A wise man once told me if I ever wanted to kill a giant, I needed to hang out with a giant killer.
His point was that if I wanted to do something that made a difference in the world then my first task was to find someone that was already making a difference and then spend as much time with them as I could.
A week doesn’t go by where I don’t remember that advice. It’s something that shapes my best days and holds me accountable on my worst days.
Even today, it continues to shape my work with PLC. The “giant” we’re out to bring down is infamously known in our office and our writing as “The Backlog”. It’s a list with thousands of names of children on it, all who are waiting in line for lifesaving heart surgery. We know children who have been on that list for their entire lives – but we’ve also had the great privilege of watching children’s names be taken off that list after they’ve received a lifesaving operation during one our Remedy Missions. But The Backlog still has claim to thousands more.
We hate The Backlog.
We hate everything it stands for in Iraq and we strive for its demise. It’s an enormous and ugly foe. It truly is a “giant” and that’s why from day one, we’ve been looking for other “giant killers”. We’ve been on the search for other organizations that have the tools, resources, and downright grit to to make The Backlog a thing of the past.
That’s what led us to our partners at Living Light International (LLI).
LLI started taking on giants back in 2007. Currently, they lead one of the largest efforts to date in helping care for the orphans in Iraq. They embody love to orphanages overflowing with children by providing essential medical care, education, and support groups.
Simultaneously, they are on the front-lines of supporting women’s rights in Iraq. They tirelessly advocate on behalf of women, finding them jobs, providing them with necessary training, and empowering them in their local communities.
As if these “giants” aren’t enough for one organization, they are continually on the look out for the next one, which is what ultimately led them to The Backlog.
Since partnering with PLC in the fall of 2010, they have helped us take hundreds of names off the waiting list by helping us provide children with surgery. They have forged partnerships with doctors and hospitals all across Iraq, even to the point where we have had to tell them to stop because we couldn’t keep up with that kind of growth!
And they do it all of this pro-bono. LLI is completely volunteer led and they don’t have any intention of changing that. They continue to give and give without asking for anything in return.
And that’s why we love LLI.
They are indispensable in our fight against The Backlog and when this “giant” falls, it will be because the Coalition has these kinds of partners.
So join us in giving some of that love back to LLI. Click over to their Facebook page and thank them for all they’re doing to save kids like Hussain. (If they don’t respond to you right away then that probably means that they’re out on the front lines again, looking for the next thing to take on.)
Beating The Backlog takes a Coalition, and we’re grateful that LLI is a part of it!
Right off the bat, I got to be a part of something awesome here in Iraq.
I joined PLC’s groundbreaking research in the city of Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many reports in recent years claim that there are more heart defects in Iraq than other countries in the Middle East. In Fallujah, news reports state 10 times more birth defects than the world average. However, these numbers are based on general observations, not a systematic study. Is it possible that doctors who only see sick children would think there are many more birth defects than there really are?
The best way to find out if there are more kids being born with broken hearts is to count all the children who are born, then see how many have heart defects are detected. That way, the number of healthy babies can be compared to the number of babies with defects to get an accurate ratio of sick to healthy babies. This is exactly what we did in the city of Dohuk.
Alongside long-time friend and partner of PLC, Dr. Kirk Milhoan and Dr. Serdar Pedawi, I was a part of a research team working to identify the heart defect “incidence” or number of new cases of babies born with heart defects out of all babies born over a certain time period. We set up camp at Azadi Teaching Hospital in Dohuk, and every child that was born came to us to be screened for heart defects.
This was done using an echocardiogram (ECHO) machine, which is similar to an ultrasound that allows pregnant mothers to see their babies. It provides a way to look at the heart from the outside, quickly and painlessly. All children born in Azadi Hospital during the week of the study had to be screened in order to obtain their birth certificate, so we were able to screen more than 180 kids!
Each individual encounter was very similar. The moms were usually too worn out from childbirth to bring the babies to us (understandably so!). It fell to the grandmothers and aunts to take care of the newborn while mom got some rest. It was beautiful to see how much love and care was shown to each baby we screened. They were all wrapped tightly in brightly colored clothes and tucked into what I can only describe as a fancy baby sleeping bag.
The children truly lived up to the phrase of “bundles of joy.” The pride and joy of family members was evident, but with it came the anxious fear that their baby could have something wrong with their heart. Immediately at the time of the screening we could tell the family the result of the ECHO.
Thankfully, the vast majority of children had completely normal hearts and their family was always relieved and ecstatic to hear the good news. But there were some babies who did indeed have heart defects. Some had leaky heart valves and others had holes in their heart. Assurance was given to the families that these were not immediately life-threatening emergencies, but that their baby needed to be checked again in a few weeks to see what kind of treatment would be needed to live a normal healthy life.
