The night I meet with Gerry and Theresa Casey, Jerusalem is enjoying its first wintry weather of the year. However, for the natives of Sligo in the northwest of Ireland, the storm brewing outside is reminiscent of the type of climate they have tried to escape this past year to give their little girl Rachel, born with Down's syndrome and serious heart defects, a better quality of life.Rachel is a blessing for her family, never a burden. Looking at the face of that angel, how could any person deny life to her (or the thousands of others like her).
"We were told by doctors in Ireland that a warm climate could increase Rachel's life expectancy for up to five years," says Gerry, 40, who officially arrived here with Theresa, Rachel and the couple's three older children - Sean, nine, Emma, seven, and Louisa, five - in December.
Looking lovingly at his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter as she mischievously makes her way around the family's living room, the doting father adds proudly: "I really think it has worked, because today she stood up for the first time without holding on."
While this milestone might seem like only one small step for a child struggling with life-threatening health complications, for the Casey family it is the culmination of a year filled with great progress, adventure and a little bit of Irish luck.
The progress in Rachel's health and physical achievements was made possible by heart surgery performed at the Schneider Children's Medical Center for Israel in Petah Tikva and through a variety of therapeutic treatments and support she received at the Jerusalem-based Shalva Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children. The adventure came in the form of the family's unlikely cultural experiences this year and its daring travel across the entire region. The luck part stems primarily from Gerry's work.
A captain in the Irish Defense Forces, he is one of 11 Irish army officers posted to the Middle East as part of a 153-strong multinational United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) peacekeeping mission based in five countries (Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Israel) for observation purposes under the 1948 international agreement.
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And she is fortunate to have a family that will go the extra mile, in this case travel to Jerusalem, to give her the chance to live.
May G-d smile down upon Captain Casey and his family. May G-d bestow the blessings of joy and peace upon this family. And may little Rachel live a long and loving life.