Our Struggle With Mortality


When you intend to be in the “business” of saving lives, facing up to death can be a difficult thing.

For my part, in leading the Preemptive Love Coalition, knowing how to admit “failure,” when to acknowledge death without assigning fault, and when to let a death go unreported can be very difficult. The inherent difficulties are compounded by my responsibilities to various constituencies, including (but not limited to) the parents, local health care professionals, local political realities, coalition partners, national political realities, and international donors. At any given time, any one of these entities could be pushing for more or less reporting on a specific item; on a specific death and data set that would include a specific death.

In our January Remedy Mission VIII, a little boy named Yousef that we had grown to really love died in surgery. We held him up as a beacon of hope for the future of all Iraqi children facing congenital heart disease. We told his story and proudly proclaimed his desire to be the next world-famous soccer player. And then we asked you to give your money so that he could be saved by a team of international doctors and nurses. We also promised that his surgery would be an occasion for still more training for Iraqi doctors and nurses in our Nasiriyah program in southern Iraq during the mission (which was to be our sixth mission to the center in just 13 months).

Suffice it to say that a local trainee made a mistake that cost Yousef his life.

Because Yousef was the first child in line for treatment that mission, we questioned what the psychological impact would be in widely reporting his death. Again, our considerations involved our international volunteers, local politics, coalition partners and international donors most specifically.

Remedy Mission VIII also featured two first-time nurses from the International Children’s Heart Foundation, both of which provided excellent insights into the local situation and helpful critique about the lack of success and development in the Nasiriyah program.

As we struggled to understand the death (the first mortality in 2-3 missions), our focus was on program development and responses to the conditions that led to the fatal error. Once the mission was over, a few more children had died and reporting on any single one of them was basically more than any of us could stand to emphasize at the time.

A typical response from a surgeon might be “Children have to die in order to build a heart surgery program.” And it’s true. But we are not surgeons. We are just a few normal people who have not held the human heart in our hands and who have not trained for this.

I’m writing to apologize for not reporting on Yousef’s death. We sent a private email to all who donated to Yousef’s account and let them know. But we did not endeavor anything more public.

After the mission a close friend who was still praying for Yousef contacted me without knowing he had died. It was then that I realized how many friends Yousef had and realized that it is not donations alone that tie us each to these children we seek to help. We are drawn in by their eyes, their stories and the hope they exude.

I wish now I would have allowed you to mourn Yousef’s death with us. They are not always easy decisions when juggling the preferences of so many stake holders. But somewhere along the way I gave up trying to push the message out because I did not want to come face to face with the story of his death again.

When you’re in the business of saving lives, “almost” doesn’t count.

We miss Yousef. He was a bright light!

And there are many other children out there who need our help; who are likely to survive; who can greatly benefit from surgical intervention. And there are hundreds of doctors and nurses who desperately need to be trained so they can serve these children on their own. 

Thank you for continuing to stand with us…


Please feel free to email me with any questions or concerns.