The day of departure from Jerusalem to Amman is always filled with a mixture of emotions for the mothers. They are experiencing the joy of their child's healed heart and new life, as well as anticipating the return home to their families in Iraq. They are feeling the the desire to comfort and encourage the mothers and children still waiting for their release, and the sorrow of parting from their now-like-family of other mothers and friends among the Shevet staff and volunteers. Almost nine days ago now, that Friday departure seemed to produce those exact feelings for Hani and Mohammed’s mothers. Our trip to the border was like many we'd taken to the hospital as far as the babies were concerned, as it involved confinement to a car seat for far too long. Snacks and toys only partially satisfied their desire for freedom, so arrival at the Israeli border terminal was a joyous event for the little ones. While we waited for final approval from Jordanian authorities, Hani romped and played as if on a playground, ceasing to be still for a moment. She attracted the attention of all who passed by as she joyfully took life by the hand and gave it her all.
By the time we made it to the taxi and headed through the mountains to Amman, Hani slept deeply. Later, a simple dinner together was a sweet time of reflection for all of us as we recalled our first meeting in Amman just over two months ago. It was an opportune time to talk of God's love and nearness in all things. We got news that Saturday's flight had been moved to an earlier time which was another source of joy for us all.
Things began normally enough, but Saturday's reality turned out to be quite different than the anticipated earlier departure. At the airport, we were filled with thanksgiving as I was permitted to escort Hani and her mom through the customs process, helping them find the gate area where they'd wait for their final security screening and boarding.
We enjoyed dear moments of mutual affection and farewells when their flight was called, complete with the "trademark" blown kisses by little Hani as she looked intently at me standing still while she moved on, grasping for the first time that I wasn't going home with them! Thus, I thought I'd seen the last of those sweet faces apart from, God willing, a future visit to Iraq. Little did we know that the plane on it's way from Kurdistan was experiencing a sandstorm and emergency descent into Baghdad at about the same time the attendant called them to the gate. Since I was waiting for the arrival of that plane, carrying three new patients coming in with Jonathan, I went downstairs to the arrivals hall for what would have normally been a rather short wait. Today however I received several messages from Jonathan letting me know that their takeoff was delayed, and then later, about the emergency landing. The monitor with flight info hadn't changed it's message, so after a while I went to the information desk to check on the expected arrival of the plane's precious contents. My question was met with a shocked response, for the airport had not yet been notified of the changes, and a flurry of communication activity began while I, and another woman who'd also gotten a message from family on the flight, was asked to sit and wait for more news.
As I sat, I realized that the current delay could impact Hani, Mohammed and their mothers. Because if the outgoing flight back to Kurdistan was cancelled, I wondered how I'd reach my Iraqi friends upstairs to take them back home with me. I further realized that one of baby Mohammed's medications required refrigeration in order to remain stable, so there was already an impact requiring action. With new urgency I went back to the desk to ask about a way to get some ice to my friends to protect the medication required for Mohammed's healing heart. After explaining the dilemma and requesting assistance to get back to my friends, a lengthy process unfolded by which I was allowed to go again to those I'd left several hours earlier. With an airport security escort, I found them in the waiting area outside the gate again, where I found ice at one of the nearby restaurants. Besides the relief of solving Mohammed's medication problem, this brief time together allowed me to explain what I knew about why they were delayed, and settle them about when to expect the incoming flight. Although we would have enjoyed spending more time sitting together as we waited, I didn't want to take advantage of the unique willingness of security to help this family. So we said more sweet goodbyes, and I rejoined my watchful escort back downstairs to the arrivals hall. Even though they were delayed by four or five hours getting home, I'm sure the party was just as joyful as Hani and her mom rejoined their waiting family. I praise God for bringing them into our lives, and all the ways he joined our hearts while healing Hani’s!
The many faces of Hani.
Even at a young age, the heart is capable of many complex emotions. And although our cameras frequently captured Hani displaying the more silly of emotions, this one and a half year-old showed us a heart also capable of deep love and affection. Her mother, though also very young, showed us a heart capable of understanding, sadness, love, resilience, and sacrifice.