Dr. Serdar works full time as a Pediatric Cardiologist in Dohuk, and thus will take care of these babies directly. Research can sometimes be all about collecting numbers, but this research heavily emphasized providing practical medical care for those who were found to have heart defects.
It was an absolutely incredible experience to interact with the Kurdish and Arab families in Dohuk as well as to be a part of a first-ever scientific study. It was very fulfilling to contribute to the gathering of facts, which is a large part of why I’m pursuing a Master’s in Public Health. Having solid facts puts Preemptive Love Coalition that much closer to eradicating the backlog by treating kids who need lifesaving heart surgeries.
This research is the first step in providing information for the Kurdish Regional and Iraqi Central Government and any other organization that wants an answer to the question: how many Iraqi children are being born with heart defects?
The 2012 interns have arrived, and it has been my honor to introduce you to them. We’re already hard at work furthering PLC’s vision through writing and media.
The above video is a quick glimpse into who we are and our hopes for the summer here in Iraq.
We can’t wait to see what amazing experiences we’ll have this summer working with doctors, children, and families. This is sure to be an enriching time for us, and we hope you’ll follow along as we share photos and stories on PLC’s Facebook page.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got in the car and drove five hours north to the Kurdish city of Dohuk.
I was told we would be screening children for congenital heart disease (CHD), but since I’m not in the field of medicine and am a newcomer to PLC, I wasn’t exactly sure what that would look like. All I knew was that this was going to be a first-time experience for me and that I was excited.
I walked into the experience with an open mind and an open heart, and I walked away with a new understanding of what it means to screen babies for CHD and why that has everything to do with understanding and fighting the backlog of children waiting in line for lifesaving heart surgery here in Iraq.
In the end, we spent the week screening newborns using two echo machines. Dr. Kirk (whom we’ve partnered with before) preformed an echo using a V-scan, a pocket-sized ultrasound device while Dr. Serdar—the local Kurdish cardiologist who we partnered with for the mission—used a full-size echo machine.
Each morning we walked into the hospital and screened the children who were born that day as well as the children who were born the previous night. More often than not, grandmothers would carry in children who were barely minutes old. Their vibrancy and freshness to life continually brightened the room.
Along with the spirited children, we saw timid mothers, brand new fathers, and bashful siblings—all of which were hoping to hear good news about their brand new family member. It was such a joy to be able to see the relief and joy on many of the families’ faces as they heard the words “healthy heart!”
In addition to performing two screenings per a child, we conducted interviews with parents and close relatives of the babies. The interviews make up a collection of data on the parents of the child, which will later be analyzed by Dr. Kirk as he searches to better understand the conditions that lead to CHD.
By the close of the week, Dr. Kirk and Dr. Serdar felt well on their way to being able to make a more solid assessment of the CHD situation in the Dohuk region of Iraqi Kurdistan – and a more solid assessment is exactly what we need if we’re going to eradicate the backlog.
I feel truly blessed to have been a part of this screening mission. Not only did I learn a ton, but I forged new friendships and had an amazing time.
Nearly two years ago, we began our first Remedy Mission with the International Children’s Heart Foundation and Living Light International. For us it was a great risk to take. We had only sent children out of the country and, all-in-all, that model was proven. It was safe.
But thanks to your support, we were able to begin training doctors and treating children inside Iraq. And we were able to serve a little girl named Iman (along with 23 other children). Now, just under two years later, here she is:
Iman is from Dohuk where our partner doctor, Dr. Kirk Milhoan, and his team screened newborns for heart defects. Now Iman is happy and healthy, able to enjoy playing games with her friends, learning in school, and spending time with her family.
Safe at last from her childhood disease, Iman’s life is full of potential. Thank you for giving these children a future!
Photo credit: AFP
A hospital in Iraq is back up on its feet after years of getting knocked down and now it’s better and bigger than ever!
Rebuilt after many years of violence in Iraq, the Ibn al-Bitar Hospital for Cardiac Surgery in Baghdad is beginning a new program to teach its doctors how to better operate on children who need heart surgery.
“”Until now, we have not been able to conduct heart surgery on infants,’ said Doctor Hussein Ali al-Hilli, director of the Ibn Bitar Hospital for Cardiac Surgery in Baghdad.
‘We receive 80 children a day with various heart-related birth defects that we cannot treat. We need three years to learn because such procedures are complicated,’ he added.”
Want to know more about this amazing project? Check out the full story here and tell us what you think in the comments section below!
