It’s been a hard year.

As a dear friend of mine put it, it was a year of God allowing really hard things, but putting things in place to overcome and not be destroyed.

Today is the one-year- anniversary of Abigail’s open heart surgery.

Abigail the day before surgery, days away from 7 months old and weighing barely 10 lbs. She was always tired.

The memories and emotions flood back to me like it was yesterday. Her in my stretchy wrap carrier, tight against my chest. Me, swaying and bouncing her with the pacifier in her mouth, trying to convince her she wasn’t really that hungry (because she wasn’t allowed to eat since 10 am and it was now 4:30 pm and the surgery schedule was running late.)The surgery team approaching us to let us know it was her turn. We walked together to the doors of the theatre and then I had to place her in the their arms. I handed my baby girl to near strangers to cut her open. Before I even turned around I felt the hot tears swell in my eyes. All we could do now is wait. Pray and wait.

Minutes ticked into hours. I paced the outdoor corridors even though there was a cold misty rain. I tried to sleep. I tried to eat. I tried to act normal but it was impossible. Waiting, praying, waiting, praying. The head surgeon finally comes to find me. “Everything went perfect” he said. My eyes got hot with tears again. He said I had to wait a little longer to see her. I continued to pace and stay nearby, waiting and praying, for their call.

I remember approaching her bedside, 9:40 pm. She looked so tiny and helpless with all the tubes and wires coming out of her. She was still heavily sedated so I waited and prayed and waited and prayed. When she first opened her eyes and looked at me it was like I was meeting her for the first time all over again. My sweet baby girl, my Abigail Nainyori. Beloved one.

Today Abigail is strong. She is feisty. She is smart. She is learning more every day.  She has a huge personality and the smile to match it. Her last check up was in February and she was in the 53rd percentile for weight! Up from the -1 percentile this time last year. She prefers to run instead of walking. She loves shoes, especially if they are new (to her). She speaks more Swahili than English, but has bits of Masai mixed in as well. She loves to blow kisses and give hugs. She is full of life and love and joy. 

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Goodbye to 2017

I’ve been awfully quiet on the blog, for that I apologize. It may seem like maybe not much is going on here, but that is the opposite of the case.

Things with Walk in Love have been busy, albeit mostly behind the scenes. We created our brand new website, http://www.walkinlovetz.org , which took lots of hard work and time (especially with Tanzanian electricity and internet issues) but we are so happy with it. Please spend some time looking around there.

Additionally, the school year in Tanzania runs from January to December. This means our 48 sponsored children finished school the first week of December. We have 12 students starting school next year, as well as 10 students who need to transfer schools, so I have been very busy with school paper work and forms and trying to get everything sorted for that. Walk in Love’s sponsorship program helps at risk children get great educations at private schools in town. Without the assistance of Walk in Love, many of these children would be at risk of being placed in an orphanage, simply because their parents do not have the means to educate them. Having the children in private school also means they receive at least 2 meals a day at school, which is also a huge benefit for these families. As we all know, a child who is continually hungry will struggle to focus on school and their work will suffer as a result. These children are not only receiving a great education, but they are able to focus and enjoy school with full tummies.

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Thirdly, we are just about ready to open the doors for our day care center! Its been a big work in progress as we renovated what was previously the Walk in Love cafe to be the new day care. Our hope is to be full functioning in January, assisting local families who otherwise would have no safe place for their young children to be while they worked (or searched for work).

On a personal note, our little boy (T) has been home with us over 2 months now. We are still in the fostering process and so we are not allowed to post his photo on the internet, but if you are on our email list I hope you got our Christmas card! This has been a huge, but very much wanted, adjustment for our family. To go from a family of 3 to 4 is a big step anyway, but when that addition is a 4 year old boy who has spent almost his whole live in an orphanage setting makes that step grow exponentially. T and Abigail get along so incredibly well and he is so gentle with her. He loves her and is always watching out for her. We couldn’t have asked for a better big brother. He loves going swimming and has quite a few best friends in our neighbors. He has settled in so great you would think he has been with us always.

