The girl in this picture was misdiagnosed as a baby.
Her family thought she needed surgery. They waited and worked, wondering if their daughter’s heart would give out.
As she gazed at the image of her heart beating, her father shared how hopeful they were that their daughter would get well.
Minutes later, he got his wish. After years of carrying around the wrong diagnosis, his little girl had a healthy, defect-free heart all along.
We’ve introduced you to a lot of sick, blue children over the past 5 years, but we haven’t always shared stories of already-healthy children. Thanks to highly trained cardiologists like Dr. Kirk, Iraqi children are receiving top-notch diagnostics testing in the form of preliminary echos, TEEs, and diagnostic catheterizations.
“We don’t do as many diagnostic caths in the US as we used to because we catch most heart disease early, before we have concerns about operability. Internationally, the situation is much different,” Dr. Kirk explained.
Over a span of # years, Dr. Kirk has screened hundreds of children across Iraq, and they’re often well beyond the ideal age for diagnosing a heart problem.
“Many of the children we see are being diagnosed or considered for surgery at a time which is much later than what we see in the west. The diagnostic cath tells us if a child is appropriate for a surgery or if a child would probably live longer if we didn’t do anything. There are many children who we think are inoperable because of their age, but we take them to cath and find they are indeed a good candidate for surgical repair. In this case we’ve probably added years to their lives by getting them repaired.”
In short, good diagnostics inform decisions, illuminate the situation for doctors and in-the-dark family members, and they save lives.
“The diagnostic cath isn’t as exciting as an interventional procedure to most, because, even if the news is favorable for surgery, another procedure is still needed.
If we can get away from focusing on what’s done today and look at what was learned today and what is best for the child, we realize we positively change the lives of children with a diagnostic cath.“
“Diagnostic caths either allow children to be repaired safely, or they prevent them from being harmed by surgery.”
|Diagnostics take dollars—help us make it happen by donating below!|
Today I met a little girl named Israa.
That’s her up there with that soul-perceiving, Mona Lisa-gaze. You might be surprised to hear I wasn’t initially affected by her cute intensity (cutensity?). In retrospect, this was not the first time I’d simply snapped a photo of a child and moved on, emotion-free. Children that would have previously melted me on the inside had become… dare I say it—objects of charity.
Of course, I still want them to get well—I work for it every day—but the thrust of my compassion has taken a serious hit.
Attending six Remedy Missions, seeing waves of sick children held by desperate parents, and a dispiriting amount of post-operative death has taken a toll on my soul.
Our teams are now helping save more children then ever. But with every death, my emotional kevlar got a little thicker, and even the cutest kids like Israa couldn’t pierce it.
Is that really what we are aiming for? Hundreds of children whose lives are being saved by people who are barely affected as they serve? And, on a practical level, how can I do my job and connect you with these children if I’m not even connecting with them?
This is not the preemptive love we talk about, and, thankfully—while we do struggle at times—it isn’t a typical characteristic of our team.
But that’s just it—it’s a struggle. It has to be. Preemptive love takes risks for the sake of another. It stays vulnerable in the face of inevitable pain; it keeps compassion personal. And this applies to a lot more than just Iraqi children. Whether it’s your marriage, a friend struggling with addiction, or a tribe in the African bush, keeping compassion vulnerable takes work.
So back to my question: how do you continue to be vulnerable, emotionally present, and affected by those you’re seeking to love?
For my part, I’m committing to a few things: spending more time at the bedside of kids (without my camera), learning more kid-friendly Arabic phrases, and stuffing my bag with more play-things, like bubbles, Angry Birds and coloring books—and I want you to hold me to it!
And you? How do you keep from going numb, activating the defense mechanisms, or just giving up? What measures do you take?
Either comment below or email me—I’d love to hear from you!
Hassin’s grandmother was pacing outside the lab, waiting for her grandson’s turn to be screened. From the look she gave the other families, they weren’t about to cut in front of her.
Having a friend there to translate, I walked over and introduced myself. I haven’t quite figured out what it is yet, but I think some combination of my height, dorky glasses, pasty skin, and ginormous camera make most Iraqis a little unsettled around me, sometimes even suspicious.
But she barely noticed me, she was so fixated on Hassin. When I commented on his eyelashes, she replied, “Yes, he’s really much too beautiful to be a boy, isn’t he?”
It wasn’t long before the cardiologist identified a hole in the lower part of Hassin’s heart, and the doctors immediately put him on the surgical list. Grandma kept lifting her hands and praying aloud for his safety.
The Iraqi doctor next to me explained that it was too difficult for the parents to even be in the room, so they entrusted their child to her. They’ll be getting good news, though, because Hassin’s surgery is as definite as things get here in Iraq!
Keep reading, we’ll have more of Hassin and his grandmother coming your way.
Before surgery, the cardiologist has to take another look at Hussain’s heart to make sure he’s ready for surgery.
Thankfully, the results were good: he can receive an operation. Now he and his father just have to do the hardest work of all—wait. Dad barely let go of Hussain’s hand throughout this process. It’s been sweet to watch how close the two of them are. Please pray for Hussain’s healing, and that the operation would be a complete success.
Now we just wait for Hussain to be called in for the operation. More updates to come…
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!
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?
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.
Dr. Tamir did a final echocardiogram for Rezhin and gave her the green light to return home. She and her mother were delighted with the news, and are counting the days together with her companion-in-surgery Tarza, below left.
There was still a bit of a ‘dark cloud’ on Rezhin’s countenance however as she was due to head to the dental surgeon this evening. The antibiotic prescribed for Rezhin by the dentist last week did fast work at knocking out the pain from her toothache caused by a bad cavity. This improvement gave her mother pause for considering whether they might wait until their return to Iraq to have the tooth treated, and she began indicating this choice to me yesterday. But before contacting the dentist to cancel the appointment, we wanted to be sure that her mother understood that the treatment here could save the tooth, and we were not certain if a dentist in their city could do so. After getting this news translated for Um Rezhin, her decision remained the same, and since the choice is hers to make, I contacted the dental surgeon to let him know we wouldn’t be coming. Only then did Rezhin become full of smiles, and she hasn’t stopped smiling through the evening.
Rezhin is a fearful girl, and reacts very strongly to even the thought of something being painful happening to her. Yet we’ve made sure her mother understands the importance of having the tooth treated and the implications on her heart if she doesn’t.
Tarza got an excellent report after her echo, and although her mother was hoping to be able to leave after today, Dr. Tamir said Tarza should come back in one week for the final echocardiogram. We are thankful for this good report, and expect Tarza will be on schedule to go home early next week.
November 24, 2008 by Jeremy · Comments Off
Rezhin began having a toothache last night, so I was concerned that the doctors know about it since tooth decay can affect the heart. In conversation while waiting for Rezhin to have her ECG, one of the volunteers mentioned that she had been a dentist before retiring, so I asked her to look at Rezhin’s tooth. It was clear there is a bad cavity there, but Rezhin misunderstood what was happening, and thought this volunteer was about to pull her tooth when she subsequently asked her to get on the examining table for the ECG. She began to cry and did not want to get on the table until we could convince her that this had only to do with her heart and not her tooth. We need to find a good dentist who can take Rezhin quickly and get this tooth out of the way so the new one can come in, and the possibility for infection will be gone. We are hoping to have someone donate their services for this need.
Rezhin had an excellent report from her echocardiogram and will need to come back in one week for her final echo. That means after just one more week she could be on her way home. This news brought a smile to both Rezhin’s and her mother’s faces.