Hold to the rod, the iron rod;
’Tis strong, and bright, and true;
The iron rod is the word of God,
’Twill safely guide us through.
(Hymns, no. 186.)
The words of that familiar hymn strike a special chord in the hearts of Pedro and Nancy Cantos and their family, for the Book of Mormon account of Lehi’s dream led them to their two greatest blessings: the gospel and the health of their infant son.
The Cantos’ fifth child, Pedrito, was born in a clinic in Quevedo, high in the Andes Mountains near the equator. The boy seemed normal at first, but after two days his bowels had not yet purged their prenatal waste and he was screaming with pain.
His alarmed parents dared not wait even until morning to seek the advice of a specialist, for sudden death had already claimed two of their other children. At three months, Nancy Julema, their third child, had died of an unknown illness. Two years later, their fourth child, one-year-old Juan Carlos, had died of bronchial pneumonia in the arms of his mother on the way to medical help in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The heartbroken mother had gotten off the bus at the next town, but no bus or taxi driver would give her passage back home with the dead child. Finally, in desperation, she had pretended that the child was asleep and hitchhiked a ride part way on a gas truck and then on to Quevedo in a private car.
So, fearing the worst, Pedro Cantos wrapped his newborn son in a blanket, kissed his wife good-bye, and left by taxi for Guayaquil, 175 miles away. As the miles widened between them, the hearts of the parents were as one as they prayed for the life of this child.
When father and son finally arrived at the hospital, the doctors quickly diagnosed the problem as a congenital bowel obstruction, and they immediately made a surgical opening into the colon for drainage.
After three days Pedrito was out of immediate danger. His father returned home to Quevedo, borrowed some money to help pay for the treatment in Guayaquil, and sent his wife back to the hospital to be with their sick baby.
Nancy Cantos and her baby son remained in Guayaquil a month—a sorrowful month for the family. They were given little hope for Pedrito’s recovery, and they didn’t know how or where they could get more money for his care.
Although Pedrito finally grew well enough to come home, he remained ill and feverish. He cried out in pain, unable to sleep or eat. Only forced feedings kept him alive.
At three months, he suffered a severe heart attack. The Cantos then learned that their baby had a serious congenital heart defect. With open-heart surgery he might recover; without surgery he could not possibly live beyond age ten.
And he would always be ill.
Open-heart surgery! But that would cost thousands of dollars. It was impossible!
The saddened parents returned home with their baby. They faced a constant struggle to keep him alive. One day he would seem a bit better; the next day he would be worse again. They had to take him to Guayaquil every two or three weeks for medication and treatment—a financial hardship on their limited income.
In the meantime, they prayed constantly. And their answer came in a dream.
One night when Pedrito was almost ten months old, Nancy dreamed that she saw through her kitchen window—instead of the usual array of crowded buildings—a beautiful, spacious lawn extending as far as she could see. In the distance a man was digging in the earth. She approached him and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m planting herbs to cure the illnesses of man,” he replied.
Then Nancy saw an unusual tree nearby. “What is the purpose of that tree?” she asked.
“The tree holds the cure for Pedrito’s illness,” replied the stranger.
“Tell me,” she asked eagerly, “how can I give the tree’s medicine to my child?”
Before the stranger could answer, Nancy saw a man in the distance, standing at the window of a house, looking at her. Immediately he and another man, both dressed in white, left the house and approached her.
Frightened, Nancy ran trembling into her own house and bolted the door. They came to her barred window, looked in at her, and asked, “Why are you afraid?”
“Because—because I’m here alone with my sick child.”
“But do you not know that bolted doors and barred windows cannot keep us out?” they asked kindly. “We were sent by God to help you because of your faith and your diligence in studying the Bible and seeking the word of God.”
Instantly they were inside the house, and Nancy woke up.
The dream remained vivid in Nancy’s thoughts, yet she told no one.
