Little Megan Sadler loves gymnastics, but a debilitating curvature of the spine means she has to wear a brace 23 hours a day. Life-changing surgery in America is an option, and it’s thanks to the power of Rotary on both sides of the Atlantic that Megan’s dream is going to be fulfilled.
How appropriate, after arriving back in Wales from America following the first stage of potentially life-changing medical treatment, that the daffodils were blooming in the Spring sunshine for tiny Megan Sadler.
Not only is the daffodil a Welsh emblem, but the flower also symbolises new beginnings.
For 10-year-old Megan from Milford Haven suffers from severe scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, which means she has to permanently wear a restrictive body brace.
There is no treatment available in the UK which would enable the promising gymnast to realise her potential. However, the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia is pioneering an innovative surgical procedure called vertebral body tethering which allows the spine to correct as Megan grows.
But time is running out with a very narrow window of opportunity available. In Megan’s case, her spine is at a 60 degree curve. Once it goes past 70 degrees, she can no longer get an operation to correct it.
“Life is very difficult,” admitted Megan. “I don’t like my brace, especially when it is tight. It’s uncomfortable. I love gymnastics. I’d like to be able to do a back handspring, but it’s hard at the moment. I want to do competitions and win medals, and one day I would like to be a gym coach.”
In February, Megan, with her mother Laura, and sisters Kaci, 8, and Isabella, 4, made the 3,000-mile journey to Philadelphia for five hours of tests to discover whether surgery will be possible.
As a result, the petite youngster will be heading to the States again in May for up to a month when she undergoes major surgery.
Shriners has offered to perform the operation and treatment free of charge, but there are still major costs for the family to find – to pay for flights and accommodation. Megan’s sister has autism and with a four-year-old to look after as well, this is a challenging time for the family.
“If the surgery goes well, it will change Megan’s quality of life completely,” explained mum, Laura. “It means that she will only have to wear a brace at night rather than for 23 hours a day. It will give her some normality for a few years as she grows.”
It is a cause which has brought the Rotary family together, with Rotarians on both sides of the Atlantic working together to help the Sadler family.
The Rotary Club of Milford Haven was alerted to the family’s plight by the Inner Wheel club which had begun fundraising.
The club sprang into action, initially raising £1,000 in a special concert, further boosted by a concerted fundraising effort from both Rotarians and members of Inner Wheel in Pembrokeshire. Megan’s story then began to gain support through social media posts and links to the fundraising website.
More than £7,000 was raised to help Megan’s family, including £1,500 from the Milford Haven Gymnastics Club where Megan is a member.
Just before they travelled to Philadelphia in February for tests to discover whether Megan would be receptive to surgery, Southern Wales District Governor, Steve Jenkins, contacted Dave Haradon, his opposite number in District 7450 in Philadelphia, to ask whether Rotarians there could wrap an arm around the family when they arrived.
When the Sadler family arrived at Philadelphia International Airport back in February, tired and jet-lagged and wondering about how they were going to get a taxi to the hotel, 30 Rotarians waited at the airport with Welsh and Union flags and welcome signs, carrying a myriad of practical gifts including food, toys plus an iPhone with $200 credit.
The Philadelphia Rotarians organised transport from and to the airport and to the hospital for their consultation, helping bring down some of the transport costs.
“It was so overwhelming, they were absolute brilliant,” said Laura.
“We couldn’t thank the Rotarians enough because they did everything possible to take care of us. It was lovely.”
Now thoughts are turning to May, and a possible month-long stay in Philadelphia.
The operation, scheduled for May 22nd, is expected to last eight hours when Megan’s lungs will be deflated and some ribs removed as surgeons work on the youngster’s spine.
“I’m excited about the operation,” said Megan. “The tests were a bit scary and I didn’t like having to breathe into a machine.
“But I want to go to America because I want to get my life back.”
Laura revealed that they have set themselves a fund-raising target of £20,000, which will not only fund this trip and future follow-up visits, but so that they might be able to make a donation to the Shriners Hospital.
Southern Wales District 1150 is now working on more fund-raising initiatives for Megan and District 7450 are preparing for the family’s next visit to Philadelphia in May.
Rotary President for Great Britain and Ireland, Eve Conway, wished Megan well with her treatment.
She added: “This is a wonderful example of how Rotarians go the extra mile to make a difference across the world helping Megan and her family, with co-operation and support from Rotarians at home and in the United States.
Steve Jenkins, said that the inspiring story of Megan and her family demonstrated how quickly and effectively Rotary can act.
He said: “Megan’s story has proved that distance is no longer a barrier to Rotarians working together in order to overcome a need in our communities – in this case helping a family in need and to give Megan the chance to live her dream.
“We must continue to use social media and new forms of communication positively and effectively. Together we are stronger.”