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“My Heart Defect Doesn’t Define Or Defeat Me, It Compels Me To Serve”

February 27, 2014 by · Comments Off 

A photo of Roslyn with the famous Maddy, our 300th child served.

CHD Awareness Month is almost over, and I thought we should close out with a story from an amazing nurse and friend, Roslyn Rivera. I first met Roslyn in an ICU in Iraq, where she was showing the scar on her chest to an Iraqi child. It was obvious that the child got what she was saying: “I’m like you, and I’m here for you.” So when Roslyn volunteered to share more about life with a heart defect, and how it has changed her life—and the lives of countless children—for the better, we said “Yes!”

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I knew at the age of ten that I wanted to be a nurse when I grew up.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this life decision at such a young age would lead me to one day serve children all around the world.

My story begins the day I was born. I was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, having two holes in my heart. I had two heart surgeries—at age three and ten. It was during that hospitalization at age ten that I decided I wanted to become a nurse. I noticed the faint scar on the chest of one of my nurses, and learned that she also had heart surgery. Hearing her story made me think how amazing it was that she had heart surgery and now she was my nurse!

While I’ve never let my heart condition hold me back in any way, it does influence how I live my life. My personal interest in all things heart-related led me to a nursing career in pediatric cardiac intensive care.

From a fellow nurse, I heard about an organization, the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF), that did medical mission trips to provide heart surgery to children in developing countries. After my first volunteer trip to the Dominican Republic, I knew I found my calling. Knowing the degree that congenital heart defects occur around the world, I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born in America.

To think, I may not have had the opportunity to receive adequate medical care had I been born elsewhere. This is why I travel to developing countries with medical teams providing heart surgery to children who would otherwise not receive care.

I was that child in the hospital bed attached to wires and tubes, and now—as a nurse—I can truly relate to the children I care for. I remember my pacing wires being pulled out of my chest. I remember the expressions of worry and fear on my parents faces and the kind nurses who comforted them.

Roslyn smiling at the bedside of a patient.

Sometimes I share my heart story with my patients and their parents. If I don’t speak the language, I simply show them my scar in an attempt to convey the message that my scar is proof I survived. Sharing my story calms their anxiety and gives them a hope that their child will grow up to be a healthy adult.

In December 2012, I had the opportunity to go to Iraq with ICHF. Joining together with Preemptive Love, we initiated pediatric cardiac care in Basra. Traveling to Iraq was a distressing idea to much of my family and friends, but I knew my nursing skills would help save the lives of Iraqi children.

This trip was truly eye-opening. I found myself immersed in a culture I knew little about and I didn’t speak a word of Arabic, but I embraced all these differences.

Here in Iraq I learned that the expression of joy and gratitude on a mother’s face as she sees her child given a new chance at life is undeniably universal, and this only increased my desire to continue to help mend the hearts of children across the globe.

As Communication Director, Matt Willingham spends most of his time trying to get the word out on PLC's work in Iraq. On the side, he likes reading stories, devouring the great food his wife cooks up, and DSLR camera work. He's also mildly obsessed with Twitter: @mehtin.

Al Jazeera America’s Coverage of Our Surgical Work in Iraq

December 17, 2013 by · Comments Off 

On our recent Remedy Mission XX, we partnered again with Living Light International and the International Children’s Heart Foundation to bring surgical training to Iraq’s southernmost port city of Basra.

For this trip we were privileged to host a team from Al Jazeera America—one of whom was the previously mentioned Yasser Al Joumaili—to create a piece that aired on America Tonight.

Click above to watch!


Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

As Communication Director, Matt Willingham spends most of his time trying to get the word out on PLC's work in Iraq. On the side, he likes reading stories, devouring the great food his wife cooks up, and DSLR camera work. He's also mildly obsessed with Twitter: @mehtin.

Ridha Update—Still In The ICU, But Not Alone

November 17, 2013 by · Comments Off 

A photo of Ridha in the ICU.

Several of you have asked about Ridha, requesting updates.

We are checking in on him, and as of today he is still stable in the ICU. The local nurses there are committed to caring for him until he is well enough to leave—he isn’t alone.



Thank you for being so committed to these children. Your compassion sometimes sneaks up on us—I love getting emails asking for more updates, and we’re grateful that you care enough to ask!

Keep caring, asking, and expecting updates. We’ll let you know when we learn more on Ridha.


Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

As Communication Director, Matt Willingham spends most of his time trying to get the word out on PLC's work in Iraq. On the side, he likes reading stories, devouring the great food his wife cooks up, and DSLR camera work. He's also mildly obsessed with Twitter: @mehtin.

20 Missions Later—You’re Still Saving Lives

November 2, 2013 by · Comments Off 

Iraqi woman holding a child after surgery

Three and a half years ago you helped launch the very first Remedy Mission inside Iraq.

