Tradition holds. Kirk and I are en route home from Mongolia as I write this. We went with four others (interventional cardiologist Mary Porisch, anesthesia assistant Michael Schneider, and nurses Bobbi Odom and Sherwood DeJoie) to perform cardiac catheterization procedures on patients with congenital heart disease.
I have been convicted lately to pray more specifically and with more faith. Jesus taught us to pray “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:10). He also gave us a personal example when He prayed to the Father “not my will but Yours be done” (Mark 14:36). But I think I can easily use these examples as a copout to not pray with specificity and faith. Yes, I need to be submitted ultimately to the Lord’s will and, no, I don’t think He has to or will answer all my prayers…but it sure increases my faith when He does.
I was praying before we arrived in Mongolia for compassion that would outweigh my personal needs or desires. These trips exhaust me. But I wanted to care more about the patients the Lord had called us to serve than my tiredness. I also don’t want to hurt anyone. The sicker or smaller the patient, the more likely that is, especially internationally. Patients and procedures I would not dread in my job at home give me much angst on these trips. I find myself dreading those cases and hoping we aren’t called to do them. I prayed that I would not care about the week being easy, but just be concerned about helping, no matter what.
When we were en route to Mongolia, we found out about a 2-month-old infant with a critical coarctation (narrowing) of the aorta (large vessel that provides blood flow from the heart to the body). These babies are absolutely at risk of sudden death. Even though it is a case I dread internationally, I knew we had to do it. We screened easily at least 40 patients on Monday when we were planning our schedule for the week. We scheduled this baby for first thing Wednesday, purposefully giving us one day of older, less critical patients to “test the system.” During our screening, we found another baby with the same diagnosis, so scheduled her for first thing Thursday. I felt like the Lord was asking me with both babies “do you really mean what you are praying for?” With both of them, having more than my usual resolve to know we had to do these cases was an answer to prayer.
As we were leaving the hospital after a day of four successful and fairly smooth procedures on Tuesday, I walked past a Mongolian child being held by his father. He wasn’t one of our heart patients and he wasn’t in any distress. He was saying something over and over in Mongolian, but to me it sounded like “help me, help me, help me.” The need is so great in these places we go serve. I felt like that voice was just a reminder to me to keep caring and wanting to help regardless of what it costs me.
I woke up at 4 in the morning on Wednesday fretting about that first critical coarctation baby. I was praying about all the supplies I hadn’t found yet and my contingency plans. My bag full of anesthesia supplies had been confiscated by Mongolian customs on our arrival in the country and they had yet to give it back to me. They did allow me to take some supplies out of it, all of which turned out to be necessary (and they did finally give it back to me to take out of the country so at least I have it for my next trip). As much frustration as not having this bag caused me, it was actually a distraction that allowed Mary’s more important catheterization supply bag to pass through. If this bag had been confiscated, our week would have been nearly impossible. When I arrived at the hospital on Wednesday, I was able to find everything I prayed for. I had also prayed for every clinical step in the procedure and the Lord was gracious to answer those prayers. The case went smoothly and the outcome was incredibly successful. What a privilege to hand that gorgeous baby to her crying mom after the procedure was over.
When Mary went to tell the family that the procedure had gone well, the baby’s uncle told her that he had found Kirk online when his own son had a cardiac diagnosis. Kirk recalls this dad calling him the first time when we were actually in Kosovo. Kirk has regularly followed this boy on our return visits to Mongolia and he has not required any surgery or interventions. When his sister’s baby was diagnosed with this much more critical diagnosis, this man knew to tell her when we would be in the country. When the second baby that we took care of on Thursday presented to the children’s hospital and received the same diagnosis, they told that baby’s mother there was nothing they could do…but they should come find us. I was awed to witness the miraculous timing and divine appointments for both babies.
Our second patient on Wednesday was a 26-year-old woman with critical pulmonary stenosis. For those of you in the know, her right ventricle was one of the thickest I had ever seen and her right ventricular pressure was scarily high. She was also at risk for sudden death and her anesthetic and procedure were not for the faint of heart either. But God was gracious and her case went incredibly well also. We are so thankful for all of you who faithfully pray for us. Your prayers matter and we can feel them.
In all, we performed cardiac procedures of 17 patients this week and screened countless more. After our last procedure on Friday, there were more patients to screen before we left for the airport. The cries of “help me, help me, help me” are ever-present …and I pray for the continued compassion to answer them.