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Speaking of Abigail, we are working to get another follow up echo cardiogram scheduled. She is now almost 8 months post open heart surgery and so we are a little overdo but she has been having check ups with the pediatrician every 6 weeks or so and seems to be doing great. In the last couple weeks she has gotten so many teeth all at once, her poor little mouth. She is a very confident walker/runner these days and fiercely independent. We are so thankful to live next door to Bibi (grandmother/ my husband’s mom) who takes care of her when I go to work. Abigail’s favorite food is meat, especially on the bone, and she prefers to always feed herself rather than be fed. She is starting to have more recognizable words, though only in Swahili. (We need to work on using more English at home!)

I am excited about the prospects of what 2018 holds. My dear friend and director of Walk in Love put it best in her recent blog. “There is not a question of yes or no when God puts suffering in your path and compassion in your heart. You do the hard thing, even if in the end it might not turn out the way you had hoped…. Why are we continuing in ministry? We continue because God has put suffering in our path and compassion in our heart and all we can do is be obedient to His desire to decrease suffering in our small sphere.”

Do-not

I am fully committed, whole heartedly, to the work set before me. To ease suffering. To change the world, even for one person. To help people change the way they see orphan care. To empower women, and families, to stay together.

To do justly.

To love mercy.

To walk humbly.

But I can’t do it without your help. We have been so blessed, we have never gone without. I am not saying we have never been stretched, there have been times where things have gotten uncomfortable for sure. But God has continued to open your hearts and supply for our needs. Over the 4+ years I have been here, needs have grown and shifted. I went from a single person, to a wife, to having a family of four. Costs in Arusha have mostly continued to increase as well.

So what I am trying to say is,

We are looking for supporters- individuals, families, or churches to partner along side our family and support us as we live in Tanzania and work with Walk in Love and families in our community.

Support can come in all shapes and sizes. From one-time donations, to monthly commitments, to quarterly contributions, to yearly gifts, our family would be grateful for them all.

Our monthly needs are currently about 2/3 covered , and we would be so grateful for your partnership in any way. ALL of your gifts are tax deductible through Pillar Missions, my sending agency. Simply designate your donation to “Kelly Mollel”.

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Most of all, we cherish your prayers for our ministry and family. We know our Father, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, can and will abundantly provide for our needs as we continue to work in Tanzania. Join us in praying that God will supply the supporters we need, and that He will provide for our family in the meantime. Pray that God will connect us with the families that need our services the most. Pray for divine intervention for the mamas who feel abandoning their child is the only option. Pray for our adoption to move forward to make T a permanent part of our family. Pray for Abigail’s heart to continue to beat strong and need no further intervention.

We are so thankful for you.

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And so a new adventure begins…

In the past few months, before my time in America and during, a lot has happened! Firstly I want to announce that I have come under Pillar Ministries as a missionary! This is huge and fills a void I had been feeling for a long time. Through partnering with Pillar, I now have a wonderful group of people to connect with, be held accountable to, and be encouraged by. In addition to this, all donations to my work in Tanzania are now tax-deductible through Pillar Ministries.

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We are currently very low on monthly support and are living on approximately $350 in monthly commitments, as well as occasional one time gifts. I am also needing some one time gifts to total $600 urgently as we have just received word that my my visa renewal cost has increased and needs to be paid ASAP.  Would you consider signing up to give monthly? Or if you can’t commit to monthly giving, could you make a one time gift? Again, all donations through Pillar Ministries are tax-deductible and you will receive documentation for your tax records. To give head to https://www.pillarmissions.com/missions and click on my name, “Kelly Marie Mollel”.

Times of Transition

Back in May when we traveled for Abigail’s surgery I handed all my tasks over at Neema Village to other people. Everyone stepped up and did such a great job filling my shoes that I have decided to part ways with Neema. I love the children and the staff and they will continue to be part of my life, but with time realized my role was no longer needed. In addition to this, my theology of orphan care is not the same theology I had when I arrived in Tanzania. My heart, desires, and passions have become clearer as this culture has become my home.

I have sat alongside my Tanzanian neighbors and listened to their struggles and joys. I have celebrated new life and mourned with each death. I have 20+ children who live on our family plot of land who call me “Aunty” and to each I have a special relationship with. I have practiced and practiced Swahili until I have reached proficiency so I can better relate to my community around me. I seek to serve and strengthen my local community to the best I can.
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With that said, I am excited to start partnering with a local NGO called Walk In Love. The mission of Walk In Love is to support and strengthen at risk families, and help them stay together. One of the biggest myths is that children in orphanages are there because they have no parents and/or no one wants them. This is not the case. Most are there because their parent(s) simply can’t afford to feed, clothe and educate them. For governments and donors, placing children in institutions is often seen as the most straightforward solution. Walk in Love seeks to partner with Tanzanians to break this cycle and empower families to seek our better solutions. It is the right of every child to grow up in a loving family.