I will never forget the day I saw their passports for the first time. I actually did a double take when I saw the birth year of Hani's mother--1990. This brave young woman had taken her daughter dying of heart defect, between the "enemy states" of Iraq and Israel, and she was only 22! Two years younger than myself. I paused for a moment to soak this in.
Over the months that Hani and her mom lived with us in Israel, I found myself connecting and bonding with them, but it was a gentle and slow process. Sometimes love has a way of sneaking up on you, and it wasn't until I shared tears with Hani's mom on the morning of their departure that I realized my heart actually ached to see them go.
The night before we celebrated a double farewell party--Hani and Mohammed both healed with masterfully created and restored hearts beating soundly within their chests. With cake, tea, presents and music, it was easy to celebrate and praise God with these two families that showed us so much gratitude and joy during their stays with us. But as the night drew to a close, Hani's mother clutched my hand and with sadness in her voice said, " I'm leaving tomorrow. It's so soon!"
Our group posed for one last picture, and all that remained was last minute packing and travel preparations. The next morning I sat quietly with them in the bedroom and prayed in my heart for God's continued protection over Hani and her mom. Bedroom packing quickly turned to loading the car, which quickly turned to prayers and hugs in our front courtyard.
My tears fell as the van drove them away to begin their trip home to Iraq. I felt the familiar ache of saying goodbye to loved ones. It is a commonly felt ache at Shevet Achim--but no matter how deeply we ache we they leave, we must always maintain how deeply we love while they are here.
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." (1 John 4:7)
"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13: 35)
If you can't tell from the photo above, Hani has brought much joy into the Shevet home. Her funny expressions and antics always have me laughing throughout the day. "A merry heart does good like medicine." (Proverbs 17:22) And as much as I would love to keep Hani here, I also know that a home and family are awaiting her return in Kurdistan.
Her homecoming is now one step closer to reality as today's echo verified! I joined Hani and her mother in the echo room shortly after the exam began, surprised to find it quiet. Both Hani's fears and precocious personality were subdued by way of a gentle sedative. Despite the medication's calming effect, she entertained her mother and I with sweet babbling and hand motions to her favorite children's songs. The cardiology team studied her heart virtually uninterrupted for the next half an hour. Results showed a sound heart three and a half weeks post-operation. Satisfied with the surgical outcome, several doctors announced that Hani was released to go home! Hani's mother, the cool, collected woman that she is, simply let out a sigh of relief. She received the news graciously and thanked Dr. Alona while dressing a still very groggy toddler. I hugged her and praised God for the good news.
As Hani regained her faculties, she joined hands with her friend Mohammed in the waiting room. Their "duet" could almost be described as a song, but mostly just shouts of celebration! Both children were finished for the day with pleasant outcomes.
Such moments often pass and are too quickly forgotten. Each day, however, is a gift from the Lord, worth savoring and giving Him thanks for. Perhaps, this is why I've always loved the old adage "Stop and smell the roses." And before leaving the hospital, Hani and her mother did just that.
A nervous little Hani got into the van this morning to depart for the hospital. This perceptive girl has put two and two together and figured out that getting into the van means we are probably going to the hospital. And in Hani’s mind, going to the hospital is scary. Therefore, the van is to be avoided at all costs. But because her echo was scheduled for today, the van ride was necessary. And even though she may have been slightly anxious, she remained calm throughout the whole ride and even had a smile on her face when we entered the play room at the hospital. The toys there are always exciting and we had a fun time climbing in and out of the little playhouse while we waited for her name to be called.
However, her worst fears were confirmed when the doctors called her in and placed her on the echo table. Her protests could be heard echoing down the hallway, despite the closed door. Her mother and a Shevet staff member, Ruth, were at her side to calm and sooth her throughout the appointment. Thankfully, it did not last too long and the result yielded excellent news. The doctors announced that Hani has trace amounts of fluid around her heart which they consider to be "trivial”! Since she is doing exceptionally well, they are reducing her medication significantly and plan on taking her off it all together in three days. They expect that next week will be her final echo and then she will be able to return home!
