Hibah Alkufouf’s two children had no indications of problems when they were born in Jordan. She took her son, Nabeel, at 40 days old to their church in Jordan. She thanked God for the joy her firstborn child brought. She added, “I will be so happy if Nabeel will be serving you. He’s yours. I love him so much. You give me Nabeel, he’s yours.”
Nabeel showed development problems after four or so months and a scan showed brain atrophy. Hibah recalled holding her child before a big cross on her bedroom wall and saying, “God, do you remember I gave you Nabeel when he was completely fine? I give you a very fine gift. Now, I give you Nabeel (again) and I know you will take care of him.”
Hibah decided to do everything possible to keep him in a happy, loving environment, later doing the same with her daughter, Carole, dealing with seizures and much more. The children have a seemingly endless array of medical problems, including cerebral palsy, and are unable to walk and talk.
Nabeel, 9, and Carole, 5, received plenty of attention during a recent visit to their home in Florissant by Lesia Anstead and Kathleen Englert of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville.
Nabeel especially smiles and giggles when females show him attention and Carole is constantly curious and attentive.
The two women from the St. Charles County parish and the family from Jordan laughed at the children’s reactions and joked about their families and cultural practices. The St. Joseph parishioners are just a few of the people from the Catholic community in St. Louis who have supported the family of Hibah and her husband, Tariq Alkfoof, who are living with Hibah’s mother and father, permanent U.S. residents, in Florissant.
The extended family from Jordan— Catholics who attend St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant — not only rely on their faith to navigate the medical issues and related hassles but spread a surprising gratefulness, joy and deep love and devotion to their faith to anyone they meet.
“The faith they have is in itself overwhelming. And the journey that they have had as immigrants is eye-opening to say the least,” Anstead said, noting the sacrifices that the family has made for medical care for their children.
“You left your jobs, other family members, everything for your children,” Englert said to the family. Hibah agreed, noting that she left her brother and sister, cousins and others behind in Jordan, where few resources exist to help children with disabilities and complex medical problems.
“I’m thankful for the family and friends we have here,” Hibah said. “We just couldn’t do this by ourselves.”
About four years ago while cleaning St. Rose Philippine Parish’s adoration chapel, the children’s grandmother, Badiah Alamamreh, spotted Bernie Geerling coughing. She gave him a glass of water and asked him to pray for her grandchildren, telling him of their special needs and a lack of services for them in Jordan. Geerling told Vincentian Father Bob Brockland who walked into SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and asked the receptionist who could help the family. The ball started rolling as the hospital got on board. Then the U.S. Embassy in Jordan got involved.
The connection with Geerling occurred on a Wednesday, a day when Badiah normally doesn’t go to the chapel.
Badiah explained that once she was standing in front of a statue of Mary holding Jesus. “I told her, ‘Please Mary, Jesus can do anything. Please put Nabeel in His hand.’ That is why everything is going by God’s hand.”
Hibah noted that she obtained paperwork from SSM Health Cardinal Glennon that helped her get a visa. Normally, it takes four months to get a visa, Hibah said. She applied online, paid the fee, asked to schedule an interview and left a message noting that she was going to the U.S. for a medical reason. The next day she received an email telling her that she was scheduled for the interview the next week.
At the interview, Hibah was told embassy officials would contact the hospital. To her surprise, the next day the embassy called, asking her to bring her passports because they were issuing her the visa. She asked what time the office closes and was told, “We’re not open today, we’re here just for you.”
They arrived in the United States on Aug. 15, 2015 — the feast of the Assumption. The experience, especially the donated medical care initially from the hospital and items such as adaptive wheelchairs from STL Help, left Hibah stunned. They previously relied on strollers. “I feel it’s a miracle,” she said. “Man, these people are so good.”
A team of doctors looked over Nabeel, with several tests ordered, starting with a swallow test. The specialist told Hibah that her son is lucky to be alive since he’s aspirating (sucking food and fluids into the airway which causes pneumonia). “God is taking care of him,” Hibah told her. He had been aspirating for six years and survived, she noted.
A surgery for that issue and other surgeries have helped with medical problems. The children’s parents — educators in their home country who now have U.S. work permits, jobs and are taxpayers — praise their pediatrician, Dr. Aline Tanios, other physicians and therapists and emergency personnel who have helped the children. Tanios is co-founder of the SLUCare Complex Medical Care Program where she follows children with special health care needs.
Strong in faith
“If I did not have faith I could not handle things and keep smiling,” Hibah said. “It would be too hard.”
Msgr. Jack Schuler, pastor of St. Cronan Parish in south St. Louis, said the parish nurse at his former parish, St. Ferdinand, also assisted the family. The Hazelwood School District has been a big help to them as well, he said.
He brought the family to speak to the youth group at Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield when he was assigned there. The teens were impressed and wanted to help, Msgr. Schuler said. They collected cans of nutrition drinks and one student got Priory student to raise funds for the family. Hibah came to a Mass to thank them.
“She went on for five minutes talking about the Lord. And the celebrant said, ‘That’s the best homily we’ve had all year,’” Msgr. Schuler recalled with a chuckle.
Father Brockland said “their faith is very, very deep and very strong. They’ve exercised the faith, leaned on the faith and the Good Lord has come through in giving them what they need.”
>> The Alkfoof family
people have undertaken fundraising for the Alkfoof family on behalf of
their children, Nabeel and Carole. Recently a restaurant and bar in
Florissant heard about the family’s plight and hosted a fundraiser with a
silent auction and more.
A GoFundMe page helps with expenses.
Most recently they sought funds for a van with wheelchair access.
Insurance covers some medical expenses, but leaves a hole for
modifications of their home for disability access and expenses for
feeding and specialized care for the children.
>> SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation
foundation, led by the hospital’s board of governors, provides the
financial support necessary for delivering exceptional health care, in
state-of-the-art facilities, to all children in need of care. Through
communication efforts, community cultivation, philanthropic generosity
and Christ-like stewardship, the foundation’s purpose is to build strong
partnerships that will result in world-class pediatric health care at
SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
For information on how to donate, contact www.glennon.org or call (314) 577-5605 or 1-800-269-0552.
Make checks payable to SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation and mail to: 3800 Park Ave., St. Louis, MO 63110