guess I was the closest substitute because he reached for my hand and squeezed it tightly.

A couple hours later, Hussein was still a bit groggy and sore but transitioning well. He was thirsty and asked frequently for water. We spoke about his birthday tomorrow, and I told him how happy I was his catheterization went well. He squeezed my hand one more time and gave a faint smile before closing his eyes again to rest.

Please pray for Hussein to have a peaceful recovery from his catheterization and to not be anxious about his upcoming surgery. Also, please pray his birthday would be special, even in the hospital, and that he would know how special he is to the Lord and to us!