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When asked what he’d like to say to donors who support the patients and families at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, Yassen simply says, “I love you.”
The 6-year-old's personality is twice as big as he is—Yassen easily gets a room full of adults laughing with his witty responses and funny sayings. He introduces his little sister, 1-year-old Raneem, as his “stinky baby.” When asked what he is learning in prekindergarten at the Hospital School, he says, “It’s a secret.”
Yassen’s mom, Hagar, was 5 months pregnant when prenatal screening found an issue with Yassen’s heart: It only had three chambers.
At the time, the family lived in Texas, where Yassen underwent the first of what was supposed to be two surgeries to repair his heart there. A second surgery, performed at a hospital in California, was unsuccessful, and soon after, doctors discovered that one of his heart valves was leaking. The family moved again, to yet another hospital, where staff ultimately determined that Yassen’s situation had become so dire that he would need to be added to the heart transplant recipient list, and required the expert care only available at Packard Children’s.
Yassen and his mother—who at the time was pregnant with Raneem—were flown by air ambulance to Packard Children’s, where the Betty Irene Moore Children’s Heart Center is renowned for its 97.3 percent survival rate.
Yassen’s care team at Packard Children’s stabilized his heart rate for a while using medications that were intravenously fed into his body 24/7. He still needed to be close to the hospital, and at one point he and Hagar were able to move down the street into the Ronald McDonald House. Unfortunately, the rapid heartbeats returned, and Yassen was readmitted to the hospital. His father, Mahmoud, an aviation mechanic in the Navy, received approval to transfer again, this time to the Bay Area. It was the third time the family had moved to be near Yassen’s hospital.
“It was very hard,” Hagar says. “But it was better for Yassen, so that whatever was better for him, we accepted. Everyone was so helpful and tried to make us comfortable as we stayed in the hospital for a long time.”
Mahmoud added, “We had good staff, great doctors, and the atmosphere was friendly.”
As the family waited for a new heart for Yassen, they watched the new Main building at Packard Children’s take shape and were excited to hear that they would be part of the official Patient Move to the brand-new hospital last December.
Then, just days before the move, Yassen got the news: He wasn’t going anywhere on Patient Move Day. Instead, he was getting a new heart!
“When we finally got the call that the heart was ready, it shook us,” Mahmoud says. “We weren’t expecting it, even though we had tried to prepare ourselves for that time.”
“I was scared,” Yassen says. “I was nervous losing my old heart.”
Luckily, Yassen had a best friend in the hospital—his nurse, Jenna Oslan, RN. Jenna was there to support Yassen and his family during their toughest moments.
“She likes me so much,” Yassen explains. “And it’s because she likes giving me hugs.”
The family prayed and waited as Yassen’s transplant team went to work. “After the surgery, it took him 24 hours to wake up,” recalls Mahmoud. “So, there was an entire day where we waited and watched over him, wondering when he’d open his eyes and if the surgery went well.”
The life-saving surgery did go well. Today, just a few months later, Yassen is making great progress. He is back at home and returns to Packard Children’s weekly for checkups with his care team, including Laurel Kent, NP, and Beth Kaufman, MD.
At a recent appointment, Hagar spoke with Kent and rattled off the medications and vitamins Yassen takes to keep his body healthy and from rejecting his new heart. Day by day, Yassen is getting stronger, and his family and care team look forward to the next milestone, when his feeding tube can be removed, and he can make the transition to eating normally.
After all this, the next step is an exciting but blissfully normal one: Yassen will begin kindergarten in a local school this fall.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Packard Children’s News.
Photography credit: Douglas Peck, Ana Homonnay