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?
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!
December 15, 2010 by Cody · Comments Off
Remember Ahmed, Noor, Hussein, and Riza from our first Remedy?
They remember you!
They were the group of four who traveled 600 kilometers north to receive their life-saving surgeries last August. Today, they only had to go down the road to show us how well they were all doing!
I didn’t even recognize any of them! Can you? Together, all four have gained a total of 33 pounds since their operation! All their parents said the same thing, “They won’t stop moving or eating!”
All signs that their body is getting stronger each day with their whole hearts.
Ahmed’s parents are doing great after their car accident. His father is back at work and his mom has the new full-time job of keeping up with Ahmed!
Riza’s mother said, “She’s a completely new child since the surgery. Before, she couldn’t stand or crawl but now she’s running everywhere!”
Hussein’s mother said, “He has a fresh face now! Before, he was tired and his heart would beat fast. Now he’s full of energy and his heart doesn’t hold him back.”
They thanked GOD for you today and they remembered how you made Remedy possible. They told me, “We’ll never forget what you did for us!”
June 24, 2010 by Lydia · Comments Off
Little Honya peeks out from behind her mother in the kitchen, so cute! This is from our most recent home visit with Honya, she is so healthy and happy!
June 8, 2010 by Lydia · Comments Off
This is Bala. She is a completely healthy 13 year old who loves life! While PLC actively works to eradicate the waiting list of Iraqi children suffering from heart disease we’re also working in and among local Iraqi communities to promote messages of love and peace.