Darnisha Ladd is used to teasing one of her younger sisters. The one who’s usually glued to her phone, recording every funny face or silly laugh on Snapchat.
But Ladd never imagined the photo- and video-sharing app would help save her life after she suffered a stroke last year.
The day of the stroke — July 31, 2017 — started like any other. Ladd got up and went to work in the Omaha Public Schools student placement office. As the day went on, she started feeling lightheaded and dizzy and had a pounding headache.
Her arm started shaking so much that it was difficult to move the cursor across her computer screen. And as Ladd stood up to tell her supervisor that she was leaving for the day, she fell back into her chair.
Ladd, then 38, went to the emergency room at Immanuel Medical Center just after 1 p.m. She had high blood pressure but didn’t display any brain dysfunction or typical stroke symptoms such as face drooping, arm weakness or speech difficulties. Doctors did a CT scan and found no signs of stroke.
By 6:30 p.m., her headache pain had subsided and her blood pressure was back under control. If symptoms came back or got worse, doctors told Ladd, she should come back to the emergency room.
Ladd’s mother took her home and handed the reins over to Ladd’s sisters.
Ladd didn’t want to be alone.
Her sister Sherita White, who is a nurse, had just gotten off work. She noticed that Ladd still had an IV port in her arm. She opened her Snapchat app and recorded a video of her removing the port.
The sisters caught up on the HBO show “Insecure.” Later Ladd was drifting in and out of sleep.
“All of a sudden she woke up and something didn’t seem right,” White said. “Her eyes were (rolled) back, and she wouldn’t talk. ... I could tell she wasn’t breathing right.”
Ladd’s family took her back to the Immanuel Medical Center emergency room a little after 10 p.m. At the hospital, Ladd’s left side was completely weak.
While doctors ran tests and reviewed scans, Ladd was aware of what was going on around her but was unable to communicate or open her eyes.
“It was scary,” she said. “I couldn’t say anything.”
By 11 p.m., doctors had confirmed the stroke and called in a neurologist.
That’s when they had to enter detective mode, said Dr. Vishal Jani, a neurologist who treated Ladd. The medication Ladd needed had to be administered within 4½ hours of the onset of symptoms.
Because doctors didn’t know when exactly Ladd’s symptoms started, they had to assume that symptoms started as soon as she “put her foot out of the hospital.” That could mean it was too late to administer the medication safely.
“We can potentially save her life or kill her,” Jani said.
That’s when White remembered the Snapchat she had taken of her sister earlier in the evening. It showed Ladd speaking and moving normally. And the time stamp meant they could move forward.
Jani gave Ladd the medication with an estimated 12 minutes to spare.
The medication helped to dissolve the blood clot blocking blood flow to the brain. It saved her life.
There were still difficulties ahead. During her second emergency room visit, Ladd had trouble breathing and was intubated. Later in the night, a portion of her skull had to be removed because of swelling in the brain. She stayed on a ventilator for about two weeks.
Ladd, who is married and a mother of three, ended up at Madonna Rehabilitation in Omaha. She underwent physical, speech, occupational and aquatic therapies. She had to relearn to swallow and chew.
Ladd got frustrated during rehab, but never gave up. She had support from her co-workers at OPS and from family.
“On any given day, I would look up when I was in my therapy and one of my sisters or my cousins would be there cheering me on,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Now Ladd, 40, attends outpatient therapy. Her speech has improved, and she can walk with the help of a cane. She hasn’t been able to return to work, but she hopes to eventually.
“I feel great,” Ladd said. “I feel very motivated to get myself back to 100 percent.”
And in case you were wondering, the sisters are both still on Snapchat — and so is Ladd’s neurologist.
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