Meet Zainab!

A photo of a little girl from Najaf named Zainab, who received a lifesaving heart surgery in September 2012.

This is how Zainab (Zayn-uhb) looked when I first saw her. I arrived at Remedy Mission XI late, and by the time I got there the doctors had already fixed her heart and she was in the ICU recovering. But it didn't keep me from getting to know her father, Ali, who is an incredibly kind and gracious man. He and his wife spent hours with Zainab as she recovered—their love for this sweet little girl was so evident as they fretted over her.

It wasn't long before she was released to the ward, which meant we needed to carry her upstairs. I was doing my thing, following along and snapping shots of the process. During our 5 story ascent, a mother stopped us and thrust her child at the nurse carrying Zainab, insisting that we look at her. It was pretty obvious that she wasn't interested in rejection. So the nurse had to pass Zainab off to me while she looked at the desperate mother's child.

Zainab had been wriggling and crying throughout this process, but about 10 seconds after she landed in my arms, she got really quiet and started breathing heavily. This little interaction rivaled my encounter last February with the Girl in the Red Dress—initiate second heart meltdown!

A photo of Matt Willingham with the sweet little Zainab Ali after her lifesaving heart surgery in Najaf, Iraq.

And that's one of the most challenging things about this work. The ongoing cultural frustrations, the language barrier, and all the other little irritations don't compare to the letdown of connecting with kids only to see them leave 48 hours later—but that's actually a good thing!

It's great that they're able to get in and out quickly because it means our surgeons are operating well, the ICU staff are helping the child recover quickly, and the children are getting back to their lives at home and school.

Zainab is now home and doing well, and we hope she'll be one of many this mission who start a new life with a healthy heart. Keep reading—we have more stories on the way!

Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation

About Matthew Willingham

Matt Willingham is Preemptive Love's Senior Field Editor and writes primarily on politics, history, general updates and visual peacemaking through photography and film.

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Meet Zainab!
Meet Zainab!
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