At just one year and five months old, little Abu Wissam has already cheated death twice. Born with congenital heart problems, he was lucky enough to get crucial heart surgery in Israel. And while the surgery was temporarily delayed, that in itself was a blessing. It meant that Abu and his father were far from home in August when ISIS militants came to slaughter their Yazidi neighbors and relatives in Sinjar, northern Iraq.
Perched on his son’s hospital bed and watching him play after the surgery, Kheidr Wissam says he doesn’t know if he and Abu will ever return home.
“I spent a year going from doctor to doctor in Iraq, trying to get treatment,” Kheidr says. Finally, a doctor referred him to Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli humanitarian organization that provides free heart surgery to children from all over the world. More than 300 Iraqi children have been treated since the organization’s founding.
Kheidr sold his car, bought a plane ticket and came with his son to Wolfson hospital in Holon, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, where they waited for the surgery as the war between Gaza and Israel raged on and increasingly worrying news emerged from Iraq.
Abu was operated on free of charge by an Israeli surgeon, Dr. Lior Sasson, whose family also originates from Iraq. Many Israelis have roots in Iraq. Following the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent backlash from surrounding countries, thousands of Iraqi Jews were forced to flee and seek refuge elsewhere, including Israel. Now it’s ISIS forcing minorities to flee.