I woke up in Najaf today.
It’s been months since I’ve been able to launch a Remedy Mission in Iraq.
After being in the states to welcome my little girl into the world, my wife and I made our way back to Iraq in January, just missing the Fallujah mission.
Now, it’s my chance again. And I have the jitters.
Having a baby does all sorts of odd things to your emotions, or at least it did for mine. It created space where I thought I had no more room. Space for those fatherly instincts to kick in; space for a new, maybe deeper kind of love and the ability to tangibly experience emotions in ways that have been entirely foreign to me before.
I knew it was coming. A friend wrote and gave me a heads up and he was spot-on.
And that’s why I have the jitters. As I kick off this Remedy Mission, I know I’m going to see dozens of babies fighting for their lives—babies just like mine. I’m going to see 5 year-olds and 12 year-olds who have waited their entire lives for a chance at a lifesaving heart surgery and honestly, I’d rather not see them. I’d rather look the other way and block it all out so that I don’t have to imagine what their parent’s are going through. I don’t want to see their sons poked and prodded with needles or their daughters have to say goodbye before surgery.
I’ve done it all before but this time things seem more real to me, and I think it’s going to hurt.
But I know I can’t have it both ways.
I can’t block out the pain, the fear, and the uncertainty of heart defects and the risky operations that can fix them and still expect to experience all of the hope, the victories, and the sheer joy that this mission has in store for those that will be saved.
So, I’m showing up and I’m going to embrace it all.
I’ll hold the babies. I’ll play soccer with the 5 and 12 year-olds and I’ll listen to their parents talk about what it’s like to have a child with a heart defect. I’ll do my best to take their minds off the needles and remind them that this isn’t goodbye.
And it may sting more than usual. It may be uncomfortable and I’ll feel way too vulnerable as a dad.
But it’s only by standing alongside them now, in these moments, that we can experience the full measure of joy that comes with a chance for their children to win and for their heart defects to lose.
We’ll see hundreds of children with heart defects these two weeks, and the medical team will be able to save just under twenty of them. That’s why we train and that’s why we’ll come right back and do this all over again. And that’s why I have to embrace it all—because it’s through embracing the ‘otherness’ of pain in someone different from me that I learn—that we learn—to press on and overcome together.
Let’s get to it. Stay tuned…Remedy Mission XVI is underway.
April 10, 2012 by Jeremy · Comments Off
When you intend to be in the “business” of saving lives, facing up to death can be a difficult thing.
For my part, in leading the Preemptive Love Coalition, knowing how to admit “failure,” when to acknowledge death without assigning fault, and when to let a death go unreported can be very difficult. The inherent difficulties are compounded by my responsibilities to various constituencies, including (but not limited to) the parents, local health care professionals, local political realities, coalition partners, national political realities, and international donors. At any given time, any one of these entities could be pushing for more or less reporting on a specific item; on a specific death and data set that would include a specific death.
In our January Remedy Mission VIII, a little boy named Yousef that we had grown to really love died in surgery. We held him up as a beacon of hope for the future of all Iraqi children facing congenital heart disease. We told his story and proudly proclaimed his desire to be the next world-famous soccer player. And then we asked you to give your money so that he could be saved by a team of international doctors and nurses. We also promised that his surgery would be an occasion for still more training for Iraqi doctors and nurses in our Nasiriyah program in southern Iraq during the mission (which was to be our sixth mission to the center in just 13 months).
Suffice it to say that a local trainee made a mistake that cost Yousef his life.
Because Yousef was the first child in line for treatment that mission, we questioned what the psychological impact would be in widely reporting his death. Again, our considerations involved our international volunteers, local politics, coalition partners and international donors most specifically.
Remedy Mission VIII also featured two first-time nurses from the International Children’s Heart Foundation, both of which provided excellent insights into the local situation and helpful critique about the lack of success and development in the Nasiriyah program.
As we struggled to understand the death (the first mortality in 2-3 missions), our focus was on program development and responses to the conditions that led to the fatal error. Once the mission was over, a few more children had died and reporting on any single one of them was basically more than any of us could stand to emphasize at the time.
A typical response from a surgeon might be “Children have to die in order to build a heart surgery program.” And it’s true. But we are not surgeons. We are just a few normal people who have not held the human heart in our hands and who have not trained for this.
I’m writing to apologize for not reporting on Yousef’s death. We sent a private email to all who donated to Yousef’s account and let them know. But we did not endeavor anything more public.
After the mission a close friend who was still praying for Yousef contacted me without knowing he had died. It was then that I realized how many friends Yousef had and realized that it is not donations alone that tie us each to these children we seek to help. We are drawn in by their eyes, their stories and the hope they exude.
I wish now I would have allowed you to mourn Yousef’s death with us. They are not always easy decisions when juggling the preferences of so many stake holders. But somewhere along the way I gave up trying to push the message out because I did not want to come face to face with the story of his death again.
When you’re in the business of saving lives, “almost” doesn’t count.
We miss Yousef. He was a bright light!
And there are many other children out there who need our help; who are likely to survive; who can greatly benefit from surgical intervention. And there are hundreds of doctors and nurses who desperately need to be trained so they can serve these children on their own.
Thank you for continuing to stand with us…
Please feel free to email me with any questions or concerns.
February 20, 2012 by matt · Comments Off
Good news! Zahraa (AKA the girl in the red coat) made it through surgery and is now in the ICU resting up.
In an effort to cheer her up, the ICU nurses gave her Dora the Explorer stickers and have been singing the theme song with her. It was a sweet moment, but now I can’t get that song out of my head!
Zahraa’s operation went so well that they are releasing her from the ICU soon. She will then spend a day or two in the ward, and after that she goes home!
I plan to visit the family’s hospital room after Zahraa is released, so come back tomorrow to hear more about this precious little girl and her trek toward recovery.
Come on, vamanos!
November 2, 2011 by matt · Comments Off
Have you heard about Remedy Fellowship? It represents our most comprehensive strategy for saving lives to date!
You know all those short-term surgical missions you’ve been sending to Iraq? Well we’re taking the leading specialists from those teams and planting them in Iraq for an entire year!
Back in 2007 we told you we wanted to save lives, and you believed us, joined us and made it happen! Now join us and the rest of the Coalition again in this new stage of life-saving and doctor-training!
Our 7th Remedy Mission in Iraq begins this weekend! Surgical missions like this one made larger programs like Remedy Fellowship possible, and none of them could have happened without your care. Stay tuned as we bring you more stories directly from the hospital!