Libya is a country in turmoil, with a health care infrastructure that is falling apart. We get criticized sometimes for continuing to go to Libya to perform lifesaving heart surgeries in the midst of the violence and chaos.
‘They need aid’ is what we hear in America, when the topic of Libya comes up.
Here are four reasons why we provide heart surgery in a war zone like Libya:
- Libyans know what they need—and they asked us to come.
Libyans are savvy. They care for their own people. They want to provide what their people need. It isn’t helpful to come from the outside, without intimately knowing the situation on the ground, and assuming to know better.
- By teaching best ICU care practices, preservation of sterilization in the operating room, and echocardiogram diagnosis techniques—as well as surgical techniques—we raise the level of care across the board.
Local medical staff who master best practices in care of young heart surgery patients are able to apply those skills in every other hospital department.
- When we teach the skills required to perform pediatric heart surgeries, local medical staff can then handle whatever gets thrown at them.
When doctors and nurses become skilled healing the smallest, most vulnerable patients, with incredibly challenging heart defects, they have the skills needed to handle trauma, and any other condition they might be presented with.
- It’s within our hands to do.
We aren’t the UN. We aren’t the World Food Programme. Thankfully, those groups already exist to provide broad relief aid.
We are focussed on the immediate needs of Libyan children who need heart surgeries to live, as well as a medical system which requires more trained medical personnel to care for their own citizens.
We are focussed on what is needed right now. But at the same time, we are able to help bring positive systemic change. We all have the ability to contribute to the stabilization of Libya—this is how we do it.
“You’ll never be able to give away heart surgeries to kids around the world, Bill. There’s no money in that.”
This is what then-resident Dr. Novick’s faculty adviser told him when he got back from his first heart surgery trip to Honduras. But he had found what he wanted to do with his life, and nobody was going to keep him from operating on children in places where they couldn’t otherwise get access.
Dr. Novick knew something that his adviser didn’t: this is what he was made to do. He saw in Honduras that these children can’t wait for conflicts to end, governments to invest in healthcare, or economies to turn around.
They couldn’t wait, and neither could he.
Today, Dr. Novick and his teams have provided 8,000 children in developing countries with a heart operation since that adviser told him it couldn’t be done. That’s a tribe of people who have gone to school, celebrated birthdays, had children of their own—they have a story and will live to adulthood because people said “yes” to Dr. Novick when he asked them to go with him to educate local surgeons and nurses to save their own children and their next generation of children born with heart defects.
This year, one of Dr. Novick’s “heart surgery kids” is hoping to have her own children. She is ready to be a mother, but her heart isn’t strong enough for that yet. Dr. Novick and his team is going back to give her the surgery she needs to make this possible..
He’s never finished.
“What is my greatest dream for my daughter? With a little laugh, Sima replied, “To be human, of course.”
There is nothing I want for Tarane, nothing more important in life than to show kindness to others, for her to treat the world with understanding and respect. That is what being fully human means.”
Her words echoed across the pediatric ward full of children and mothers waiting to receive a lifesaving heart surgery this week. These were not easy words to say with a sick child on her lap. There are no heart transplants in Iran, which means Tarane’s life isn’t secure. It would be natural for Sima to zero in on her daughter without noticing anyone else. Instead, she is looking at others and hoping her daughter will grow up to show kindness to them.
Sima lives in a place full of challenges, and those challenges could tempt her to go numb toward others. She decided to reject the bitterness and self-concern that grows when there isn’t enough to go around. She is a fierce mother who loves her daughter. She decorates Taranes’ hospital bed with enough pink to ice a cake, topped off with Barbies on each of the corners. She is reminding Princess Tarane to see beauty as she walks through hard things this week.
Sima knows what kind of daughter she’s going to raise —she can see Tarane’s future. Together, our team is going to mend her heart so she can run into that future and show the world what one person can do when they choose to be fully human.
Walking up and down the stairs after surgery meant the world to Tarane. Finally, her heart was able to keep up with her curious, four year-old need to explore and climb. Her eyes lit up as she climbed up and down with Sima trailing behind.
“You’re beautiful,” Aylin’s mother sings to her. “We love you Aylin, the world is so beautiful with you in it.”
Aylin or “Ducky” as we call her, fought for her life from the day she was born, but she doesn’t have much to help her fight. Her mother whispers and sings to her, all six pounds of her. She tells her again and again how beautiful she is, how amazing this world is, how much she loves her. Sima is a fierce mother who sees more than Aylin’s tiny frame, she sees her future.
With a mended heart, Aylin is going to be able to grow into all the dreams her family has for her year after year. All families disagree, and Aylin’s is no different. She is her family’s only baby and the hopes her parents have for her are high.
“She will be a famous musician and play the piano,” her architect father says. That was his dream before his very practical mother said music was too risky, he should be an architect instead. Aylin’s father wants her to be able to follow her heart, even if it leads her to loving music instead of something more practical. Aylin’s mother smiles at her husband’s wild love for his daughter. She has other ideas about her daughter’s future. “A heart surgeon, so she can give life to another little girl the same way you gave it to her,” she says quietly.
Because you decided to go with Novick Cardiac Alliance to Iran, this is what is being fiercley debated. Not whether Aylin will live, or if her parents can find treatment for her. Instead it’s if she will bring music into the world or hope as a cardiac surgeon?
I don’t know which one you would vote for, but now Aylin has a choice because her heart can take her there.