Enemies Build Bridges - One Heart at a Time

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IRAQ - For decades, Iraq and Israel have remained mortal enemies. But since the fall of Sadaam Hussein, one organization has been building bridges between the two countries - one heart at a time.

Nine-year-old Lozan can run, skip, and play with her cousin. But for most of her young life, physical exercise was only a dream.

Click the player to watch the report from CBN News Mideast Bureau Chief Chris Mitchell followed by Gordon Robertson's comments on how love can break down many barriers.

"Her condition was very serious. For example, she couldn't walk a long distance," Lozan's mother explained. "She had a hard time breathing. She turned blue. She couldn't go out and play with her friends because she got tired," she said.

The young Iraqi child suffered from Atrial Septal Defect, or ASD, an extremely debilitating and potentially fatal heart condition. Lozan's parents searched desperately for a solution.

"I felt so bad for my child because we had to spend at least at week every month at the hospital and under the doctor's care and take her for echo cardiogram to see what's going on with her heart and take her to Baghdad to see if they can treat her," Lozan's father explained.

Grim Prognosis

Without adequate medical treatment, her prognosis was premature death. Then Lozan's parents heard about a solution from a country viewed as Iraq's enemy.

The journey to Israel begins here in Iraq, where former enemies work together to save the lives of children with heart defects.

"The Iraqi kids, every step we've taken it's been a breakthrough, a breakthrough of faith of just daring to trust that God could do something we didn't believe was possible." Jonathan Miles, director for Shevet Achim, said.

Shevet Achim means "brothers dwelling together in unity." For years, the organization has served as an intermediary between Palestinian families and Israeli hospitals and doctors that provide life saving heart surgeries.

When former Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein was deposed, the door opened for Iraqi children to be helped. Miles first found a two-year-old Iraqi baby in need of emergency heart surgery.

"We stepped out not knowing where we were going and when we do that, the Lord does amazing things," Miles explained. "He brought all these pieces together and within a few days the baby was right here in this hospital.

"And she had her surgery and suddenly we understood, Iraqi kids can come to Israel. Why not? The Lord can do anything," he said. 

A Mother's Powerful Love

Since 2003, dozens of Iraqi children have traveled to Israel's Wolfson Medical Center for life-saving surgery. The hospital has state of the art medical equipment and world class Israeli surgeons.  Iraqi mother Nasdar's son came out of surgery one day before we visited the intensive care unit.

"Actually, I couldn't believe that I could come here," she said. "I was happy to come here because I was thinking about my son and I wanted him to have this operation. I was not really afraid to come here."

"You know, a mother is a mother. A child is a child and it really doesn't matter where they come from," said Dr. Tzion Houri, director for Wolfson's pedriatic intensive care unit.

Houri has seen a mother's love transcend political, religious, and cultural barriers. He also says these heart surgeries - up to 90 percent effective - radically change a child's life.

"When we went to see the kids that had surgery just a few months ago, we couldn't recognize any of them," Houri said. "They were healthy children. They were running, playing soccer, jumping absolutely just like normal kids. Those kids could just barely walk just a few months before that."

Changing a Little Life

Little Lozan is just one example.

"I can do whatever I want now. I can run, I can play with my friends. I don't have trouble with my breathing," she told CBN News.

Despite the long history of animosity between Iraq and Israel, Lozan's parents didn't mind sending her to the Jewish state. Instead, they're grateful.

"I want to thank Israel and the doctors and the people and the Shevet members," her mother said, fighting back tears. "They were very helpful and very kind. "I miss them so much, I hope to see them again. I hope they can find a way to come to Iraq."

"My feeling was the first moment I saw her with a new heart, I felt like I just got a new heart," Lozan's father said.

"It's also a beautiful picture to think of opening the heart, a new heart, a changed heart and the truth is we see a lot of that happening spiritually as well, that attitudes are changing, that folks are encountering the love of God for the first time. So sometimes, we feel that kids go home really with new hearts," Miles said.

More Iraqi children will make this life saving journey as funds become available, and there's hope this program will spread throughout the Middle East.

In the meantime, nine-year-old Lozan will be playing with her friends.

*Original broadcast March 8, 2009.

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Chris Mitchell

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