Congenital heart defects are one of the leading causes of deaths for children in Iraq.
So when you confront it head on, you better be ready for what comes next.
When we put the International Children’s Heart Foundation medical team back on the ground, the press releases go out, the radio and T.V. stations announce their arrival, and hundreds of families in the city rush to make sure that their child is at the top of the list.
The first thing we do is screen each child. But then more come. And then more. And then so many people that you can’t even get through the crowd to see the child being screened.
Siblings take turns standing in line. The dads and moms show up before our team has even woken up. Some even bring their own mats so they can sleep in the waiting room.
And so we keep screening. Because each echo means that child is one step closer to receiving the treatment that need.
Thanks for bringing us back to Najaf. There’s still so much more work to do!
“Today our dream is coming true.”
These are the kinds of phrases we’re hearing in the southern port city of Basra right now. The local surgeons told us they’ve been trying to create a children’s heart hospital for nearly 30 years, and today they performed their first operation.
Decades of dreams, now made possible.
Amidst the excitement, hope, and tears, though, you’re not forgotten. You helped make this day possible! In fact, we brag about you guys. Today I told several Iraqi nurses about The Coalition around the world—of which you’re a part—who still care about Iraqis; I assured them they’re not forgotten, either.
And, for me, that’s one of the most beautiful things about this big, messy, collaboration: we haven’t forgotten one another.
Despite all the distance and differences, there are a bunch of doctors in Basra who know that they’re not forgotten, because you’ve remembered and supported them in their lifesaving dream.
The same goes for all the families who are about to receive back a healthy child—I can’t wait to tell them about you! Keep reading. I’ll have fresh faces and stories for you coming soon.
You can hardly blame them.
They’ve been cooped up in a small hospital room for weeks now, and late last night the doctor gave them clearance to leave. When we arrived in the morning, the family was probably happily asleep in their own beds.
But, despite not getting to see them off, we’re still celebrating. Zahraa is home now, the hole in her heart is finally closed, and she’s set to live a healthy life.
Did you miss Zahraa’s story? See more about her heart defect and her sweet family by following this link.
Remedy Mission XIII is winding down, but we’ll continue sharing more stories with you over the next two weeks.
Keep reading, there’s more to come.
November 12, 2012 by matt · Comments Off
Zahraa isn’t in the best mood right now.
I was making ward rounds visiting families and I stopped in to check on her (catch up on her story here). Immediately after exchanging our ‘salaams’ her parents asked, “Can you tell what’s wrong? She won’t stop crying, she has a fever, and she is upset whenever we touch her.”
Now, I’ve already told you guys that I’m non-medical. I don’t claim to be a doctor. But I’ve picked up a few things about post-operative care from some of the nurses, and so, after a few minutes of discussion, it became apparent Zahraa was in pain because—wait for it—she hadn’t been given her pain meds.
Yes, I figured that out all by myself. Smart, huh?
To be serious, it’s extremely frustrating to think of Zahraa spending an entire night in pain just because a local doctor didn’t take the time to come check on her and give her the necessary medication.
But we aren’t here because the place has competent doctors—it’s actually quite the opposite! We choose to work in Iraq because it’s difficult and because doctors need to learn about things like how and when to distribute medication. Slowly but surely, mission by mission, our partner nurses are writing and enforcing protocols, the surgeons are teaching (and reteaching) surgical techniques, and things are improving.
But last night was a mistake. Zahraa’s parents and grandmother (pictured above cuddling with Zahraa) were worried sick. Being non-medical, they did what they could; they bought her outrageously large stuffed animals (pictured above), tried to hold her, sing for her—nothing worked.For all they knew, their daughter was dying. Thankfully, she wasn’t. I left and brought back one of the nurses to give a more proper inspection. Zahraa took her medicine and began feeling better just a few minutes later, and she’s been fine since then.
With that resolved and the doctor on duty reprimanded (not by me), I sat down to learn more about Zahraa, her parents, and their family’s surgery search. Her father explained that they learned of her heart problem when she was eight months old and that—thank God—she’s the only one in their family with a known heart problem.
