This past weekend, doctors worked for five and a half hours on the frail heart of a little boy named Ahmed. Ahmed is a child from Iraq who has spent the first five years of his life battling congenital heart disease. En route to Ahmed’s procedure, his parents were in a serious car accident and hospitalized themselves a few hours away. The doctors, an expert team flown into Iraq for just such desperate situations, are aware they are doing more than giving a boy a new life. They are giving a family a future. And in some small way, they are giving people hope.
This is just one example of the opportunities Preemptive Love Coalition is providing for Iraqi children afflicted with heart disease. From chemical warfare to malnutrition, there are many reasons for the prevalence of the disease, but not many solutions. Access to skilled doctors and medical services is limited, as well as finances, so most children end up on an expansive waiting-list for surgery dependent on outside doctors and resources.
Jeremy Courtney, founder of Preemptive Love Coalition, moved his family from Turkey to Iraq in January of 2007 to work with a nongovernmental organization, stirred by the overwhelming needs of the people there. It didn’t take long to identify pediatric heart disease as a major one.
“Our response to a local request introduced us to a group of 700 other kids who were waiting for similar help. When we took our ideas to local organizations, they confirmed our findings, gave us more information, and showed us more than 4,000 kids waiting for surgery,” Courtney says. In an area where issues of terrorism and poverty may overshadow other needs, he realized his purpose in Iraq began with meeting this medical need.
“I fear that too often we rush in with our ideas and set our agendas without a very good grasp of what the priorities of the people are. We sometimes assume that we love their country or their children more than they do.”
Joined by his wife, Jessica, and Cody Fisher, a friend and fellow relief worker, Courtney began looking for creative ways to tackle the problem of pediatric heart disease. The answer? Shoes. Courtney was fascinated by the locals’ sturdy, hand-stitched shoes, known as klashi Kurdi. They came up with a simple concept: Buy Shoes. Save Lives. The international sales of the handmade shoes remain a primary source of income for PLC, combined with generous donations to help families cover the costs of the much-needed surgeries.
The nonprofit has now provided nearly 100 heart surgeries through their Remedy Missions. Their current Remedy Mission has performed 31 heart procedures thus far, as well as 80 additional heart screenings. (To follow the stories of this mission, visit their blog http://preemptivelove.org/blog).
PLC’s efforts to save lives are matched by their desire to make peace. They seek to encourage communication and cooperation between Sunni and Shiite, Arab and American, Muslim and Christian. Post-op, the vital relationships built with the families of the children continue through the PLC Followthrough Program.
Courtney’s goal is to set up a sustainable model that someday will no longer require the presence of PLC in Iraq. But until then, he and the PLC team work tirelessly to research, refine and expand their projects.
“Disciples of Jesus should not settle for good intentions. We should strive for better on-the-ground training, better degrees, better field and academic experience, better metrics and evaluation,” Courtney says. “There is no shortcut to impact.”