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.
July 19, 2010 by Jeremy · Comments Off
As many mothers of sick children know, outward behavior does not always accurately convey the gravity of an internal illness. Such is the case with Chro and Leah, who are settled into their room and already beginning to attract strangers with their smiling faces. Having been born with defective hearts and yet to discover what life could be like with a healthy body, these young girls have no choice but to enjoy life as they know it. While Leah prefers being held or playing with her rattle, Chro’s favorite activity to pass the time is getting her toenails painted…again and again and again. But when the first words out of her mother’s mouth in the morning are, “when is my child’s surgery?” the immediacy of these beautiful little girls’ situation is unavoidable.
We can’t help but smile at the contrasts present in the hospital room these two mothers and their children share. One woman is a mother of eight, while the other is perhaps twenty years younger, fighting for the life of her first child and five months pregnant with her second.
What the two mothers share in common, however, is concern.
As of two days ago, these women had never traveled without their husbands, flown on an airplane or left their country. Yet they have now experienced an overnight flight to a country they have been taught to fear and a long bus ride through one of the largest cities in the world, all on their own. Surrounded by foreign languages and customs, these mothers now await their child’s first opportunity at a full life, sharing a hospital room with perhaps the only other person in the world that just might understand how they feel.
Surgeries here at Anadolu Medical Center begin tomorrow, and we hope these two mothers will soon have the joy of receiving the news that they may return to their families with healthy children and renewed hope. Then there will be four smiling faces when they leave their hospital room, instead of only two.