When asked about their fears for Zahraa, her father shared,
Zahraa’s parents love her with such intensity that they were prepared to make as many sacrifices as it took to help their little girl. It was obvious, sitting in their hospital room, that they were telling the truth. I’d seen how the mother and grandmother cared for Zahraa, and how the father was constantly taking breaks from work to come check in.
But, thanks to you, Zahraa’s parents didn’t have to sell their home. After years of distress, their daughter is well on her way to recovery now, and she even has a home to go back to—thank you for saving her!
Help save more children like Zahraa now!
You may remember that Zahraa was recently wheeled into the ICU after a successful surgery, but she and her mother won’t be there for long.
As the week progresses and more children are added to the ICU, parents who are willing (and emotionally able) to help care for their children are greatly appreciated.
Our partners, The International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF), typically have two nurses and an intensivist on duty per shift. That means there are three fully-trained staff in an ICU that sometimes has as many as six or seven children needing their care.
Of course, there are also local Iraqis who are receiving training and who can lighten the work load, but it’s still quite a load!
Zahraa’s mother helped alleviate some of this, and it’s allowing the nurses to provide better care. The best news, though, is they’re now saying that Zahraa will probably be the first child this mission to head up to the ward.
We’ll follow her up to celebrate with her family and to get to know them a little better soon. Stick with us…
They wheeled Zahraa out of the operating room and into the ICU. Now she’s got 8 nurses and doctors around her making sure she’s safe and on her way to recovery.
A local International Children’s Heart Foundation nurse will watch over her while teaching the Iraqi nurses how to bring Zahraa back to health. But now, the only thing for little Zahraa to do is sleep! We’ll have more for you tomorrow.
Did you know that you once had a hole in your heart?
It’s true. You had the same hole that Zahraa has, actually. You were both born with something called a ductus arteriosus, which is basically an opening between the pulmonary artery and the descending aorta.
But your hole closed, and hers didn’t.
At birth, you took that first gasp of air and—at that instant—this hole in your heart began closing. It wasn’t long before your hole was gone, and your blood flow was perfectly normal. You were fed, you kept your parents up for crazy amounts of time, and you did what babies do—your parents probably didn’t even know the hole was there.
Zahraa’s parents knew early on that something wasn’t right; they learned early on that their child’s hole hadn’t closed and that she would need surgery.
It’s difficult to know why your hole closed and Zahraa’s didn’t. Some research suggests that it’s a hormonal issue, but it’s hard to tell (and honestly way over my head).
Regardless, Zahraa is about to join you and the rest of us by having her PDA closed, and you made that possible! They’re putting her under and operating on her right now, so come back in a few hours for an update.
More to come…
Zahraa has passed the test!
Her echo went well, and now she can go home. Watch the above video to get a quick update on Remedy Mission XII and to see shots of little Zahraa heading home with a healed heart!
You’ve read about Zahraa, and we hope you’re following her story.
But wouldn’t you like to know what’s really going on inside her chest? What is it that poses such a lethal threat to her well-being, and what does it take to fix it?
Cardiologists can answer these questions because they spend years studying the heart in medical school, and then they’re constantly learning for the rest of their career. So, since we can’t all be savvy heart doctors, we decided to pull one into the O.R. for a quick interview!
Watch the above video (or click HERE) to get a better understanding of what’s going on inside little Zahraa’s heart!
This little day-dreamer’s name is Zahraa. She’s 6 years old, and—you guessed it!—she really needs a heart surgery.
I only had limited time with Zahraa and her family before she was whisked away for surgery, but the parents seemed terrified for their daughter. A local doctor saw me watching them and shared, “They’re very poor. They don’t know anything at all about the outside world.”
This was a great reminder of the faith these parents have when they give their kids over to us for treatment. I’m sure it takes serious guts to pass your kid off to trained professionals whom you trust and know to be effective (and can communicate with), but to give your kid to strangers from another country? To people who dress, talk, and act in a way that is totally bizarre to you? Maybe even offensive?
I don’t envy them, but I do admire their courage.
Both daughter and her mother, as if on cue, burst into tears as Zahraa was pulled away and taken to the operating room.
Please pray that her surgery goes well, and we’ll have a video update on her progress for you in a few hours.