This joyful news echoes (no pun intended) part of a verse we read in Proverbs this morning during our staff meeting: "A happy heart makes the face cheerful..." (Proverbs 15:13a). And happy mother emerged from the echo room and soon Hani was in good spirits as well. We celebrated this good news with a trip to the sea. Once again, cries emerged from little Hani. But this time, they were cries of joy. Her laughter and enthusiasm were contagious as we all got soaked by the splashing waves. It took our best efforts to keep her from jumping into the water and swimming away forever. This child has an enthusiasm for water that cannot be matched.
Hani's infectious laugh and humorous expressions have enchanted all of us who live here at Shevet. We pray that her recovery continues to go smoothly so that she can return home soon. But we will all miss our little energizer bunny. Her cheerful face and happy heart have certainly brought a smile to our faces and joy to our souls.
Today Hani had her first echo exam after being dismissed from the hospital last Thursday. When I came upstairs to see if she and her Mom were ready to leave, I found an adorable little girl playing with Ahmed and my fellow volunteers. Her mother had dressed Hani with a skirt that matched her shoes. We could have watched her for a long time playing and relishing in life but we had to leave.
On our way to Wolfson she enjoyed listening to music and finally fell asleep just before we arrived at the hospital. There Hani was welcomed by a woman who recognized her from her days after surgery. She was excited to see that Hani is doing so well after surgery. It was obvious that Hani had won not only our hearts but also the hearts of many others.
By this point Hani had not yet cried, which I had been expecting based on our last experiences. We went to the echo room and as soon as we entered and she was laid down at the examination table, it began. Throughout the echo Hani stopped crying only for seconds. The two doctors tried hard to comfort her and I loved them for being so patient and tender with Hani. They were satisfied with what they saw on the screen and reduced one of her medications. Hani´s mother and I also showed them the lower end of her incision which had opened a little bit yesterday.
After the echo was finished we were sent to the nurses’ station. There, Hani would get some antibiotic ointment for the wound and a nurse would also take out the suture which remained from the chest tube. Since the nurse did not have time immediately, we went to the little playground which belongs to the children´s ward. Hani again enjoyed her life and was full of energy.
The crying began all over again when we were called back to the nurses’ station. The suture was removed and we were given some antibiotic ointment. When we finally left the hospital it was early afternoon and we decided to spend some time at the beach as a special treat for Hani... and for all of us. At first I thought Hani would be afraid of the water and the waves. But the opposite was the case. Hani tried to get deeper into the water and we had to closely watch her and lift her up when a bigger wave came in.
Her mother especially loved to pick up shells which she wants to use for decoration.
On our way home Hani fell asleep. It had been a long day with times of tears and times of joy.
A late morning phone call from Wolfson brought wonderful news to our ears today: Hani was dismissed to return to Jerusalem! We made our way to the hospital and were greeted by one very thankful but tired mommy carrying her adorable little daughter. I was immediately struck by the sparkle in Hani's eyes as we embraced one another in the hallway. She truly has the look of one with new life coursing through her body.
These days, Hani wants nothing to do with anyone who looks like a doctor or nurse, but she was quieted by her mother as we were given instructions for her medication regimen. When another nurse passed by us, and Hani began to whimper, I sought to comfort her by telling her not to be afraid, we were going home. As soon as she heard the words "going home" she looked at her mother, and looked at me, and held out her arms so I would take her. It was as if she was thinking "If you will take me out of the hospital, I'll go with you instead!" It was such a funny moment! Her mother and I laughed together in mutual appreciation at the message conveyed by the transparency of her actions.
