Iraqis in the western province of Anbar just crossed another heart defect off of their “incurable” list. Our team stood by to support as Dr. Firas and his team corrected a defect that had never been fixed in this region of Iraq.
Little Aya, a 4-year-old with a sweet disposition, was born in Fallujah just a few years after the Iraq War’s deadliest battles. Like so many children in her region, she had a heart defect and no hope for help.
But you’ve already heard that story several times over.
What you may not have heard is that many families in Fallujah have decided to avoid pregnancy because of how many children are now born with birth defects.
Living life with no children—this is no small decision in a progeny-focused culture like Iraq’s. Children are a source of great pride, glory, and honor, and choosing to abstain from child-bearing is a big deal. Some parents I spoke with said they wouldn’t take the risk of having a child unless they knew there were doctors who could provide treatment, and that’s a part of the reason why we’re here.
These surgical missions represent much more than a handful of lifesaving operations—though they’re definitely that. These are about offering solutions and hope to families in need. When mothers and fathers are too afraid to have children because of rampant birth defects and no available treatment, that’s a problem that demands a remedy.
Thankfully, Aya’s heart received a total correction thanks to Dr. Firas and the team, and there are many more still waiting. Hopefully she is the first of many!
Cardiac training programs live or die by the initiative of the local doctors.
Ultimately, this is their program—an investment in them. As soon as they lose their passion to learn, coordinate, and hack through the red tape, the program is in trouble.
Perhaps that is why our time in Fallujah has been so encouraging. Dr. Firas (pronounced fee-rahs) is the only pediatric cardiologist in the Anbar region—Iraq’s largest geographic region and home to a growing number of children with heart problems.
So, given his kindness and compassion for these children, we asked him if he would share a little about his life, his concerns, and his hopes for the future of Fallujah.
PLC: Thanks for taking a few minutes to share, doctor. So why did you decide to become a cardiologist?
Dr. Firas: You know, we’re in Fallujah. There are many cases here; just so many children, but no specialists to treat them. I saw the high percentage of death; all the undiagnosed children; the great need. My first interest was to help my people here…to save their lives, the kids.
PLC: It seems like a lot of cardiologists here get into the field because of a family member who dealt with heart problems—was that your experience?
Dr. Firas: Yes, my father died from heart disease. It wasn’t congenital, but it did help put me on a path toward becoming a heart doctor.
PLC: Now that you’ve completed two Remedy Missions with us and our partners, what do you think? Reactions?
Dr. Firas: The missions were so good—they mean a lot to us. This [heart] center is new, and a lot of people here don’t even know that we have a cath lab and can treat their children. But these missions have brought us a reputation and the people are hearing about our work. It provides us with a good reputation and our people with hope.
PLC: That’s encouraging. What do you hope for the heart center here? Any next steps?
Dr. Firas:I hope to someday see open heart surgery here. I have to send so many cases to Baghdad or outside of Iraq, but I’d like to see children saved with complex cases here, in Fallujah.
We share this dream with Dr. Firas, and we intend to do whatever we can to help him fulfill it.
This is only the second of many missions to come—we’re in this for the long haul! Come back tomorrow to read part two of the interview, and consider helping us save more lives in Fallujah and across Iraq:
$5 or $50—Give what you can to help us save lives!
"It always seems impossible until it's done." —Nelson Mandela
We ended 2012 celebrating the 300th surgery since our beginning in 2007! As we begin 2013, we are looking forward to 300 more before the end of the year.
This year we aim to double the number of children we have helped in just ⅕ of the time. We will also double the number of cities we are working in and double the amount of education and training we are able to provide—daunting goals. But, really, it doesn't seem too daunting after the mountains we've already scaled together.
There was a time when sending Iraqi Muslim children to Israel seemed like it would never work. Then there was the fatwa that called for our punishment and death for sending those kids to Israel.
Becoming a full-service, turn-key operation by sending children to Turkey once seemed impossible.
Our dream of hosting surgery teams inside Iraq to operate and train locals took years to realize and seemed more than a little crazy when the country was falling apart around us.
