When Heart Surgery Is Only the First Battle

It was the first question I asked the ICU night shift each morning: “Did Mohammed make it through the night?” The answer was always yes, usually followed by but…

“Yes, but he had us worried.”

“Yes, but his heart monitor alarms went off all night.”

“Yes, but his heart kept stopping.”

“Yes, but he’s going to need to go back into the operating room today.”

Every morning I heard but, while I clung to the yes.

Mohammed was just 11 days old when he was admitted to the hospital to receive his heart surgery. 

Smaller than the bag of diapers at the end of his bed, he took up just a tiny fraction of the mattress. His petite size left plenty of room for all of the tubes and wires that kept him alive.

Mohammed’s mom kept vigil at his bedside, spending as many hours as she could beside her boy. I thought often how difficult it must be for her, just two weeks after giving birth—yet unable to hold her son, feed him, or care for him like she yearned to. Instead, she listened to the constant beep of monitors connected to his tiny frame, carefully sanitized her hands before touching his, and painfully stepped back from his bed when doctors needed access.

There was much she couldn’t do, but Mohammed’s mom gave what she could:

Her presence.

Her energy.

Her love.

There was always a powerful steadiness about her.

Some children, like Othman, wake within an hour of surgery and improve so quickly that they are sent home within a couple days. Most children see a steady improvement over a few days and are home in less than a week.

And then there are a handful of children like Mohammed, who fight for weeks, with everything they have, to live.

Mohammed made five trips to the operating room. His heart stopped several times. He battled infection and accumulated fluid in his lungs.

But in the end, Mohammed won…

Thanks to the doctors and nurses, who gave world-class care in that Libyan hospital, who used every skill and technique in their arsenal, and who never gave up…

Thanks to Mohammed’s mom, who bore quiet strength no matter how difficult Mohammed’s health challenges, who seemed to will her son to heal…

Thanks to Mohammed’s own strong will to live, despite the odds against him…

Thanks to you, who gave generously to support a medical team doing their best work, who gave Mohammed’s family reason to hope, and cared for a child you’ve never even met.