We took a little time to visit with baby Mohammed as he recovers well from his surgery, and then we were on our way home. Hani's mom was asleep within minutes of leaving the hospital, while Hani took in the sights for at least a half hour before breaking the silence and waking her mother. After a warm welcome back by the other families and staff, Hani and her mother settled down for a restful evening, thankful to be home. We are delighted they're back, and give God praise for His good work in their lives thus far. We're trusting that Hani will continue to heal, and her mom will catch up on her rest as we spend the next few weeks sharing our home and hearts here in Jerusalem.
Arriving at Wolfson today, we were eager to see how our precious Hani was recovering. Her bright eyes, curious expressions and wiggly toddler nature had returned. The only problem was that she is still tethered to the IV pole and a clip on her toe that monitors her oxygen level.
In the course of our visit she enjoyed batting a balloon back in forth with whoever was in the room, looking at a picture book with brightly colored sea creatures, coloring with Donna, and eating pita (generously sharing small morsels with me) and half a banana (her mother kindly shared half with the little girl from Gaza in the next bed).
Her demeanor only transitioned to gloomy when a nurse walked in. Even the sight of Shevet’s nurse Kristina putting on her gloves made Hani whimper. The highlight of the day, however, occurred when the nurse unhooked her IV line and took off the oxygen saturation monitor. Mom pulled out sandals and Hani was on her feet for the first time in four days. Though she was wobbly at first, before long she was off and moving. I did a few trips up and down the hall with her. Had I not kept her to a walk by holding her arm, I am sure she would have been running.
This blog was co-written by Shevet volunteers Donna Petrel and Ruth Zellweger.
Donna writes on Friday: Hani Wakes Up!
It was with great joy that I entered the ICU on Friday, anxious to see Hani and her mother; when the news arrived on Wednesday evening that Hani was next in line for surgery in Tel Aviv, I was in Amman, Jordan receiving other children from Iraq.
When we first arrived to the hospital, we were glad to see that Hani had already been extubated and was only on an oxygen mask. She was recovering well, but being a precocious, strong-willed toddler, she was struggling to wake up and have some water. As the new medication following her extubation took effect, Hani began to wake up. As she fought against the sedative, the staff was forced to tie her arms and legs down so that she didn't injure herself with flailing about; this was tough for her sweet mother to see and endure. Eventually Hani settled down after nurses gave her a bath; at that time, the oxygen mask was removed, and Hani's legs were untied.
On Friday afternoon she was allowed to have a little water, and a bottle, which settled her little soul with a satisfaction that led to rest. Our last visit to the ICU found Hani calmed by sedation, but intermittently alert to things around her. One such moment came as I was bidding her mother farewell with a kiss. Hani's eyes opened momentarily, so I spoke to her as well, and blew her a kiss. To the surprise of both her mother and me, she puckered her little lips and tried to blow a kiss as well! It was so cute, and so much represented who this tiny girl is on the inside: responsive, hospitable and loving. Please continue praying for Hani and her mom as her recovery continues. We look forward to having them both back in Jerusalem soon!
Ruth writes on Sunday: On the Road to Recovery
When we went to Wolfson Hospital today to visit Hani, Kristina recognized Hani´s mother in the intermediate ICU. What a joy that Hani was already released from primary ICU! As soon as we entered the room we could tell that she was on her way to recovery. Her oxygen level was great, and the doctors had already yesterday taken out the chest tube. The nurse also said that she is doing well, except that she could be eating more.
During our visit there were a few times when she was fussing a little bit, but most of the time she was the bright little girl we knew before surgery. To nourish her well, we offered her some delicious chocolate and she happily accepted it. Hani´s mother especially enjoyed the visit of Mohammed´s mother, another woman from Kurdistan, northern Iraq. They had a good chat in Kurdish and it was nice to observe. It touches me to see how they care for each other, sharing joys, fears and stressful moments.
We praise God for how smoothly Hani’s recovery has progressed until this moment. When it was time for us to leave today, Hani bid us a wonderful goodbye by blowing kisses.