And even after we successfully brought these teams to cities all over the country, the idea of replicating it in an historically difficult city like Fallujah seemed even crazier.
But, with your help and with the help of our excellent partners, we've accomplished all of those things—and now we're headed back to Fallujah again.
Remedy Mission XV begins this week. The first step of our journey toward 300 more surgeries begins now!
We promise it'll be worth your while.
For the impossible,
My favorite thing about January?
It’s the only month when it just feels right to look back and to plan ahead. A backward glance helps us remember what God has done during the previous year and all that we’ve learned, while a look forward offers hope for betterment and an opportunity to grow.
And who doesn’t love a clean slate—an opportunity to jumpstart things in a new direction? I’m here to tell you, though, that you did some pretty fantastic stuff last year. If your friend is bragging about their new job or some kind of shiny new gadget, please read this part out loud: “I helped save lives last year.”
Is there someone near you right now? Grab their sleeve and say it again, “I helped save lives last year.”
So—in case you didn’t get to meet them all—here are a few of the children you helped save in 2012:
1) Hussain—I don’t know who came up with the “don’t play favorites with kids” rule, but they obviously haven’t met this boy. I’ve adored him since our first game of “air soccer,” and the first thing I try to plan when we return to Najaf is try to plan a visit to see him and his family. He’s a sweet, sweet child and—thanks to you and the Coalition—he is now home and fully alive. Read his whole story here.
2) Yousef—our 2012 vote for the Most Pinchable Cheeks Award, Yousef received a heart operation at our groundbreaking Remedy Mission X in Fallujah. If you haven’t seen some of his adorable facial expressions yet, do yourself a favor.
3) Zahraa—Sweet, solemn Zahraa. I tracked with her from beginning to end, right up until she carried her dollies into the hospital elevator and went home. Click here to watch our video shorts of her trip through the hospital.
4) Hassin—don’t be fooled by his drooping eye lids and ridiculous eye-lashes, Hassin is sneaky. When the doctors told him he couldn’t eat or drink anything before his surgery, he snuck past his family, out of his hospital room, and down 6 flights of stairs to demand that the snack vendor give him food. His parents found him pounding his fists and declaring, “I need to eat or I’ll die!” I’m happy to report that, after his surgery, he snacked to his healthy heart’s content. See more of Hassin here.
5) Maddy—the 300th child you’ve helped us save, this little boy is sunshine incarnate. I still stand by my claim that he’s the smiliest, most pleasant little boy you’ll ever meet. If you missed the excitement of his landmark surgery, check it out here (the video was especially fun to make!).
2012 was pretty amazing, and 2013 is looking even better. Stick with us as things get started—our 15th surgical mission is coming up in Fallujah!
A couple months ago, you helped us do something that others thought was impossible: we took an American medical team into Fallujah to save lives.
We’ve gotten used to being considered a little crazy, but Fallujah? Even we weren’t sure what to expect.
This was something new, and it was a massive, collaborative effort. We couldn’t—nor would we want to—have done it alone. Watch the above video to see an AFP story sharing more about that historic trip.
The expertise of our partners, Living Light International (LLI) and For Hearts And Souls (FHAS), made this historic mission a reality. The cultural and historical nuances of a place like Iraq’s Anbar province are vast, but the LLI team’s—and particularly Nadwa Qaragholi and Dr. Wieam Ahmed’s—ability to navigate culture and read between the lines cleared the way and made 7 operations possible during this trip.
But operations don’t happen without trained, competent doctors, which is why we’re also grateful for Dr. Kirk Milhoan and his team at FHAS. They used their expertise to pave the way for more missions that, hopefully, will be able to ease tensions between at-odds communities through the healing of children.
These friends of ours in the battle against The Backlog are invaluable, indispensable, and we can’t wait to work alongside them in Fallujah again soon!
In addition to savvy cultural guides and skilled doctors, these missions don’t happen without you—thank you for doing what others thought impossible!.
Every dollar you give helps us in our effort to eradicate The Backlog in Fallujah, and now we need your help going back.
