Uncertainty is a way of life here.
When it comes down to it, the answer to questions is often “I don’t know.” This was the answer I got when I asked whether or not I’d be going to Fallujah for Remedy Mission X last July. The problem wasn’t the lack of communication, the real challenge, for me, was the inability to create expectations (and therefore plans) of any kind. It’s often difficult to gauge what a mission is going to look like, especially when the mission is a first-of-its-kind in a new city. And, since Fallujah was a first-ever, it was guaranteed to have bumps along the way. Embracing this fact, I made sure to walk into the week with an open mind.
I’d heard a lot about Fallujah over the years, but most importantly I knew that the city had experienced a lot of pain and difficulty, and all I wanted to do was make it better—somehow. But how? How could I, a 20 year old from America, be able to make any difference in such a big, broken place so far from home?
The more I pondered this question, the more my response made sense to me: I can make a difference by endeavoring to love everyone I come into contact with. But that begs the question: “how do I show my love for these people when I’ve barely just met them?” I strived to find an answer to this question all week.
And the week was a blur!
Children were in and out of the operating room faster than I thought possible. But with the intention to love in the back of my mind at all times, I moved forward in my interactions with the children and their families filled with as much purpose and love as I could muster. I made sure not to let my fatigue and frustration show, and I made sure to have a smile on my face at all times. I was there to be a friendly face and bearer of joy as I documented the mission with my camera.
Looking back, I can barely recall how exhausted I was that week as the experiences of love and joy stand out far more prominently in my mind. The doctors loved the children, the children loved their parents, and the parents loved the doctors.
As love is put into the world, love circles back around. It begets itself.
In the course of a week I took hundreds of photos. Photos of everything from the children hanging out in pre-op to the doctors working in the cath lab. But out of all the images that I took in the course of the week the ones that stand out the most to me are the ones of kisses, crayons, and bubbles—not because they’re the cutest images of the week, but because they best exemplify the love that filled the hospital. The very same love that I tried to foster all week.
But all of that effort made by our team and the local doctors is just a drop in the bucket. Fallujah is still a broken city in need of attention and love, and the past still matters. But if we can continue to push ourselves toward selflessness over and over and over again, mission after mission, then I believe we’ll be able to create a future filled with love towards one another.
I believe we can reshape old perceptions previously founded on hate.
All kids are cute. It’s a fact of life.
But some kids have the ability to steal your heart. Meet Jasem, the captor of my heart. I had the pleasure of getting to spend time with him as he waited for his catheterization.
Now, pre-op can be a rather boring place. It usually entails an hour or more of just waiting around for the doctors to finish their current case so they can move on to the next child. But in Jasem’s case, we kept things interesting.
When I first came to hang out with Jasem, he had his shirt on and was coloring a picture quietly on his bed. He was a little hard to engage, but adorable nevertheless. I would talk to him, he would look at me, and then he would go back to his coloring. Apparently I’m not as funny as I think I am.
The second time I hung out with him, he had his shirt off and had managed to procure a marker from one of the nurses. And, doing what all 6 year-old boys seem to do well, he colored on himself, which only upped the adorableness factor. We bonded some more over his artistic endeavors, bubbles, and the pictures of him on my camera’s display screen.
Before we knew it, Jasem’s turn for catheterization came. So into the operating room he want, and an hour and a half later he came out with his heart completely healed!
As he lay sleeping in recovery, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly happy. Here was a little boy who had spent his life restricted by his heart defect, and although he didn’t know it yet, he was healed. He can now run, jump, and play with the best of them, and I got to be there to see him through it all!
Hey guys! I want to tell you a story…
My cousin’s daughter, Madi, was born with a congenital heart defect (CHD). Seeing my cousin suffer wasn’t the only reason I chose to work with PLC this summer, but it was a major one.
Madi’s fight for her life began the day she was born, and it serves as a constant reminder of how important my work is here in Iraq.
Madi (short for ‘Madison’) spent the past 9 months in the world-renowned Texas Children’s Hospital receiving constant care and, for the past 4 months, she has been kept alive by a “Berlin heart,” an artificial device that pumps blood for her heart until she can get a transplant, technology that does not even exist in Iraq. Since Madi began treatment with the Berlin Heart, her name has been at the top of the heart transplant list in Houston. Through all that has happened, I have seen the complexity of CHD and the importance of having a well-trained medical staff.
I’m happy to report that, on May 29th, Madi received a NEW HEART! And this past week, after over 220 days in the hospital, Madi is now at home and ready to start the life she is supposed to live.
Our family spent months in prayer for Madi, and now we’re rejoicing, grieving, and praying through all that has happened. Although God has brought Madi and her family far, their journey is by no means over.
I hope you can join me in the celebration of a saved life, realizing that this is how families all across Iraq are affected when their child is saved. To date, PLC has saved hundreds of lives and will continue to save more. But each child has their own story and their own friends and family who are deeply involved in their battle with CHD.
So, wherever you are, try to enter into their story; see, feel, and think as they do, and then thank God if you have healthy children and great healthcare! You can also join us in our battle to fund surgeries, build infrastructure, and raise awareness for Iraqi families who aren’t as fortunate as my own by giving toward our brand new Remedy Fellowship campaign—help us save 300 little lives!
“No longer will she have to struggle to catch her breath every hour of the day or feel like she can’t stand and play with her toys because she’s too tired. Our baby girl will get to experience what life is meant to be, not what it has had to be for the past 22 months.”
—Tabitha Fleak, Madi’s mom
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.
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!
June 22, 2011 by Lydia · Comments Off
ks on during Remedy Mission V.” title=”Remedy Mission V photo by Lydia Bullock” width=”600″ height=”400″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-10066″ />
June 7, 2011 by Ted · Comments Off