Early this morning, Kristina, Ruth (a new nurse volunteer from Germany), and myself left to join her mom for the wait during surgery. When we arrived, Hani and her mother had already been taken down stairs to the operating department. Once Hani was sedated and taken away with the surgical staff, her mother, with tears in her eyes, joined us for the wait. Having sent my own children into surgery, I know the unstoppable tears that flow even when one has great trust and hope in the doctors attending to their care. This is the second time Hani’s mother has sent her precious daughter into heart surgery, the first when she was just 2 months old.
After getting a little breakfast, we wandered the halls of the hospital to continue to help familiarize her with what will be her new home for the next few days. We found a back area with grass, trees and benches on which to rest. Pulling out her phone, she showed us several videos with darling Hani dancing. She seemed most satisfied to spend the time waiting in the garden courtyard, slipping away shortly for a shower. I could see when she returned that she had had a good cry. I would have too.
When 3+ hours had passed, we moved back into the hospital corridor near the elevators. Kristina saw the surgeon, Dr. Sasson, emerge and ran after him to find out how the surgery had gone. The rest of us remained by the elevators and within just a few minutes, a hospital bed with two staff members emerged with a small body, laying quietly. Just a small part of the patient's face and hair was visible. Was that Hani? We were not sure. Ruth, after a few moments, insisted she was sure it was. Hani's mom agreed, so we headed down the hall to see if we could find Hani. Upon meeting back up with Kristina, we received confirmation that our precious little girl was in ICU and that the surgery had gone very well. Dr. Sasson came and stood beside Kristina and Hani's mother, sharing that a full repair had been made without any complications. The large VSD (hole between the heart's lower chambers) had been sealed with a gortex patch. Additionally, a band that had been placed around her pulmonary artery during her first surgery, was removed today.
The doctor's peaceful countenance likewise brought a deeper expression of relief to the face of Hani's mother. While waiting the typical 45 minutes to see Hani, her mother made phone calls with a sweet, relieved smile on her face to family who were yet to hear the news of surgery today. Shortly after the calls home, we were allowed to see our joyful angel, resting under sedation. Her vital signs were stable with an oxygen level reading of 100%! She looked at peace.
Our time in the garden watching the birds made me think of this verse. "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you of more value than they?" Matthew 6:26 It brought a sense of settled peace. Yes, our Heavenly Father cares for all of His creation, and especially for our precious Hani.
Our beautiful and charismatic Hani received a big surprise this afternoon when the hospital gave us an unexpected phone call. After being in Israel for nearly one month, two weeks still remained until her scheduled surgery date. Hani's mother has been tearful at times, but bearing the wait patiently for the sake of her daughter. All manner of sorrow dissipated when we learned that Hani was invited to come to Wolfson today for surgery tomorrow morning! Her mother breathed a sigh of relief and smiled as she quickly packed her things and combed Hani's unruly curls. Catherine, Ruth, our newest volunteer, and I joined them on their journey down to Tel Aviv. I'm not sure who entertained who more in the car. Songs, puppets, bubbles, whistling, and silly voices kept Hani amused, while her playful antics and expressions had the rest of us laughing for a long time. She eventually fell asleep with the countenance of blissful peace.
All was well until Hani woke up to find herself in a place that aroused unpleasant memories. Her first sight of the nurses' station evoked terrified cries as she clung to her mother. While the medical staff carried on with other tasks, our team helped Hani calm down by escaping to a nearby playground. It didn't take long for this spunky toddler to forget her fears entirely. This girl loves to explore and is always on the move. I can't imagine her being any more active with a healed heart! During a game of peek-a-boo, Hani giggled again and again as I popped up from hiding to meet her face to face. What a joy she is to us all!
We said goodbye to Hani and her mother with the promise of being by their side tomorrow morning. As the sun was setting to the west during our ascent towards Jerusalem, I thought of how dawn's first light will find us on the road once more. Hope and anticipation find their place in my heart tonight. I believe that God delights in Hani and that He is preparing a beautiful gift for her. Will you please pray for her and her mother to experience His grace throughout tomorrow's surgery? Truly, as Messiah promised, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9