Help us go back to Fallujah to save more lives by donating below!
This has been an amazing week!
It was so exciting to be a part of Remedy Mission X. It feels like I hear about new firsts every day:
We’re the first American team to come to Fallujah General Hospital since the war.
This is the first cardiac catheterization lab built in the hospital’s history.
This week was the first time the lab is used.
But most exciting of all: this is PLC’s first Remedy Mission in Fallujah. It’s been a week of history in the making!
Some of the most exciting firsts involved the groundbreaking catheterization procedures (‘caths’). We treated 12 children over the week and the first three days gave us a chance to break the cath lab in.
On the first day of the mission, we performed the FIRST diagnostic cath on 2 year-old Balkis. He has two holes in his heart, known as ventricular septal defects (VSDs). The doctors knew he had these holes because of an ECHO screening done by a local Iraqi cardiologist and verified by Dr. Kirk on our first day in Fallujah. To fix them, Balkis will need surgery. But the surgeons have to know lots of detailed information about the hole and the status of his heart and lungs. The diagnostic cath provided that information.
Balkis can now safely have surgery at any hospital because his parents can take the cath report to any heart surgeon and they’ll know exactly what they need to know!
The second day we performed the FIRST PDA closure in 13 year-old Sara. A PDA (patent ductus arteriosus) is an abnormal connection between the two biggest vessels coming off the heart. However, a simple coil placed in the PDA acts as a plug that closes the connection.
It’s incredible that such a tiny piece of metal could have INSTANT results in changing the blood flow in Sara’s heart. Before her cath, I could literally feel the vibrations of blood flowing abnormally. But immediately afterwards, her heart felt normal! Amazing! She is the first of many more children to be cured by caths in Fallujah General Hospital!
The third day, we performed the FIRST heart valve widening on 5 year old Rawan. Her pulmonary valve was too small for blood to flow smoothly which could have led to heart failure. However, Rawan was treated by a cath that used a balloon to physically stretch out the valve. Now the blood can flow normally, and Rawan can be active and play without her heart getting tired out!
All of these “firsts” were exciting for the local Iraqi medical staff, local and international news agencies, and government officials. But despite the thrill of being a part of a “first”, the greatest impact of the new cath lab won’t be seen for years to come, after countless more children undergo procedures at Fallujah General.
Each child who received a cath had their lives changed forever, especially those who received interventional procedures. To them, it didn’t matter whether they were the first or the last, it just mattered that they were able to be treated.
We have the amazing opportunity to change the course of history here in Fallujah and it’s thanks to your support—thank you for making this trip possible! We helped 12 children and spread goodwill through their families on your behalf, and we can’t wait to come back!
Our 85 suture kits are FULLY funded — Thank you for helping fund $765 worth of medical supplies!
I honestly couldn’t help myself when I saw Yousf and his cheeks. I’m a pretty disciplined person, and I live a fairly regimented life. But his cuteness overwhelmed me and my discipline went out the window!
I normally wouldn’t interact too much with a child in his mother’s arms in a conservative place like Fallujah. But Yousef isn’t your “normal” kind of cute, either.
Within a short time we were playing peek-a-boo, holding hands, and watching Toy Story on the PLC iPad (thanks for helping us buy such an amazing tool for appeasing sick children in the hospital!)
Nurse Molly and Shannon administered Yousef’s sedatives in preparation for his upcoming procedure. He didn’t like the taste too much but we were soon back to playing.
As he sat there trying to figure me out—this impossibly white, foreign hairless guy—his meds kicked in.
Have you ever seen kids fall asleep at the dinner table? My parents have a great photo of me face down in mom’s spaghetti. Yousef was headed that direction. Sitting up looking me square in the eyes, he would slowly fall over, dozing off. He’d gather himself, sit up, and do it all over again.
I try not to play favorites… but come on! Look at those cheeks! Come back tomorrow to see more of this adorable little boy and to hear how his operation went. More to come…
Our 85 suture kits are FULLY funded — Thank you for helping fund $765 worth of medical supplies!