Two incredibly bright sisters from Edmonton who died when a plane crashed near Tehran are being remembered for their passion to help others.
Saba and Sara Saadat were on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with their mother, Shekoufeh Choupannejad, a physician who worked out of a north Edmonton clinic.
Saba was finishing up her undergrad at the University of Alberta. She was in her fourth year, studying biology with a minor in psychology. She was applying for medical school.
“Knowing how bright and how smart she was, I had no doubt that she’d be able to accomplish that goal,” said Daniel Ghods-Esfahani, who was in a relationship with Saba.
He said Saba and Sara were incredibly close. They were both kind, giving friends with a drive to help others.
Sara had just graduated in May and was accepted into the clinical psychology program at Alliant University in San Diego.
“The common theme in both these areas is their passion for serving others and helping people in situations that they were once in,” Ghods-Esfahani said. “That feeling of not belonging and being left out was a big driving factor in their passion of serving people.”
Saba was conducting honours research in a lab under the supervision of assistant professor Meghan Riddell.
“She was actually my very first student… She was completely exceptional.
“She came in to work with me in an empty lab with absolute enthusiasm and she was so extraordinarily capable. She was an undergraduate with the capabilities of a PhD student.”
Riddell described Saba as the complete package, saying she had “astonishing empathy” and was a natural leader.
Riddell said she would have made an incredible physician.
“She would have made a truly exceptional doctor. She would have been a rock star. That girl, I don’t know what she would have done, but I wish we all could have seen and benefited from her.”
Friends say the two young women shared that love of service with their mother, who provided medical care in rural Alberta as well as to a large immigrant population at her Edmonton clinic.
“I noticed the passion… when they were in high school,” said friend Simran Gulati, who met the sisters when they moved to Edmonton about six years ago.
“I remember going to their house, their mom would tell us about new research coming out. Their mom had a great passion towards women’s health as well, I think that’s where both their daughters get their virtue of service from.
“In our friend group, if we ever needed anything, none of us would hesitate to go up to Saba or Sara… [they] would drop anything they were doing,” Gulati said.
The pair had a unique bond. They were one unit, their friends agree.
“They were very close,” Ghods-Esfahani said. “They were best friends. I’ve never seen a bond between siblings or friends as close as they had. Given the tragedy of the situation, I take some comfort from the fact that, in that last moment, the three of them were together.”
They were in Iran visiting family, which they did annually. Ghods-Esfahani was communicating with Saba just before the flight took off.
“She was saying how she was hoping and praying the flight would take off and they would be able to come back home,” he recalled. “I said I was praying for the same. I think the last thing I asked her was if they had boarded the flight yet and that message never delivered.”
Sirous Ghafuri was doing the same with Sara, trying to get a message through.
“I was talking with Sara the day it happened. At nighttime on Tuesday, I heard the early news of the Ukrainian plane crash. I knew from their journey through Iran they were using Ukraine as a connection. I was thinking to myself, ‘What if they’re using the same flight back?’ I texted her at 8:50 if she got on the plane and if it was the same flight,” Ghafuri said, his voice breaking. “I asked Daniel what their flight number was, I checked online and it still showed the flight path was still going through Ukraine so I hoped it was a different plane, but it was the same plane.”
“I would give up anything just to spend another minute with them,” Ghods-Esfahani said. “I don’t know what I would say, probably ‘I love you.'”
“I wish I had said it before they even got on the plane,” Ghafuri added, “said it every day.”
Those closest to them hope Saba and Sara will always be remembered for their kindness, empathy and perseverance.
“There have been many times I wanted to give up academically or personally,” Gulati said. “I remember Saba would always tell me, ‘It’s OK, it’ll be better, next time will be better, your next exam will be better, just keep trying each day… tomorrow will be better.”
“I don’t think I’m ever going to forget them,” close friend Reyaan Shuaib said.
“Sara was such a huge part of my life. I don’t want to forget her.
“I want to embrace every memory… and remember them happily.”