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I hope that this catches you up a bit to some of the goings on. I am excited about this next chapter and hope you will join with our family moving forward.

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To Mend a Broken Heart

[[If you are on my email list, you have already read this]]

Tuesday afternoon we were admitted at Tenwek Mission Hospital, where Abigail’s surgery was to take place. There was a medical team mostly from Maine Medical Center in place to provide utmost care. The waiting began.
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I handed Abigail over to the team at 5pm on Wednesday the 3rd of May. My eyes instantly welled with tears. The next 4 hours were the longest 4 hours I’ve ever experienced. At exactly 9pm the head Surgeon, Dr. White, came and found us in the pediatric ward. “Everything went perfect,” he said, “they are finishing up and will be moving her to the recovery room and then you can go see her”. We waited and waited some more and then I got impatient and went up to the recovery room around 9:40pm.18198758_10154284011021567_4279908786265358608_n

 

They were just about to call me anyway, so I had good timing. It was hard to see her, but at the same time I felt so much relief.  That night I stayed by her bed until 2 am, when the nurses made up a bed for me in the emergency receiving area so I could rest a bit and promised to wake me up if anything changed. Regardless I was up at 5 am and back at her bedside. That morning she drank almost 5 ounce of formula and it was like I had a different baby. Previously she would never take more than 3 ounces in a setting because she got too tired.

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18221585_10154286387396567_2607254800345547281_nWe stayed in recovery (post-anesthesia care unit) until Friday morning, where we were moved to HDU (high dependency unit) where they can closely monitor post op patients. We moved from HDU back to the pediatric ward on Saturday afternoon. We were then discharged Monday afternoon! Abigail passed through post-op with flying colors and all the Drs were very impressed with her recovery. She continues to do very well and in 6-8 weeks she should be able to do everything a baby her age would do. She is already sitting with much more strength and endurance than pre-op and is taking her bottles like a champ. She turned 7 month old on the 6th while we were in the hospital.
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There is something that brings you together with strangers when your child is sick. We made bonds with 5 other families whose children were having similar surgeries. The families of baby Fiona, Faith, Matthew, Joseph and Chara. I believe 11 surgeries were done in the 5 days the team had to do them. Abigail was by far the youngest and smallest of them. We shared stories with these 5 other families. We checked on each others children. We laughed, we cried, we worried, we prayed. Unfortunately less than 24 hours post operation, baby Fiona passed away. She was 2 years and 4 months old and weighed a mere 12 pounds. She was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot and suspected to have DiGeorges syndrome. If she had lived in a western country she would have had surgery shortly after birth, and I am sure her life would have looked very different. Instead I watched as the team worked for almost an hour to revive her, doing everything they could possibly do. I heard her mother’s shrieking cries in the hallway when they told her, I watched as they carried her lifeless body out in a cardboard box. The harsh truth of being born in Africa. Please pray for baby Fiona’s family as they grieve. And please pray for these other families as their children recover.

The time has come

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We got the phone call from the hospital. We need to go in after lunch today to be admitted and Abigail will be having open heart surgery tomorrow! (That is as long as the children prior to her stay on schedule). When we met with the Dr team Saturday evening we received a mix of good and bad news. The good, her ASD (the smaller of the two holes) has been closing on its own and is no longer an issue. The bad news is the larger hole, VSD, is much larger than expected. She is also in heart failure which pushed us up near the top of the list for operations. This is common in children with defects like hers, and should be completely reversed with the operation. The head surgeon assured us it should be a straight forward closure, which brings some relief. But this is still our itty bitty baby girl going into major surgery. Please please please pray. Will update if they tell us a set time, though I won’t have my laptop it will probably be through FB/instagram.

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The constant battle

I’ve been going back and forth on if I wanted to write anything before we go to the hospital. If you are on facebook or Instagram you’ve seen what we’ve been up to. Seeing the giraffe’s and the elephant orphanage. Eating our way around Nairobi. I had set up those few days in Nairobi to try and distract myself from what was coming. Though I could still feel it. In the fun and excitement of Nairobi something loomed over me. It sat on my shoulders and weighed me down. It casted a shadow over my head. It slipped in through all the cracks.

