BY LAZAR BERMAN January 28, 2014, 2:50 pm 

Originally appeared here in Times of Israel

KURDISTAN REGION, Iraq — A grandmother steps out warily into the muddy street. The sun setting behind the jagged mountains to the west casts a pink hue over the tents of the refugee camp. She wraps her blue scarf around her face, sizing up the unannounced visitors who are asking to see her granddaughter.

The seven-month-old child lies motionless in her arms, eyes barely open, breath slow and shallow.

The baby is fighting ventricular septal defect, a hole in the wall that divides the left and right ventricles of the heart. She weighs only three kilograms, and doctors here in Iraq won’t operate on her until she gets much bigger. But the same hole in her heart keeps her from growing.

It’s the first week of January, and a winter in the cold, damp refugee camp means that the only question about her future is whether she succumbs to a chest infection or her defective heart first. Her family still has a tank of kerosene to heat the tent, but it will soon run out, with little chance of being replaced.

Here in the refugee camp, fuel and hope are in equally short supply. But the visitors who have come all the way to the mountains of Iraq’s Kurdistan region to find this baby girl just might be able to offer the latter.


The visitors are from the Jerusalem-based Christian NGO Shevet Achim, founded by Jonathan Miles almost 20 years ago. (The Times of Israel wrote about Shevet Achim last June, when this reporter accompanied 4-year-old Nadrah, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, to Israel for a life-saving operation.) It brings sick children from the Muslim world into Israel for heart surgery; the group’s mission today is to locate Syrian Kurdish refugee children who need urgent medical attention in the camps of northern Iraq in order to arrange access for them to Israel’s pediatric heart surgeons.  Read More