July 1, 2011 by Cody · Comments Off
We all remember our firsts, don’t we? Our first time going to school. Our first time riding a bike. But do you remember what it was like right before those moments?
Whether it was waiting to unwrap your new bike or try on your new shoes for the first day of school, the moments leading up to those firsts are just as memorable.
Imagine what it would be like to be waiting for your remedy, though. Imagine being able to think about all the things that would soon be possible once your heart was made strong…for the very first time!
There’s a lot of that imagining going on here in the hospital. Today, I sat on the bed of Abbas, one of the first children to be saved this Remedy Mission, and I can honestly say that I’ve never heard anyone laugh that hard while in a hospital bed! He kept smiling and kissing my hand and in between smiles and kisses I asked him about the very first thing he was going to do with his new heart once he left the hospital.
Abbas said, “I’m going to run everywhere I go!”
Abbas’s one day closer to being able to run – for the first time!
Right now little Noor is counting down the hours until her heart is the one that’s made strong. I love this picture because it shows three children, with Noor in the middle, all patiently awaiting their firsts.
If you haven’t caught how all of this is possible – it’s because of YOU! It’s because so many of you chose to donate for the first time, become a monthly sponsor for the first time or tell the stories of these children for the first time.
Without those firsts – Noor wouldn’t be awaiting hers.
To keep creating firsts across Iraq, donate today by clicking HERE!
June 29, 2011 by Alex · Comments Off
Today, I hesitated outside the entrance of the hospital ward in southern Iraq. Kids spend most of the day waiting for surgery in this room.
Mothers and their children filled the room, and I didn’t want to barge into a room that these families might have thought were off-limits to outsiders.
But as I stood there, recognizing that I was the outsider, looking confused and out-of-place, a 6-year-old boy named Mohammed walked up, smiled, and took my hand as if he knew exactly what I was going through.
He safely escorted me to the back of the room so I could meet the family I had come to see.
Mohammed never left my side, but just kept holding my hand and making me feel more at-ease until he felt that his duty had been completed.
We couldn’t speak to each other and even though we interacted for only a few minutes, I can’t help but to look forward to spending more time with Mohammed.
What makes me more excited is that Mohammed isn’t just here to help out this goofy foreigner; he’s here to have his failing heart restored.
He’s here for the Remedy.
The doctors are still unclear as to how complicated Mohammed’s heart condition is, but they’re beginning the tests that will help them know what needs to be done to reclaim his heart.
In the meantime, we’ll just keep waiting.
Stay tuned for more updates on Mohammed.
While you wait check out Rokya’s Mom documenting her daughter’s Remedy in Iraq on our Facebook page.
As you're reading this, I'll probably be looking for my carry-on. At the same time, the iron will be heating up, three airline tickets to southern Iraq will be taped to the front-door and my weathered passport will be sticking out of my shoe. The alarm clark will be set for 6 AM but it's more of a fail-safe since I've never been able to sleep the night before traveling anyways.
Tomorrow begins our 6th Remedy Mission in Iraq, and once it begins we'll only be hours away from serving our 163rd child. Since it's our 6th mission you would think by now I'd have it all together. You would also think that at this point our excitement for these missions would start to level out as they become more of “business as usual.” You'd be exactly right thinking that this is becoming “business as usual” for all of us at PLC, but that's exactly why my excitement isn't peaking anytime in the near future.
For us, “business as usual” means witnessing another round of lifesaving, heartmending, peacewaging surgeries given to Iraqi children who have waited for far too long. For you, it means interacting with and following a slew of stories and photos on our Blog, images of dog food
mptivelove”>Facebook Page, and Twitter account, all centered around those you're helping us serve this mission, like beautiful Noor. For the medical team, it means another two weeks of working around the clock, teaching, evaluating, and giving child after child a chance at life, day after day.
But for the 20-25 children that will be saved this trip…this isn't “business as usual” by any means. For their parents, this is NOT just another Remedy Mission. This is the week that their child will be given the open heart surgery that they've searched and waited their entire life for. For children like Noor (pictured above), this week is going to give them a chance at life. Because of that, I'll gladly stay up all night waiting for the remedy.
I may eventually figure out the art of getting ready for a trip like this, but I don't think my excitement will ever change.
Remedy Mission VI kicks off……NOW!
March 28, 2011 by matt · Comments Off
Estrella’s commitment to saving the lives of children is inspirational, and we’re incredibly fortunate to know and work alongside her in the battle against CHD. We aren’t stopping either!
To see more of her contagious compassion for children (and her slick new website!), check out big-love.org.