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Abigail at 6 weeks and 29 weeks. Same shirt. Sized 0-3 months

It’s fear.

I’m afraid. I’m terrified to be honest. Why is it my baby girl? Why was she born with this condition? Why do I have to place her in the hands of a surgeon at a mere 6 months old. She’s not even 12 lbs yet. She’s still so tiny and fragile.

Though we were told upon her birth she had a heart murmur, I didn’t think twice about it. They didn’t recommend anything else, they didn’t set a follow up.

She had symptoms from the start; we just didn’t quite know what we were looking at. The symptoms are so subtle for her type of defect: constant feeding; falling asleep quickly when eating, but not staying asleep very long before needing to eat again; sweating while feeding; fast breathing; trouble growing and gaining weight. It was so easy to explain these things away, which is what I did. Breastfed babies eat frequently, so intervals between feedings don’t matter. Some babies are not sleepers. I’m so hot all the time so she’s probably just sweating from me. Babies breathe faster than big people. It was all so dangerously easy to explain away. CHDs can be subtle and insidious, even when your baby’s heart is literally failing. We were incredibly lucky that the delay in diagnosis didn’t cost her her life.

Even when we finally received her possible diagnosis, at just over two months, I didn’t yet start to worry. But that day in the cardiologist’s office in Dar es Salaam, when I heard the words, “your daughter will need surgery”, my world collapsed. Every moment of every day I worry. I know I shouldn’t, please don’t write to me and say things like “Don’t worry, God’s in control.” I know that He is. And trust me, I am trying to surrender everything to Him. But if He decided to take my daughter home, how would I handle that? I can’t even begin to think without tears.

We meet with the Dr(s) tomorrow. From there they will give us a surgery date (within the week). I will update when I can.

In the meantime, even if you are not on facebook or instagram, you can follow us on http://www.instagram.com/kellymarietz without an account.

 

One in a hundred

I never would have thought or expected it.  A few hours after Abigail was born and the pediatrician came to examine her I heard the words “heart murmur”. I didn’think any thing of it. Heart murmurs can be a normal thing right? My worries went away when no follow up was scheduled. “She must be fine” I thought. 

Time passed and I talked to some friends. They told me to schedule an appointment with our pediatrician to double check. Sometimes heart murmurs can be a sign of bigger problems. I started to get nervous and set up an appointment. They day came and for sure I was told, yes, that’s a large heart murmur. And then he said “I think she has a hole in her heart.”

We had to go to the other side of the country to see a pediatric cardiologist. There is not a single one in Arusha. We sat in an overcrowded room of people with all sorts of different heart problems and waited for our number to be called. When we finally got in with the Dr and saw and heard Abigail’s heart during her echocardiogram we knew something was wrong. What the Dr said next tore my heart into a thousand pieces.

“She has a large hole and a moderate hole in her heart. There is no way they will be able to heal on their own. Surgery is your only option.”

My heart sank and the tears started leaking out of my eyes. How is this possible? Why my little girl? Why was she the 1 in 100 to be born with these Congenital heart defects. There is no reason or any answers to why her. There is still no known cause for congenital heart defects. 

Abigail is almost 6 months old. She is barely 11 lbs. Because of these holes in her heart, her heart is constantly in overdrive making it very hard to gain weight. It’s like she’s running a marathon all the time. Since our appointment in January she has been on diuretics to help prevent heart failure. She gets tired when nursing and so it’s hard for her to even get full. She still needs to nurse every 2 hours to be satisfied.

I have spent hours and hours researching where we could have surgery. It’s not an easy thing here in East Africa. We have found a mission hospital outside of Nairobi Kenya through a friend. They have an American surgeon team coming the first week of May and have already put Abigail on the schedule. The only thing standing in the way of our daughter having this life saving surgery is $3500.

The place where I have volunteered during my three and a half years here in Tanzania, has offered to help fundraise with us. Please message me or email me at g.kellymarie@gmail.com for a way to donate that is tax deductible. If you don’t care about that, feel free to donate at http://www.paypal.me/abigailsheart

Thank you for your prayers and support to save Abigail’s life.