Baylor Bears find purpose in helping Iraqi children

By Amando Dominick
Staff Writer

You don’t have to be a soldier to serve in Iraq.

Baylor alumni and students are attempting to make a difference in Iraq through a group called the Preemptive Love Coalition, an organization that works to provide lifesaving heart surgeries to Iraqi children.

The organization is active in six areas of Iraq: Basra, Nasiriyah, Najaf, Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah and Fallujah.

Cayla Willingham, the Remedy Mission Coordinator for the Preemptive Love Coalition and wife of fellow coalition member Matt Willingham, said four out of the six staff members have direct connections to Baylor: three are Baylor graduates and one is from Truett Seminary.

“We have four full-time staff members who went to Baylor, and we’ve had several Baylor students come for our summer internships as well,” said Matt Willingham, a 2008 Baylor graduate and press secretary for the Preemptive Love Coalition.

The Colony senior David McLain traveled to Iraq to intern with the Preemptive Love Coalition during the summer.

McLain said Iraqi doctors have been unable to properly care for their population for the last decade for several reasons, including a mass exodus of doctors in the 90s.

“They just got behind in the medical field and haven’t had time to recover,” McLain said. “One area they have not been able to keep up with is pediatric heart surgeries.”

Remedy Missions, a program sponsored by Preemptive Love Coalition, brings international teams of doctors into Iraq for two-week surgical training missions.

These teams perform heart surgery for children and also train the Iraqi doctors to perform the same procedure.

The Preemptive Love Coalition website,, states that approximately 30,000 Iraqi children are in need of lifesaving heart surgery.

Members of the coalition refer to this list as The Backlog.

“The Backlog is our bad guy — our villain — and every day it gets bigger,” Willingham said.

The local doctors decide which child gets surgery next, based on urgency and teaching opportunities for the Iraqi doctors.

“It’s up to the local doctors, working with the international team, to determine who needs it the most, who has been waiting the longest, or those who are in the vicinity who can get there,” Cayla Willingham said.

The website said the rising number of birth defects in Iraq could be due to chemical agents, depleted uranium and malnutrition, based on facts from a 2007 CIA report.

Cayla Willingham said the Iraqi government has been supportive.

“They make the missions possible,” she said.

Iraq’s vice president, H.E. Adel Abdul Mahdi, and Iraq’s first lady, Hêro Ibrahîm Ahmed (Talabanî)both given support for the organization on its website.

McLain said funding for the operation comes from international donors, Iraq’s Ministry of Health and individual donations.

To find more information about the Preemptive Love Coalition, visit