Josh Sprague and Susan Stiles
October 2021 — Over the summer, a serendipitously timed flat tire set into motion a chain of events that brought live-saving medical care to a girl in Guatemala. Rotary Club of Edina members Josh Sprague and Susan Stiles played a central role in 8-year-old Saida’s incredible story.
“We met Saida by chance earlier this year, really just a few months ago … but it would not have happened without years of work and [relationship] building down in Guatemala,” Sprague explained.
In 2019, a group of 27 Rotarians – Sprague and Stiles among them – participated in a service trip to the mountainous interior of that country. They did so as part of a larger Rotary initiative to bring filtration equipment to rural aldeas (villages) where families had not previously enjoyed access to clean water. During that whirlwind trip, the Minnesota delegation delivered 659 10-gallon filtration units.
“We also enjoyed heartfelt moments and made instant connections with people,” Sprague said. “I actually call it a relationship machine.” Those local connections paid dividends this May when a smaller group of Rotarians reprised that trip – this time, delivering 675 filtration units to in-need communities near the city of Cobán.
Stiles and Sprague first encountered Saida on one of those many delivery runs. The resilient 8-year-old suffered from an odontogenic cyst along the right side of her face. While the Rotarians could not guess at the root cause of her condition, they knew instantly that the growth (roughly the size of a grapefruit) impacted Saida’s quality of life in a major way.
When a flat tire near her village forced an abrupt halt to the team’s brisk delivery schedule, Stiles and Sprague seized the impromptu opportunity to learn more about Saida and her family. Neither speaks the region's native K'iche language, complicating communication. In fact, the Rotarians would never have established a rapport without Stiles.
“My mother was born and raised in Spain … and I speak fluent Spanish. Saida’s father, Edgar, spoke decent Spanish, too,” allowing the pair to convey their earnest desire to help. As a next step, Sprague placed a videocall to a pediatrician friend 170 miles away in the city of Escuintla.
This consultation confirmed that Saida’s cyst – which already impacted her vision and partially obstructed her airway – required immediate medical attention. Without this intervention, the condition would likely have become life threatening soon. Stiles, Sprague and their colleagues quickly resolved to do whatever was needed to ensure Saida received the necessary surgery.
“[Edgar] said with tears in his eyes that he had been praying for this miracle,” Stiles recalled.
Rotarians accompanied the family on the five-hour drive to Escuintla, where Saida received more professional appraisals and, ultimately, a treatment plan. Fortunately, biopsies showed Saida’s cyst to be noncancerous, simplifying the matter. However, these same tests indicated an accelerated growth rate of 3 centimeters a month, underscoring the timely nature of the Edinans’ chance encounter.
“This wasn’t the end of the story,” Sprague noted, citing the Rotary Club of Edina’s service ethos and helpful relationships in the area.
While a physician in Guatemala City excised the patient’s cyst pro bono in July, Saida’s family continues to face transportation and lodging costs associated with their daughter’s care. Sometime in the near future, Saida will also require major reconstructive surgeries to correct deformed bones and other damage left behind by the painful growth.
Club Rotario Escuintla, along with their new friends and kindred spirits nearly 2,000 miles away, are committed to assisting the family through this next phase of Saida’s journey. That ongoing support includes a GoFundMe page that has already secured Saida donations from more than 70 donors.
“We’re Rotary, and this is what we do,” Sprague said.