5 Ways Social Media Saved Someone's Life

by Carrie Kirby on 19 January 2015 (0 comments)

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I was chugging coffee, trying to meet a deadline before my children got home from school, when I felt a strange sensation: My left eyelid began twitching uncontrollably, fluttering as rapidly as a butterfly's wings.

Great! I thought. The last thing I had time for at that moment was a trip to the doctor. Instead, I typed a quick Facebook post: "My eyelid keeps twitching uncontrollably. Is that bad?"

Within minutes, several mom friends informed me that this had happened to them, too, and that doctors had diagnosed it as a symptom of stress. Well, that made sense. I made a mental note to see a doctor if it continued for long, but went on with my work, and once my deadline went away, so did the twitching.

My story is not nearly as dramatic as those whose social networks helped point them toward life-saving diagnoses. But it illustrates a valuable point: The power of social networks to help us manage our health is much bigger than the occasional life-and-death story. Whether it's on Facebook, Reddit or any other platform, social media can be a valuable reality check to help us figure out when we or our children need medical attention, and when we need to just calm down and get on with things.

The dramatic stories, though, are much more fun to read about. Enjoy these tales of ordinary people whose lives were saved when strangers or friends online let them know they needed intervention. Nearly every one was a tear jerker for me.

1. Kawasaki Disease

Doctors thought Deborah Kogan's 4-year-old son, Leo, had a strep infection, but when his face swelled to "Nutty Professor" proportions, Kogan was puzzled. Within 10 minutes of posting a photo of the sick child on Facebook, Kogan received a phone call from a contact, urging her to rush the boy to the hospital. The Facebook friend's son had had a rare autoimmune disorder called Kawasaki Disease, and she was convinced that Leo had the same thing.

Kogan was tempted to ignore this warning and stay home — until two doctors in her social network contacted her with the same thought.

At the hospital, Leo was diagnosed with Kawasaki Disease, and although he suffered liver and heart damage, his life was spared.

2. Mastoiditis

An Australian mother looked to a mother's Facebook group for help identifying a red lump on her toddler's head. The photo the woman, identified only as Kerry, posted did not look alarming — just a little swelling behind the ear. Yet, her friends urged her to take 21-month-old Gracie to the hospital immediately. Some group members had correctly pegged the swelling as mastoiditis, an infection that can lead to hearing loss, meningitis or even a brain abscess.

At the hospital, Gracie had surgery, with doctors drilling into her skull to relieve swelling pressure. She made a full recovery.

3. Retinoblastoma

On the other side of the world, another toddler named Grace was also saved when her picture was posted on Facebook — but this time, her parents didn't even know she was sick. Michele Freeman uploaded an everyday snapshot of her daughter, and a friend who happens to be a pediatric nurse noticed something odd about the child's eyes: One reflected red light, as is common in flash photos, while the other eye looked white.

Warned by her friend, Freeman had her daughter examined, and Grace was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a form of cancer. She lost her vision in the affected eye, but the cancer was treated before it could spread.

4. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Mary Evelyn knew her son would have spina bifida before he was born. She joined some online groups for parents of such children, thinking that this would help her family adjust. Little did she know, her new online community would help save her child's life.

After bringing the baby home from the hospital, Evelyn noticed that he took long pauses between breaths while he slept. Her pediatrician said it was normal, but she was not convinced.

So Evelyn posted about the issue online, and was urged to take a video to show medical professionals. She did, and the video got the baby admitted to the hospital, where he was later diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and eventually needed a tracheotomy.

"An online community of strangers saved my baby's life," Evelyn writes on her blog. Now, she tells other families whose children are diagnosed with SB: "Find your community."

5. Testicular Cancer

The preceding stories show that moms are very active online when it comes to their kids' health, but not all stories of social diagnosis are about small children. In fact, last year, a college student ended up getting lifesaving cancer surgery because he looked at a photo on Reddit that was labeled as "gross."

The photo was posted by someone who had recently had a testical removed due to cancer. Taylor "Chase" Tyree, a computer science major at the Colorado School of Mines, realized he had the same symptoms that the poster described. Four days later, he was in surgery.

"I can tell my friends, 'Reddit saved my life!'" Tyree posted after the procedure, along with a photo of himself in his hospital gown, thumbs up.

It's important to note that all of these stories led the parents and patients to consult real doctors; it would be a terrible idea to rely entirely on the opinions of online friends to make diagnoses. Still, the common thread in all these stories is that the parents or patients would not have seen a doctor at that time, had they not been pushed to do so by their online networks.

In the future, social media as a health resource might not be limited to advice from human connections. Researchers are experimenting with analyzing Twitter feeds for hints that the people behind them might be suffering from disorders, including postpartum depression. Others are using social media to track infectious disease outbreaks.

Today, your social media connections might realize you are sick before you do. In the future, it could be the social network itself, or an app on the network, that suggests you get that lump checked out.

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5 Ways Social Media Saved Someone's Life

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