Blog : ISIS

Dr Novick featured in Men’s Journal

Journalist Jordan Campbell joined our team on several trips this past year gathering information about Dr. Novick and the mission of Novick Cardiac Alliance. The article is featured in Men’s Journal June 2018 edition.

 

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.

Before Surgery, Falah Was Falling Behind—Not Anymore

Before Surgery, Falah Was Falling Behind—Not Anymore

When Falah closes his eyes, he sees himself high above the clouds, in the cockpit of a fighter jet. When he imagines his future self, he is a pilot who helps to defend his country from the forces which seek to destroy.

But today Falah is laying in his hospital bed recovering from the surgery that saved his life.

Falah is a normal 16 year old. He loves to watch war movies and play first-person video games. His favourite soccer player is Christiano Rinaldo and he has favourite meals that his mom cooks (chicken or fish, please!).

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But in one important way Falah was always different from his peers—he couldn’t play. He was born with a heart defect that wouldn’t let him.

When he was very young, his heart defect was less of a problem. In fact, his family didn’t even know that he had a heart defect! But as he got older, his heart wasn’t able to keep up with his growing body. He was often tired. If he was out in the summer sun too long, he would pass out. Two years ago he was riding his bike home from school when he passed out on the side of the road. His family rushed him to the hospital. Falah complained to the doctor that his heart was racing and it hurt.

At fourteen years old, the heart defect Falah’s was born with was finally diagnosed.

School became more difficult for Falah, as his heart struggled harder to keep up. He was always so tired. Often he got dizzy, and couldn’t see the words in his textbooks. Sometimes he passed out in class. His tight-knit group of friends tried to help by raising up his legs to get more blood to his heart.

This year Falah was asked to leave school—he was too far behind his classmates.

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Falah’s routine changed. Instead of the daily pattern of classes, he now had a weekly pattern of doctor’s appointment. It was amazing that Falah was still alive at all—many children born with his type of heart defect don’t live this long without surgery. His doctor told Falah’s family that he wouldn’t be able to get the surgery he needed in Iraq—there simply wasn’t the necessary equipment or skilled doctors. They applied to the government to get surgery outside the country, but heard nothing after months of waiting. Falah’s mother was crushed with a deep sense of depression, worried that her son wouldn’t live long enough to get the surgery that could save his life.

And then one day, at one of his weekly check-ups, Falah’s doctor told him that there was an international team coming to perform the kind of surgery he needed—us.

We were able to perform the surgery Falah needed to live. He survived the long waiting that lead up to that day, and now he flashes a big thumbs up when we ask how he is feeling.

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Recovering in his bed, as we remove wires and tubes no longer needed one-by-one, Falah and his mom are able to think about his future. He talks about returning to school. His mom hopes that Falah can have a successful life—that he will go to college, and simply be an ordinary boy.

But the very first thing Falah plans to do when released from the hospital is to play soccer. He wants to play soccer with his friends, the same friends who cared for him when he passed out in class. Falah might not become a fighter pilot, but now he can fly on the soccer field, as fast as his legs will carry him, just like his hero Christiano.

Meet Little Umalbanen in Basra, Iraq

Meet Little Umalbanen in Basra, Iraq

She was blue. Well, she was beyond blue actually—purple. We started the day with a little purple baby thrust into our arms.

“She doesn’t look very well.” That might be the understatement of the year. Umalbanen was admitted immediately, and examined to see just what was going on. The verdict? She was hours from death.

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We’ve recently been to Basra, a city tucked into the south of Iraq, near the border of Iran—providing heart surgeries to children who can’t get the care they need to survive.

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For six months—Umalbanen’s whole life, in fact—she struggled to live. She was born with a heart which routed blood the wrong way. This meant that her body wasn’t getting oxygen.

Her very cells were suffocating.

When the surgeon opened her chest on the operating table, her little heart was black. And that little black heart was an immediate and stark reminder of why our pediatric heart surgery program in Iraq is so important.  

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Rates of congenital heart defects in Iraq continue to be high, in part thanks to the chemical effects of war. Iraqi children can’t seem to catch a break, as the current war with ISIS ensures another generation of children will need surgery in order to survive.

It takes decades of stability to create the kind of teaching programmes that produce medical professionals capable of tackling complicated illnesses. Iraq doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for that to happen. We were invited to come and teach, in spite of the current war and instability—and we said yes!

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“You cared for her like she was your own family…” It caught Umalbanen’s mother by surprise.

Our vision is that in the future all children with heart disease, no matter where they are born, will be able to receive the medical and surgical care they require to live a long and healthy life—including Iraqi kids.

The Hardest ‘Yes’ of Ramadan’s Life

The Hardest ‘Yes’ of Ramadan’s Life

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A terrified, skinny boy arrived at the hospital. The cardiologist from Benghazi is looked at his heart, recommending urgent surgery. 

“Ramadan, will you let them operate on you?”

The 14 year-old has heard this question again and again for the past seven years. “Will you accept?”

His answer is always the same: “No.”

Fatherless and culturally an adult, Ramadan is old enough to make his own decision whether or not he will undergo surgery. He is also old enough to know what this will mean, what the process will be like, and what the outcome could be.

“He’s too afraid, he won’t accept,” his mother shared later. 

Ramadan lives in Derna, a Libyan city with heavy jihadist leanings and that was recently under ISIS control, but his heritage is southern Libyan, what many people here call “original Libyan.”

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Arabs, Greeks, Italians, Turks, and others have conquered and settled this part of the world, but Ramadan’s people were here long before that.

The cardiologist slides her probe over the bumps of Ramadan’s ribs as Dr. Novick leans forward, looks in his eyes, and says “Ramadan, we can make you feel better.”

Someone translates the words as Ramadan stares back.

His mother wipes Ramadan’s chest and helps pull his shirt down, a worried expression on her face. Ramadan’s face is blank the entire time.

Goodbyes are said, and the family begins to leave.

A few feet from the door, the cardiologist calls out more time: “Ramadan, will you let them operate on you?” 

“…yes.”

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A few days later, Doctor Novick and the team gave Ramadan the lifesaving heart surgery he needed, his recovery went beautifully, and he even told Stacey he didn’t want to leave! Thank you for sending our teams to serve children on the margins, in war-torn, ISIS-disputed territory like Libya.

You are giving families the chance to finally say “yes.”