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Meet Narjis, our first patient of 2017!

Meet Narjis, our first patient of 2017!

Narjis was born in Baghdad, Iraq in October 2016. When she was about two weeks old, her parents Akar and Nor Maseer noticed she was breathing fast. They took her to the doctor and an echocardiogram showed she had two holes in her heart, an atrial septal defect and ventricular septal defect. The doctor gave her medicines and told the family to return in 1 week. After this week, Narjis did not improve and the doctor said she needed surgery. Unfortunately, there is no hospital or heart surgeon available for babies in Iraq, so doctors advised Narjis’ parents to take her outside Iraq.

Advocating for his daughter, Narjis’ father Akar found a new doctor in Baghdad, but this doctor said her lung pressures were too high and surgery would now be impossible. Not losing hope, Akar found yet another doctor for his daughter, but still the same answer: his family must travel outside of Iraq for her surgery, and if they didn’t she may not survive until her 1st birthday. At two months old, Narjis barely weighed as much as a newborn baby because of her heart defect.

Still searching everywhere for a better solution, Narjis’ father saw an advertisement on Facebook from Al Kafeel Super Specialty Hospital in Karbala with the news that Dr Novick and his team would be coming to provide heart surgeries for children. Narjis’ parents packed their bags and drove to Karbala to meet our cardiologist on the first day of our arrival. Her heart surgery was scheduled for the next day.

Now 3 months old, Narjis received her life-saving heart surgery to close those two large holes on January 16th. She recovered quickly and was back in her mother’s arms on the ward within two days. Narjis’s parents are very thankful that their sweet little daughter is healing and eating better. Just two weeks ago they were fearful they may lose their newborn baby, and now they see her future is bright.

Little Hasen Is Why We Keep Coming Back To Iraq

Little Hasen Is Why We Keep Coming Back To Iraq

Hasen sits in his grandmother’s arms, bored and making a terrible fuss.

“He was born with three holes in his heart.” His grandmother tells us what we’ve already seen on the ultrasound scan. She was tired, weary. The strain of life and her grandson’s heart problems are nearly too much to bear. Hasen was supposed to have surgery later that day, but not long after our visit, his surgery was cancelled.

One of the most difficult parts of our work is assessing which children get surgery. Together with the local surgical team, we decide that because of the complex nature of his heart defects and surgery needed to fix them, Hasen will need to be in recovery for much longer than we will be in Iraq. We can’t perform surgery and leave him without the proper acute care while he heals.

Hasen is too sick to wait for our return in the new year. So a series of calls are made, and it is arranged that he will go to a neighbouring country to get surgery. It is the only option for Hasen, but comes with significant cost—physical, emotional, and financial.

Hasen’s father is a day labourer. He gets occasional construction work, but hasn’t had anything steady for a long time. When he leaves the country with his son to get treatment, his family will be without any income at all.

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Sweet Hasen reminds us again why we work the way we do. Providing heart surgeries for children simply isn’t enough—equipping the local community to care for the health needs of their children is essential. So children like Hasen can get care in their own country, near their families and support systems.

Life now, sustainability in the future—this is the kind of long-term change you bring every time you donate.

We’ve Made Amazing Progress, And We’ll Lean In To Do Even More In 2017

We’ve Made Amazing Progress, And We’ll Lean In To Do Even More In 2017

Leaning in—this is the common posture we see in every hospital where we work. There are always parents leaning in toward their children, either out of concern or the desire to comfort. But just as often we find ourselves leaning in toward patients, providing the acute care they need. Working beside local teams, we lean in toward each other, sharing crucial techniques and skills.

Every country we work in has different needs. Some heart programmes are young, and training runs the gamut from basic to complex. We work with young surgeons developing skills, cardiologists who don’t have a lot of experience with a wide range heart defects, and nurses who don’t yet have the experience to recognize patient symptoms and needed responses post-surgery. In some countries we focus on making out-of-date procedures current.

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During our recent medical trip to Basra, we worked with a local team that is established, efficient, and accustomed to working together. The surgical team are skilled, experienced heart surgeons who have already developed techniques in repairing diseased and damaged adult hearts. What they are now learning are the incredible complexities that come with hearts that didn’t develop in the correct way.

They are learning to look at the body’s systems in different ways—learning to assess how much can be corrected without affecting other organs, like the lungs, in negative ways. They need to learn an entirely different approach to the human heart, making repairs to allow it to function as it should, not necessarily to make it look like it should.

