Death Will Never Conquer

Yahya passed away early this morning after an all-night surgery. It was a surprise to everyone. When he was admitted to the ICU there seemed to be plenty of confidence that he would be just fine. But within just 30 minutes of admission his heart gave out and all efforts to revive him failed.

I still remember the first time I was introduced to Yahya. It was over a year ago. His uncle called my cell phone and said, “I’m at your office, I need to talk to you about a sick kid.”

It was after hours and I was already at home. But I could hear the urgency in his voice so I invited him to my home for tea. He arrived and made an impassioned plea for Yahya – his brother’s son. I was leery of helping Yahya after reading his reports – we had seen some children with complex heart defects like him die abroad and I couldn’t stand to put a family through that drama again. I did my best to avoid commitment and send Yahya’s uncle into the night without any solid hope for his nephew.

The following weeks were filled with phone calls and followup from the family, “Please help our boy!”

Finally, I met Yahya’s mom and dad and the little cutie himself. As they sat in my office they pled with humble urgency. They weren’t forceful. They weren’t rude. But they applied enough pressure on me that I couldn’t say “no” any longer. They made it abundantly clear that they understood the risk of his surgery and that they wanted it badly enough to endure whatever might come.

One of our core values as an organization is that we give “hope to the hopeless.” What that means is that we try to balance our impulse to be “last chance” people with our instinct to be “long-term” people. We held back on Yahya, wondering if it would give him long-term viability. But we ultimately dove in with Yahya’s family because we were their last chance. No one else would take on the risk.

We solidified this core value in November 2009 when we asked you what to do about a little boy named Ramyar. We asked you if you wanted us to apply your money in a high risk surgery or save it for a “sure thing.” You overwhelming said, “We want this Coalition to be about hope for the hopeless.”

We haven’t looked back since. We are the Last Chancers.

Still, committing to Yahya was full of complications. His surgery in Turkey was canceled due to an unavailability of an expensive assistant device. In fact, there was even discussion as to whether or not he should be included in our current Remedy Mission. Ultimately, we let the family themselves decide.

Our local cardiologist, along with our American surgeon, explained the risks of surgery, the option of waiting, etc. etc. Yahya’s dad was given a 50/50 chance of survival for little Yahya. Understandably, they wanted to give it a try. They couldn’t stand the risk of feeling like they had an opportunity to try and let it slip through their hands.

What would you have done? I have two kids – 5 and 3 years old. I have no idea what I would have done.

During Yahya’s surgery our Family Services Director, Jessica, sat down in the ward with all the parents whose kids were either in surgery or in critical condition in the ICU – those families whose kids were not “out of the woods” yet. As they asked questions about our organization and how long we’ve been working here, she recounted for them our past of taking children outside the country to significantly nicer hospitals than this Iraqi version in which we currently work. She told them about excellent American-trained Turkish doctors and fancy, pristine protocols abroad. Without fail, every family was so grateful for the chance to receive surgery at home. Let the Turks have their pristine hospital. “What if our child were to die abroad?” That would be a burden far too great to bear.

You gave Yahya’s family a chance that no one else would have. He had been rejected by every other opportunity out there. They are grateful to you. They will rest knowing they gave it their all for their only child.

And this is what we find almost universally – parents who just want a chance. And that’s what Remedy Missions are all about. We could continue to export kids to world class facilities, but who would invest in the future? We could continue to select the easiest children that almost never die, but does that make us any less culpable for the kids we pretend aren’t knocking on our door?

Was this a wasted opportunity? Did we waste the $670 that it cost us to provide Yahya surgery?

I used to feel that way when a child died in Turkey or Jordan or Jordan. I don’t feel that way anymore. Yahya’s death – though a terrible loss – was still an opportunity for local doctors to learn an innovative technique that they will be able to apply in future situations. His death was almost certainly unrelated to the particular tactic used in attempting to heal his heart. Educational gains always have significant costs. Before we only had the “we gave this child a chance” platitude. It’s not untrue. But local learning is an equally deep reason why your gift for Yahya made a difference.

Thank you for your willingness to stick with us through life and death. The gains that are needed here will not be made without significant risk and vision. We deeply appreciate your demand that we be the people of the last chance. I think it’s easier to sleep knowing we tried, than knowing we played it safe just so we could publish numbers and blog posts that seem more palatable.

With you,

Jeremy Courtney

Executive Director


+1 (806) 853-9131