Blog : Middle East

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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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.

A Journey for Hijar

A Journey for Hijar

We had just begun our trip in Iraq and were in the ICU setting up and waiting for our very first patient when Dr Novick arrived with one of the cutest children we have ever seen. Her name is Hijar and she is one year old. Hijar was born with a hole between the top chambers of her heart and for most children this is a condition that will not need to be treated until adulthood. Hijar’s family knew she had a heart problem but that she could wait a few years before she needed an operation.

Hijar pre- op

 

Then one morning Hijar’s mother noticed that her baby was ‘tired’ and not really moving much and then Hijar collapsed- her family rushed her to a hospital in Basra and found that her heart was beating very slowly and she needed an operation immediately to save her life. They were told to take her to Baghdad but with the fighting so near to that city the family were afraid and then someone told them that there was a foreign team of heart specialists in Nasiriyah who might help them. The family immediately drove the 3 hours south and asked the hospital to let them see the foreign team.

The ICU

Hijar was admitted straight to the ICU where we stabilised her and operated on her the same day- we inserted a pacemaker to increase her heart rate and while we were there we also fixed her other heart problem so she never had to have another operation again! Hijar left the ICU the next day and went home with her parents just 3 days later.

Hijar after surgery

There is no hospital in the south of Iraq that is capable of operating on young children or babies independantly and for most families the idea of travelling North, nearer to the ISIS held areas is frightening. For Hijar this story has a happy ending but there are thousands of young children in Iraq who need our help.

You can Help us to continue our work in Iraq and be in the right place at the right time for more children like Hijar. Donate today or Volunteer with us and change a life.

Volunteer Story- A Vision of Nursing

Volunteer Story- A Vision of Nursing

By Amalie Smith

I’m not sure how to begin writing about my first volunteer trip with Cardiac Alliance. I could write about my feelings throughout the two weeks, the experience of working with the local nurses, the awesome Cardiac Alliance staff, patient stories, and more.

The first thing that struck me is the reality of having limited supplies and resources. At home, our stock seems endless. When I run out of something on the unit, I call central supply and get more. If we ran out, we’d have to get creative and make do with what we had by cutting, taping, cleaning and reusing, or simply going without. For example when we ran out of blood test cartridges, we had to rely on accurate physical assessment skills instead of lab tests. In addition to limited material supplies, I was stripped of my usual informational resources. When questions arose, there was no internet or computer to look up the answer. My team members became my sole resource.

Amalie teaching in ICU

The incredible teamwork and teaching that occurred are the other major things that stick out in my mind. I was the youngest and least experienced nurse in the group – both at working in PICU and at doing any sort of medical volunteering. Even so, I always felt supported by the other nurses, the nurse practitioner, and the intensivist. We all worked in the same room together, which at times was cramped and hectic. However, I think it led to better teamwork and teaching as everyone was always right there to lend a hand or to answer a question.

Amalie with other team members
Another thing that really struck me was how the doctor and NP on the trip often pitched in with things that are considered “nurses duties” at home. Without even asking, they would jump in and help transfer patients out of bed, figure out how to use pieces of equipment, or draw up medications. Most importantly, they were some of the best teachers I’ve spent time with.  It seems to me that this mutual respect and trust are the reasons why the Alliance staff nurses are so amazingly knowledgeable, critically thinking and confident.

Amalie in Theatre Libya

The thing I missed most about working at home was my ability to easily communicate with parents and children. One of the most rewarding things about nursing is comforting a worried mother, so a major language barrier can make you feel useless. Sometimes the only thing I could do was put my arm around a mother, and tell her that the baby was doing well using one or two Arabic words.

Amalie in ICU LibyaAs the other nurses had predicted, I initially felt very disoriented and scared to be without my hospital’s supplies, protocols and resources. But in the end,

I learned what pure nursing looks like.

It was challenging work, and I felt like a new graduate again at times but I believe it’s what I needed to get a vision of the kind of nurse that I can strive to be. I honestly hope I get the opportunity to go back for more.

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

Cardiac Alliance has been working in Tobruk, Libya and Kharkiv, Ukraine over the last few weeks and we have operated on 43 children in these 2 cities.

Both Libya and Ukraine are experiencing uncertainty and conflict that many of us will struggle to imagine. However, it is not so hard to imagine the heartache that a parent feels when they have a sick child. These mothers and many like them in developing nations all have a child with a congenital heart defect and are faced with the real possibility that their child will never receive surgery.

Sad baby Libya

The Novick Cardiac Alliance strives to help these parents and so, despite the conflicts, we have been working in these countries to provide much needed surgery and care to children.Though we feel a sense of satisfaction in being able to help these children we also feel a sense of urgency and disappointment-  Because for every child that receives surgery there are many many more that will not.

Small baby and nurse

The sad truth is that some children will die waiting. We all have the power to change a life together and give a family a brighter future.

Donate your time and expertise by volunteering with us  or give today and save a life.

 

A Week Full of Firsts

Dr. Novick and Dr. Oakley, the Libyan Ministor of Health in the operating room
There’s something thrilling about a first-ever!

And when your hospital has never performed open heart surgery, you get a lot of firsts. This week, Cardiac Alliance is in the Libyan town of Tobruk, and the locals are all smiles at how much they’ve accomplished alongside our team in just a few days: a first-of-its-kind medical training mission in their city, the first open heart surgery in their city (adult or pediatric), and, most importantly, the first time they’ve been able to provide for their own children locally, without having to send them away.

The Tobruk and Benghazi team pose for a picture
Even after hundreds of trips and serving thousands of children, launching a new program never gets old! Come back over the next few days to see more excitement from Libya, and be sure to follow us on Facebook for real-time updates from around the world.

The Cardiac Alliance team members in Tobruk, Libya
The Cardiac Alliance team members in Tobruk, Libya
The Cardiac Alliance team members in Tobruk, Libya
The Cardiac Alliance team members in Tobruk, Libya