“He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick” Matthew 14:14.

I just spent 12 days with Kirk in Kurdistan and Kosovo. Our plan was to go to Dohuk, Kurdistan, Iraq with our friends Dr May Porisch, pediatric cardiac interventionalist, and Dr Minette Son, pediatric intensivist, to do a week’s worth of pediatric cardiac catheterization procedures. Due to the brand new administration of the Minister of Health in Dohuk, the plan for us to do caths was cancelled the week before we left. Mary and Minette elected to stay behind, waiting for another time when we can do procedures. At my husband’s request, I went, even though I like to save my precious international travel time for times also when we can do procedures. We were already planning to go from Kurdistan to Kosovo, however, to meet our other friend Dr David Bush, pediatric electrophysiologist, to change two pacemaker batteries, so my services were going to be needed at some point on the trip. The moral of the story is always the same: I’m so glad I went! I’m always amazed at how much the Lord has to teach me by going to serve His children, anywhere in the world. Dave, Kirk, and I were discussing that in Kosovo, the different feelings we have when we get on the plane. There’s always a certain amount of trepidation, especially if we are doing procedures. We so desire to take care of these children well and pediatric cardiac care is not easy in the United States, let alone Third World countries! But every trip teaches us something and renews in us the privilege of the calling to go and serve.
The theme song of these trips could be Chris Rice’s song which asks “How did I find myself in a better place?”. How did I find myself in a better place as a doctor? Having seen health care all over the world, I know I work in the best health care system in the world (not perfect, but the best!). I see how hard these Third World doctors work with limited supplies, limited resources, limited options for their patients, and limited pay…and I am humbled. The trips are worth it if only we can provide help and encouragement to these hard-working souls. Kirk and I arrived on Saturday in Kurdistan. We spent three days in Dohuk, working with Dr Serdar to evaluate about 60 of his patients with cardiac disease, and two days in Sulaymaniyeh, working with Dr Aso to evaluate about 50 of his patients. There are currently limited surgical options in Kurdistan, and there is currently not a way in Iraq to get an adequate diagnostic cardiac catheterization. A lot of these children have time-sensitive lesions, meaning if their hearts are not repaired within a particular period of time, they will become inoperable. Many of them need a cath just to determine if they are still operable. Each child becomes a puzzle of how best to find care for them, either in Kurdistan or out of the country. Child after child, I found myself shaking my head for the child, for the parents, and for Drs Serdar and Aso, and the many doctors like them. How frustrating to have knowledge to what could and/or should be done for a child, but often to have no way to get that accomplished. It made me so glad I went, to be reminded once again, and renewed my resolve to go back. If it is within our capability to help, how can we not?
We arrived in Kosovo on Sunday. On Monday, we spent a day with Dr Ramush, evaluating some of his many children with cardiac disease…and the theme was repeated. There were a number of children, in all three locations, for whom there was nothing we could do. Their stories would have been different, had they been born in the United States. As we sat there heart-brokenly explaining we had no surgical options, my prayer is that each and every child and parent was able to feel the love and compassion of Christ through us.
On Tuesday in Kosovo, we were able to change two pacemaker batteries (I did get to be an anesthesiologist on this trip, with the very capable help of a Kosovar anesthesiologist Dr Faim). The younger girl had hers placed years ago in Switzerland after a cardiac surgery left her without her own cardiac rhythm. She was entirely dependent on it. When the pacer stops, her heart stops. Kirk had been following these children with pacemakers and knew these two in particular were near the end of the lives of their batteries. Dr Dave Bush, through the generosity of Medtronic, was able to orchestrate bringing the appropriate supplies to get this accomplished. When we examined the young girl on Monday, we learned her pacemaker battery had less than a month of life left. The Lord had orchestrated for us to come just in time! Her battery change was risky because we needed a way to pace her heart while the battery was changed. Dr Bush was able to put in a temporary intracardiac pacemaker for this process and her procedure went successfully. The older boy we took care of had congenital heart block. He had more time left on his battery and his heart had an “escape rhythm” that allowed it to beat while the battery was out. His procedure was much less stressful, but necessary all the same. His father had been killed in the war with the Serbs right in front of his eyes. It blessed us to be able to give something back to this sweet orphan. May anesthetic work done, I returned to the States, leaving Kirk and Dave behind for two more days of lectures and seeing patients.
These trips leave me so grateful. Grateful for the life I have been given, through no merit of my own. Grateful for the Lord’s safe keeping of us over miles traveled. Grateful for the Lord’s provision of supplies and whatever else we need to accomplish the medicine we perform. Grateful for the faithful doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who continue to dedicatedly serve in very difficult conditions in these countries. Grateful for all people in all the organizations that we meet who also are trying to help and serve in the name of Jesus. It is truly a blessing to cooperate together, as the body of Christ. Grateful that He brings us the crowds of the sick, His children, so we can get a glimpse of insight into the love and compassion He feels for them. May we continue to be His hands and feet!