Today, twenty missions later, you have helped save the lives of more than 315 children through Remedy Missions alone. This doesn’t include the hundreds who have been saved through Remedy Fellowship. Beyond the immediate impact on these lives, you helped provide tens of thousands of hours of hands-on training for locals like Dr. Akeel, Dr. Zainab, and hundreds of medical professionals across the country.

We see your impact on a daily basis.

Your donations have ensured that hundreds each year can have access to the lifesaving surgery they need.

Remedy Mission XX continues your impact. These past two weeks we witnessed Zainab, Hussein, Fatima, and twelve others receive lifesaving surgeries. We witnessed thousands of hours of training given around the clock to local doctors and nurses. We witnessed two surgical operations that had never been performed before in this local heart center, bringing inspiration and hope to an entire local community who thought these kind of lifesaving operations were only available outside of Iraq.

This is your impact!

We have two more Remedy Missions just around the corner, but we need your help. Will you donate today and continue your lifesaving impact inside Iraq?

Your donations will help launch two more Remedy Missions in central and southern Iraq before the year ends.

Click here to donate now!


Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

Cody Fisher is the co-founder and Development Director of the Preemptive Love Coalition. He moved to Iraq in 2007 where he met his wife and since then they've been waging peace and mending hearts across Iraq. His passions are photography, peacemaking, and food that doesn't come out of a can. You can follow him on Twitter: @candmfisher.

Ridha Slowly Gains Momentum In the ICU

November 1, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

Heart defects don’t go without a fight—especially Ridha’s heart defects.

Each child we operate on has a ranking of how difficult their operation and recovery will be. It’s a way for us to discern the risk of an operation before we move forward. Each Remedy Mission has a combination of low-risk and high-risk operations.

The low-risk operations are better for teaching and long-term development, and the high-risk operations happen because that child may die at any moment. If we were not in the hospital, those high-risk children have no hope for getting the lifesaving surgery they need. So each mission we make room for those cases, for the underdogs. 

Ridha’s operation carried the highest level of risk there is to have. He is the definition of an underdog—that’s why we’re fighting for him. 

The good news is that Ridha’s recovery is slowly gaining momentum in the ICU. The victories are small but significant. He will be sick for a while. But with each new day the victories are adding up.  

Ridha may have a long road ahead of him, and that’s why I want to rally you around him. He needs our support. So we are going to keep giving it to him, as long as he needs it. 

Thanks for sticking with us. Children like Ridha give hope to all the other underdogs we meet on these Remedy Missions, and people like you make this hope possible.


Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

Cody Fisher is the co-founder and Development Director of the Preemptive Love Coalition. He moved to Iraq in 2007 where he met his wife and since then they've been waging peace and mending hearts across Iraq. His passions are photography, peacemaking, and food that doesn't come out of a can. You can follow him on Twitter: @candmfisher.

Dr. Zainab Holds Up Half the Skies of Iraq

October 31, 2013 by · Comments Off 

Photo of Dr. Zainab performing surgery

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote the brilliant book, Half The Sky, in 2009. The entire premise flows out of the Chinese proverb that says “Women hold up half the sky.”

Being in Iraq since 2007, and working in Iraq’s hospitals since 2010, I’ve seen that proverb proven true time after time—women hold up half the sky.

Meet Dr. Zainab.

She is one of millions across the country holding up half the sky. And in this heart center, she just might be holding more than her share.

The words “women” and “Middle East” don’t usually bring up the most positive images in the West. We tend to think the worst, and no doubt, some of those images are true and justified. But usually we get so overwhelmed by the narrative in our head that we forget about the rest. We forget about the other, true narratives that inspire; the ones that bring hope and fly in the face of our preconceived stereotypes and projections.

Dr. Zainab is one of those narratives.

She brings years of education, experience, and knowledge to the local heart center. She is a force in the operating room, directing her team, teaching those under her, and inspiring through her own example and work ethic. Dr. Zainab is someone you want to follow. She is someone I want to follow. The medical staff aspires to be like her and the patients seek her out to be loved on, held, and listened to.

By investing in her, we aren’t just investing in a single individual. We’re investing in an entire heart center. We’re investing in thousands of patients she will serve in the coming years. And we’re investing in the millions of women across the country who look to women like her for inspiration and mentorship.

She is one of the many women whom you are helping invest in this mission—all filled with potential and determined to see the day when they’ll be able to play a key role in saving the hundreds of children in their city with heart defects.

You are helping that become a reality.


Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

Cody Fisher is the co-founder and Development Director of the Preemptive Love Coalition. He moved to Iraq in 2007 where he met his wife and since then they've been waging peace and mending hearts across Iraq. His passions are photography, peacemaking, and food that doesn't come out of a can. You can follow him on Twitter: @candmfisher.

