In 2007, Jeremy & Jessica Courtney and Cody Fisher were both working for an NGO in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq. In the course of their various responsibilities, they each had frequent opportunities to interact with parents whose children received free heart screenings from the organization. All too often, the reports came back as expected: severe congenital heart defects requiring surgery for adequate treatment.
But for nearly all families, this diagnosis was useless because the amount of money it would have required to fund the surgery were two-years’-wages beyond their reach. The only way the hearts of these children would ever be healed would be if others were able to work together to provide the funds for them. The Courtneys and Fisher saw the urgent need to mobilize the financial resources to begin dealing with the daily growing backlog of (at that time) 3,000 cases in northern Iraq alone and they took action.
Buy Shoes. Save Lives.
The Courtneys and Fisher launched Buy Shoes. Save Lives. as a way to generate critical funding for this need through a creative blending of commerce and compassion. The program was a blend of micro-economic development and philanthropy: sell locally hand-made shoes to international markets and use the profits from the business to reinvest in heart surgeries for Kurdish and Arab children knocking on our doors each week.
The process of selecting and shipping locally hand-made shoes was painstaking, since local standards on sizing and quality control were not consistent with the demands of an international shoe-buying constituency. Many late nights were spent on inventory and preparing the shoes for international markets. On the first of many late work nights a volunteer named Michelle offered to help out with the manual labor and anything related to numbers.
The rest, as they say, was history! We immediately recognized Michelle’s financial skill and discipline and invited her to be our Chief Financial Officer. With so many opportunities to spend time together each day, Cody and Michelle hit it off and were married by April 2009.
As this movement gained momentum, more staff were added and better programs were implemented. The Preemptive Love Coalition was officially incorporated in February 2008 and immediately began diversifying the means through which people could come together to save the lives of kids in Iraq. PLC spent all of 2008 sending children through a partnering organization to nearby Middle Eastern countries for surgery. Over time it became obvious that visa problems for Iraqi travelers, inefficient systems for transport and processing, and rising medical costs made this a less than ideal scenario. PLC began exploring international alternatives.
Sending Children to Istanbul
After a couple of exploratory trips to Istanbul, Turkey PLC settled on the Anadolu Medical Center – a Johns Hopkins affiliate – as its main service provider. Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Sertaç Çiçek PLC received the advantage of flat rate surgery prices, savings over all previous options, an optimistic surgeon willing to spur us on in our Core Values, and better logistical options for visas and travel. In 2009-10 PLC sent over thirty children for surgery at AMC.
Still, PLC was not seeing the growth required to accomplish our mission: to eradicate the backlog of Iraqi children waiting in line for lifesaving heart surgery. We always dreamed of more than sending twenty children per year to surgery. And we knew that we would need 1,000 years in Iraq at the pace we were going. So things looked a little bleak until we met Dr. William Novick, founder, medical director and chief surgeon for the International Children’s Heart Foundation. When Dr. Novick explained to us that his specialty was training pediatric cardiac surgery teams in developing countries like Iraq, we knew we had finally hit upon the idea that would help us accomplish our mission.
Remedy Missions Increase Our Impact 4x!
In August 2010 we hosted our first Remedy Mission with Dr. Novick – a two week surgery and training marathon in which we provided 24 children with the shot at lifesaving surgery and invested over 5,000 hours of hands-on training for local Kurdish and Arab doctors, nurses, and technicians. Over the course of the mission first-of-a-kind surgeries were performed in Iraq, we liaised with the Vice President of Iraq and the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region to help four specially appointed children, and word spread across the country about the American surgeon who had come to save lives and train locals. By the end of 2010, eight more Remedy Missions were scheduled across northern and southern Iraq.
By its fourth birthday in July 2011, the Preemptive Love Coalition had provided 180 Iraqi children the chance at lifesaving heart surgery through six Remedy Missions. As invitations poured in from surgical teams, directors of health, governors, and families in every major city in Iraq, we formalized a plan with the Ministry of Health in Baghdad to begin serving in other cities across the country.
Nationwide Expansion & Remedy Fellowship
In 2012, we will work toward the launch of our Remedy Fellowship – #1 surgical training program in Iraq. Through 49 weeks of on-site training in Iraq, two major research initiatives, and hundreds of lives saved, the Fellowship may just be our last major stage in developing the framework necessary to train Iraqi doctors and nurses so they can eradicate the backlog of children waiting in line for lifesaving heart surgery.
What Should I Do Next?
Why not join the Coalition and begin saving lives right now? Our Buck-a-Month Club is the best way for most of our donors to ensure that Iraqi doctors and children get what they need to rebuild their country’s medical infrastructure. Your consistent gifts keep teams of international doctors here saving lives and training locals–click here to sign up!