Every mission I could swear I’d met the cutest child on the planet, they’re always one-upping each other. But today this little jewel was carried into the hospital break room, and I’m quite sure she takes the cake. And the crazy thing is, I’d already met her and didn’t realize it!
Her name is Sema (pronounced seh-mah), and she was the first arterial switch operation to be performed in Najaf last February. She was actually one of the first operations from Remedy Mission IX, and now she’s back for a post-op screening (just to make sure everything’s working alright).
Since our last encounter, Sema has learned how to smile, clap, eat on her own, and her skin is now a nice, life-like hue—as opposed to the blueberry tone she had before. Her parents were ecstatic and insisted that I take photos—a dream come true for any photographer!
After Sema had thoroughly won all of us over, her father grabbed Dr. Novick’s hand and, with a cracking voice and moist eyes, said, “Thank you for save her, sir!” His joy was a great reminder of why we do what we do, and it was a great reminder of how desperate these parents are. As you can imagine, the entire team was encouraged by their visit.
But Sema and her sweet smile wouldn’t be with us today if it weren’t for you—you gave money to make sure these Remedy Missions happen, and Sema is a testament to that. Would you consider giving again? Click here to donate and to help us save more children like Sema—we can’t do this without you!
Yahya passed away early this morning after an all-night surgery. It was a surprise to everyone. When he was admitted to the ICU there seemed to be plenty of confidence that he would be just fine. But within just 30 minutes of admission his heart gave out and all efforts to revive him failed.
I still remember the first time I was introduced to Yahya. It was over a year ago. His uncle called my cell phone and said, “I’m at your office, I need to talk to you about a sick kid.”
It was after hours and I was already at home. But I could hear the urgency in his voice so I invited him to my home for tea. He arrived and made an impassioned plea for Yahya – his brother’s son. I was leery of helping Yahya after reading his reports – we had seen some children with complex heart defects like him die abroad and I couldn’t stand to put a family through that drama again. I did my best to avoid commitment and send Yahya’s uncle into the night without any solid hope for his nephew.
The following weeks were filled with phone calls and followup from the family, “Please help our boy!”
Finally, I met Yahya’s mom and dad and the little cutie himself. As they sat in my office they pled with humble urgency. They weren’t forceful. They weren’t rude. But they applied enough pressure on me that I couldn’t say “no” any longer. They made it abundantly clear that they understood the risk of his surgery and that they wanted it badly enough to endure whatever might come.
One of our core values as an organization is that we give “hope to the hopeless.” What that means is that we try to balance our impulse to be “last chance” people with our instinct to be “long-term” people. We held back on Yahya, wondering if it would give him long-term viability. But we ultimately dove in with Yahya’s family because we were their last chance. No one else would take on the risk.
We solidified this core value in November 2009 when we asked you what to do about a little boy named Ramyar. We asked you if you wanted us to apply your money in a high risk surgery or save it for a “sure thing.” You overwhelming said, “We want this Coalition to be about hope for the hopeless.”
We haven’t looked back since. We are the Last Chancers.
Still, committing to Yahya was full of complications. His surgery in Turkey was canceled due to an unavailability of an expensive assistant device. In fact, there was even discussion as to whether or not he should be included in our current Remedy Mission. Ultimately, we let the family themselves decide.
Our local cardiologist, along with our American surgeon, explained the risks of surgery, the option of waiting, etc. etc. Yahya’s dad was given a 50/50 chance of survival for little Yahya. Understandably, they wanted to give it a try. They couldn’t stand the risk of feeling like they had an opportunity to try and let it slip through their hands.
What would you have done? I have two kids – 5 and 3 years old. I have no idea what I would have done.
During Yahya’s surgery our Family Services Director, Jessica, sat down in the ward with all the parents whose kids were either in surgery or in critical condition in the ICU – those families whose kids were not “out of the woods” yet. As they asked questions about our organization and how long we’ve been working here, she recounted for them our past of taking children outside the country to significantly nicer hospitals than this Iraqi version in which we currently work. She told them about excellent American-trained Turkish doctors and fancy, pristine protocols abroad. Without fail, every family was so grateful for the chance to receive surgery at home. Let the Turks have their pristine hospital. “What if our child were to die abroad?” That would be a burden far too great to bear.