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In Basra, we are able to connect the dots for medical professionals who often have book knowledge but lack hands-on practice. We see where gaps in knowledge exist, and are immediately able to teach, coach needed skills, and follow-up with further chances to practice.

Many on our team have worked in Iraq for years. We know the value of training local doctors and nurses, in equipping Iraqis to take care of their own children. We will continue to lean in during 2017. This is the posture that will continue to make a difference, not only for Iraq’s children, but for the country.

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She Escaped ISIS, Now She Survived A Life-Threatening Heart Defect

She Escaped ISIS, Now She Survived A Life-Threatening Heart Defect

Jobs disappeared.

That’s what drove Yaqin’s family from Mosul. It was 2014 and the early days of ISIS in the city. Life was beginning to get difficult—the rules for living changed, tightened, but it was still manageable, except for the fact that paid work became scarce. Yaqin’s father couldn’t support his family, so they made the decision to leave.

It was a decision that saved his daughter’s life.

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We are clustered around Yaqin’s bed in the ward as her mother shares their story. Yaqin hasn’t cracked a smile once since we met her, but she is relaxed in the bed, shooting imaginary enemies on her mother’s phone. Every time we try to peek at the screen to see how she’s doing in the game, she slowly angles the phone so we can’t see it. She had heart surgery just two days before and her feisty attitude shows us she is clearly feeling well!

When her family left Mosul, they first headed to a displacement camp outside the city. Their stay was cut short though—the camp was bombed, which meant they were quickly forced to move again to find a safer place to live.

They traveled the full length of the country from Mosul in the north to Basra, at the southern tip of Iraq. The trauma of the last two years has taken a heavy toll on Yaqin. Between leaving Mosul, getting bombed out of a camp, establishing a new life in a southern city, all on top of being born with a serious heart defect—it was all too much. She lost all interest in eating. By the time we were able to assess her, Yaqin was extremely thin, had advanced symptoms of malnutrition, and needed medical care if she was going to survive.

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If Yaqin’s family hadn’t left when they did, they would have been trapped in Mosul—hemmed in when ISIS enforced border control. If Yaqin’s family had remained in Mosul, she would not have received the lifesaving heart surgery she needed to survive.

The UN estimates there are 10 million people in Iraq who currently need assistance because of the ongoing war with ISIS. There are millions of displaced families who need the very basics to survive. Little girls like Yaqin, with complicated health needs, get squeezed out.

But together we made sure she got surgery. Her heart is mended now.

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Yaqin spent her recovery time before being discharged having uninterrupted time with her mother–a rare treat for a girl with a little brother. She was eager to get home to enjoy her family—another simple, everyday miracle for a girl who escaped death twice.

How You Ended A Mother’s Desperate Search For Surgery

How You Ended A Mother’s Desperate Search For Surgery

Every mom’s heart aches when her child is sick. It’s so hard to see them suffer and not know what’s going on, or how to help.

For some moms it’s extra hard. When Yossef came down with the flu at two months old, he was taken to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed not only the flu, but something much more concerning—there was a serious problem with his heart.

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Yossef’s mom is a pharmacist and works in a hospital. She saw her son suffering, and she knew exactly what was going on. Because she knew the Iraqi health system very well, and how few resources are available for children like hers, she panicked—how would she ever find the help her son needed?

Yossef’s parents took him to the two best heart centers in the country. Both visits were fruitless—they were told there was nothing that could be done for their son in Iraq—his condition was too complex. He would have to be taken to another country for surgery. This may as well have been a death sentence. Despite the fact that both his parents work, Yossef’s family didn’t have the money needed to take him anywhere outside the country for surgery. Instead they took him home and cared for him they best they could.

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Yossef was always sick, plagued with colds despite the fact that he was always kept inside. His mom gave him treatments at home, but of course they couldn’t address his underlying heart condition. One day while working at the hospital, she heard that a team of pediatric heart specialists would be coming to her hospital to perform heart surgeries on children with complex heart defects.

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Yossef was out of options, and that’s exactly when you made it possible for us to show up. We assessed Yossef, performed the heart surgery he needed, and even did after-care by the light of cell phones when the hospital power gave out.

We were able to give Yossef a solid base to build his future. And Yossef’s mom? She lost the weight of the world in that operating room.

And thanks to our amazing donors, it all happened inside Iraq.

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