Two Operations Later, Ridha Is Still Struggling To Live

October 30, 2013 by · Comments Off 

Photo of boy after second heart operation

Ridha has spent over ten hours in the operating room these past two days.

That is hours longer than any other child this mission and hours more than any eight-month-old should ever experience.

But in Ridha’s case, those ten hours may have saved his life. Ridha made what we hope to be his last trip to the O.R. and is now in the ICU where he will begin his long road to recovery.

He’s been here before, but this time he is more stable, his heart is stronger, and his body is responding like it needs to be.

Thanks for continuing to follow his story—more updates to come!


Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

Cody Fisher is the co-founder and Development Director of the Preemptive Love Coalition. He moved to Iraq in 2007 where he met his wife and since then they've been waging peace and mending hearts across Iraq. His passions are photography, peacemaking, and food that doesn't come out of a can. You can follow him on Twitter: @candmfisher.

Ridha Leaves the O.R., Only To Be Rushed Back

October 29, 2013 by · Comments Off 

Photo of Ridha prepped for his 2nd corrective surgery

Little Ridha made it through his operation, but went into cardiac arrest when his heart failed shortly after arriving in the ICU.

Thankfully, the ICU team was right there with him before they rushed him back into the operating room for another corrective surgery.

Two operations in less than 24 hours—not ideal for anybody, let alone little Ridha.

We’ve been amazed at the recovery of Zainab, Elias, and so many others this mission. It gives us every reason to hope that we’ll be amazed by Ridha all over again.

If you have been following Ridha’s story, thank you. Your support has been overwhelming these past 24 hours.

Please pray for Ridha, and come back for the update on his second lifesaving surgery today.


Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

Cody Fisher is the co-founder and Development Director of the Preemptive Love Coalition. He moved to Iraq in 2007 where he met his wife and since then they've been waging peace and mending hearts across Iraq. His passions are photography, peacemaking, and food that doesn't come out of a can. You can follow him on Twitter: @candmfisher.

Meet Ridha

October 28, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

Photo of Ridha in the hands of doctors

This is Ridha.

He is 8 months old and was born with an underdeveloped heart. Because it is underdeveloped, his heart is missing an entire valve. When a heart is missing a valve like Ridha’s, it goes into survival mode and creates two more defects in a last ditch effort to keep the heart pumping, and in this case—to keep Ridha alive.

It is a brilliant maneuver, but it doesn’t last. Ridha’s body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs to thrive, and because of that, he urgently needs a lifesaving surgery. 

With two heart patches, sutures, and a team of skilled hands, our medical team is going to attempt to fully restore Ridha’s heart.

Ridha is being prepped for his operation right now—get ready, his story is far from over!


Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

Cody Fisher is the co-founder and Development Director of the Preemptive Love Coalition. He moved to Iraq in 2007 where he met his wife and since then they've been waging peace and mending hearts across Iraq. His passions are photography, peacemaking, and food that doesn't come out of a can. You can follow him on Twitter: @candmfisher.

Elias Gets To Leave The ICU In Grandma’s Arms

October 27, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

Photo of Elias with grandma

It was touch and go for a while with Elias. In his last update, I said he took his fight to the ICU and that’s exactly what he did.

Shortly after he arrived in the ICU, Elias showed he wasn’t improving like all of us were hoping. We left the hospital knowing there was a real chance he wouldn’t make it through the night.

Those are always the longest car rides back to the hotel.

But then something happened after we drove away. All of a sudden, Elias showed signs that he was still in the fight. His body started to respond to the medication. For the things the medication couldn’t do, Elias was doing on his own. With each new hour, he grew stronger.

We showed up to the hospital in the morning to relieve the nursing team that stayed with him through the night. “Amazing.” “Unbelievable.” “Miracle.” Those were the kind of words they used to describe Elias’ recovery. One nurse said there came a point where she just took a step back and watched Elias take over the fight on his own.

So, today, when Elias’ grandma got to rush into the ICU and gush over her grandson, kissing every part that wasn’t covered by surgical tape and tubing, we couldn’t have been more relieved.

In just a few hours, Elias gets to be carried out of the ICU. No more tape. No more tubing or wires. No more heart defect. Just a lot of hugs and kisses from grandma.

Elias is one of eight children who have received lifesaving surgeries so far this Remedy Mission. We still have six more days to go!

Thank you for continuing to follow these stories. Your “likes” on Facebook, the time you take to share these stories with your friends, and your generous donations help make all of this possible. Don’t let up!


Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

Cody Fisher is the co-founder and Development Director of the Preemptive Love Coalition. He moved to Iraq in 2007 where he met his wife and since then they've been waging peace and mending hearts across Iraq. His passions are photography, peacemaking, and food that doesn't come out of a can. You can follow him on Twitter: @candmfisher.

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