You gave Yahya’s family a chance that no one else would have. He had been rejected by every other opportunity out there. They are grateful to you. They will rest knowing they gave it their all for their only child.
And this is what we find almost universally – parents who just want a chance. And that’s what Remedy Missions are all about. We could continue to export kids to world class facilities, but who would invest in the future? We could continue to select the easiest children that almost never die, but does that make us any less culpable for the kids we pretend aren’t knocking on our door?
Was this a wasted opportunity? Did we waste the $670 that it cost us to provide Yahya surgery?
I used to feel that way when a child died in Turkey or Jordan or Jordan. I don’t feel that way anymore. Yahya’s death – though a terrible loss – was still an opportunity for local doctors to learn an innovative technique that they will be able to apply in future situations. His death was almost certainly unrelated to the particular tactic used in attempting to heal his heart. Educational gains always have significant costs. Before we only had the “we gave this child a chance” platitude. It’s not untrue. But local learning is an equally deep reason why your gift for Yahya made a difference.
Thank you for your willingness to stick with us through life and death. The gains that are needed here will not be made without significant risk and vision. We deeply appreciate your demand that we be the people of the last chance. I think it’s easier to sleep knowing we tried, than knowing we played it safe just so we could publish numbers and blog posts that seem more palatable.
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Heran on her way into surgery with very low blood-oxygen saturation.
She has emmerged from surgery and is recovering in ICU where her blood-oxygen levels are now at over 90%. That – and all other signs – say that she is doing well!
Photo: Matt Addington
Ahmed is out of surgery. His oxygen levels are already up by 25%. His future is hopefully less blue and a more healthy pink. His dad is crying tears of joy.
Dr. Çiçek at the Anadolu Sağlik Merkezi was clear that this is not a long-term, fully corrective solution; but this first surgery should allow him to finally live long enough to receive the staged surgeries he’ll need over the coming years to actually live a fully functional adult life.
We’ll update with more information as soon as we know it.
His great arteries are switched around and in the wrong places. He has two holes in the wall of his ventricle, a hole in the wall of his atrium. Effectively, his heart is a big balloon without properly functioning walls and chambers like yours.
This alone results in exhaustion, frequent fainting, and the blue discoloration in his lips, hands, and feet from a lack of oxygen.
You remember oxygen? That stuff that we pretty much need to live. Ahmad needs it too, but his body cannot process it correctly due to the holes in his little heart.
His brown-booted feet hung limply from the chair. Most children wouldn’t be able to resist swinging their suspended legs back and forth in the quiet room surrounded by the seven dwarfs’ familiar faces, the Kurdish curls presumably spelling the names of Dopey and Sneezy and the rest, scattered among painted forest animals on all four walls of Dr. Aso’s combined office, waiting room and examination room. When the doctor was ready, the practiced hands of his mother removed his jacket from his tiny body, his boots from little clubbed blue feet which matched his hands, tormented eyes watching her above his oxygen deprived lips the shade of blueberries.
The doctor’s eyes widened and his brow furrowed as he looked at the Echo, turned to us and said, “This is a very serious case.” When we asked if he was inoperable the doctor shook his head and simply said again, “It is a very serious case…. I don’t know.” Whether she understood English or not Ahmad’s mother read all our expressions easily. She tipped her head to the heavens, possibly to pray, and more practically to give her eyes the opportunity to swallow the tears threatening to escape.
After the picture we snapped of him standing in front of a Kurdish Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, he hid his little face in his mother’s leg and wiped tears from his eyes…
Liz searched her purse for the third time looking desperately for something to give this poor child. She hoped a matchbox car or at least some stickers had magically appeared since she’d last checked, but her hands came up empty again. Her mind slowly absorbed the fact that even if a toy might have brought a temporary smile to his sad eyes, it would do nothing for his frail body. Instead she prayed for the Turkish doctor who will soon undergo the difficult task of setting to rights all that is wrong in Ahmad’s little Iraqi frame.
We’d like to ask you to be a part of Ahmad’s transformation. Of course, these are hard times. But if you can, please consider sacrificing that Ahmad might live.