A week later, two missionaries knocked on the Cantos’s door. That evening they gave Nancy, Pedro, and their two older sons, Cesar and Fernando, the first discussion.
Before they left, the elders gave the family a Book of Mormon, after first marking for them the passages they had been discussing about Christ’s visit to America. They also felt inspired to underline the passages relating to Lehi’s dream about the tree of life—something they had never done before.
Later, as Nancy Cantos read the account of Lehi’s dream, she became excited. It was so similar to her own! She knew in her heart that this was the answer to their prayers.
Eagerly she read the passages to her husband and told him about her dream. He, too, believed this was their answer. “If we obey God’s commandments and hold to the iron rod, our baby will be healed,” he told his wife.
The Cantos could hardly wait for the next discussion.
One night when the elders came to the Cantos home, Pedrito was unusually ill. The elders felt prompted to discuss the principle of priesthood administrations. The family eagerly sought a blessing for Pedrito, who was so thin you could see the bones under his skin. Up until then, he had been unable to tolerate any food except milk. He could neither walk nor talk, and he rarely slept more than an hour or two at a time.
The elders administered to the child and left the house with a strong feeling that he would recover.
From that time on, Pedrito began to improve. The Cantos family were baptized, and the welfare services missionaries helped Sister Cantos get Pedrito started on solid foods. He began to gain weight, and for the first time in his life, he slept through the night. He also learned to walk and talk. The frequent, costly trips to Guayaquil were no longer necessary.
Then, suddenly, Pedrito became ill again. His temperature was dangerously high, and his parents took him back to Guayaquil. The doctors told them that he would have to remain in the hospital at least five days. They also told the Cantos that if Pedrito were to live, he would have to undergo open-heart surgery right away.
But to everyone’s surprise, Pedrito was well enough to leave the hospital the next day.
Back in Quevedo, the welfare services missionaries helped the Cantos apply for help with the cost of the surgery. The doctors told the Cantos that they would have to go to the United States or Brazil for the surgery. But a member of the Church, who had recently had a family member operated on for a similar problem, told them about another doctor—Dr. Oswald Bonilla, a heart specialist in nearby Quito.
Although his calendar was full for several months, Dr. Bonilla agreed to see Pedrito in two weeks. But complications kept Dr. Bonilla from seeing Pedrito immediately. Sister Cantos had been taking a tailoring class so that she could earn money to help pay some of their medical bills. As the day for the appointment with Dr. Bonilla approached, she learned that her final examination was scheduled for the same day.
Dr. Bonilla graciously postponed the appointment for another two weeks. This time, a bus strike kept them from meeting with him. Finally, after six weeks, they stood before Dr. Bonilla.
Electrocardiograms, x-rays, and many other tests revealed that Pedrito was too weak to endure surgery. “It will take at least eight or nine months to build him up sufficiently,” Dr. Bonilla told the worried parents. The doctor ordered another series of tests.
Three days later, just before Pedrito was taken in for the new tests, two young men in white shirts and dark suits told Dr. Bonilla, “We would like to give the child a blessing.”
“You have five minutes,” the doctor said, and he left the room.
Later that afternoon he whistled in amazement. The test results showed such a remarkable improvement in Pedrito that Dr. Bonilla decided to schedule the surgery immediately.
“It was worse than we thought,” Dr. Bonilla told the parents and the elders and sisters who had waited with them during the five anguish-filled hours of the surgery. “You keep praying, though, and Pedrito will live.”
Pedrito did live. He recovered rapidly. Soon he was running and playing like any other little boy. And Pedrito’s struggle for life has wrought other miracles. Dr. Bonilla and his assistant, Dr. Lopez, were touched by this display of faith and by the miracle they saw when the elders administered to Pedrito. They decided not to charge for the surgery.
Many of Sister Cantos’s family have accepted the gospel, and members of Brother Cantos’s family are anxiously waiting for the missionaries to come to a remote area where they live so that they, too, can be taught the gospel.