These days, smartphones and the Internet seem to have more negative connotations than positive. People blame the former for the death of conversation and both for actual deaths when selfies go awry, to name a mere few examples. However, this was not the intention when these things were first created.
The purpose of smartphones and their Internet capabilities is to connect people, and the following stories of people whose lives were miraculously saved due to websites, social media, and other apps will surely be a refreshing change from the negative perception that seems to be dominating society today. Allow your faith in smartphones and the web to be restored!
In 2015, Reddit user RBradbury1920 posted in a legal advice community, wondering what he should do about the appearance of strange Post-it Notes around his house. He claimed that he would find messages on Post-it Notes that did not appear to be in his handwriting, but there would be information written on the notes that nobody besides him could possibly know. To solve the mystery of who could be writing these strange notes, he set up a webcam in his home. However, the next day, he found a new Post-it Note message, and there was no footage from the webcam on his computer. He found that the trash on the computer had recently been cleared, which indicated that someone had discovered the webcam and deleted footage from it. This post received an overwhelming amount of attention, but one comment that rose to the top of the thread was an interesting theory presented by user Kakkerlak.
This concerned Reddit user dug through the post history of RBradbury1920 and discovered that his bedroom was only 1.1 by 3 meters (3.5 x 10 ft) and had no windows. He suggested to RBradbury1920 that his narrow room may have had a carbon monoxide leak and told him that he may have had carbon monoxide poisoning and was writing these Post-it Notes to himself without any recollection of it. Luckily, RBradbury1920 took this suggestion seriously and used a CO detector to discover that his room actually did have a carbon monoxide leak. He got medical attention immediately and quickly recovered from the poisoning. If it weren’t for his post on Reddit, things could have gone in a far different direction for RBradbury1920.
In November 2016, 20-year-old Atto Narathiga posted a photo of a fish that he and his friends caught on a fishing trip. Narathiga captioned the photo by proclaiming his excitement to cook the fish and eat it with soy sauce. What Narathiga didn’t know was that he had caught a scrawled filefish, which can be highly poisonous when it is not prepared properly. This is because the intestines of the scrawled filefish contain a toxin called ciguatera that can cause neurological symptoms when eaten by humans. Luckily, fellow Twitter users realized the danger of the situation and urged Narathiga not to eat the poisonous fish.
After a few hours without any reply from Narathiga, people feared that it was too late, but luckily, this was not the case. A few hours after his initial post, he made a new post in which he said that after being alerted to the danger of eating the intestines of the fish he caught, he threw it back into the water, and it swam away. The reason that he left his saviors in suspense for so long was simply because his phone had run out of battery power, but he and his friends were out of harm’s way thanks to the comments he received on his post.
What started as an innocent Instagram post soon took a turn that led to a lifesaving diagnosis. The photo that sparked this remarkable story was taken by Sarah Frei, and the picture is of Sarah’s grandfather, John Rzeppa, grinning from ear to ear in between his two newborn great-grandkids. However, things took a dark turn when Frei’s high school friend and Instagram follower Jennifer Mancuso viewed the photo and noticed an obvious problem. Mancuso, a dermatologist from Detroit, saw a mark on Rzeppa’s forehead that she described as “a very obvious melanoma.” Mancuso looked further into Frei’s Instagram posts and found previous pictures of Rzeppa that helped her determine that the melanoma was growing.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs when melanocytes (cells that produce skin pigment) mutate and become cancerous. This is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, and this warning came as a shock to Frei, as her grandfather had been told in the past that the mark was just an “age spot.” Frei took her grandfather to get the mark looked at again, and it was diagnosed as melanoma. Doctors were, fortunately, able to remove 100 percent of the melanoma from Rzeppa’s forehead, but this lifesaving act may have come too late if it were not for the keen eye of an Instagram user.
In 2010, while competing in a mini-triathlon race in the Connecticut woods, 36-year-old Leigh Fazzina found herself in a sticky situation. As the biking section of the race took a downhill turn, Fazzina lost sight of her competitors and took a painful tumble when the front wheel of her bike crashed into a tree root. The fall rendered her unable to walk, so Fazzina was left stranded and alone in an unfamiliar place. After trying to scream for help, Fazzina decided to use her smartphone to call her cousin. Unfortunately, there was no cell service that far into the 300-acre woods. As a last resort, Fazzina made a post on Twitter in which she explained her situation and asked for someone to tell the Winding Trails in Farmington, Connecticut, that she was stuck in the woods.
Fazzina’s post received an overwhelming response, and Mary-Ellen Harper, the director of the Farmington Fire Department, said that they received calls from across the US in search of help for Fazzina. Within minutes of Fazzina posting her cry for help, she heard an ambulance up ahead that took her to safety and tended to her injuries. Although this is a strange way to get help in an emergency, it is possible that without Fazzina’s quick thinking and the overwhelming kindness of the Twitter community, she would have been doomed to spend hours or even days trapped in the woods.
In 1990, a little boy from the Yaojia Village in China was abducted and taken hundreds of miles away from his home. The boy was named Huang Jan, and he came from a modest family with whom he enjoyed a happy childhood. However, this childhood came to an end when the innocent kindergartener saw an older man and woman waiting to pick him up. Assuming that they were friends of his parents, Huang Jan accepted a ride from them. He was transported via multiple different cars over the 1,450-kilometer (900 mi) ride, and the next thing he knew, he was living with an entirely new family. He was given a new name, Luo Gang, and had a new sister. He had become a child trafficking victim, just one of thousands of children trafficked every year in China. Poor enforcement of adoption laws along with the one-child rule fostered a heavy market for trafficking, and unfortunately, few of these children ever found their way home. However, Luo Gang was resilient and vowed to spend every night recalling memories of his biological family so that he could one day return home. “I was like a computer,” Luo recalled. “I tried to keep my memories of family and the geographical surroundings.”
After two years, Luo’s kidnappers passed away, and he was taken in by another couple who he referred to as “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” His biological family launched a search for their missing son, but as the years went on, their hope faded, and they adopted a daughter. Luo went on to finish school and become a firefighter, but he still longed to return to his biological family. When he was 27, he signed up for an online service called Baby Come Home, a forum where abducted children and parents of abductees can give details about their situation. Luo posted everything he remembered that could possibly help—his height as a kindergartener, his eye color, images of himself, and an image of a scar that he had gotten as a child. He also noted that, “I ate braised pork at home, with a bit of couscous or sorghum on top. My house was built with tiles. Nothing special. The road was a tar road, newly built. Many trucks ran on it.” He also posted a map of his village that he had drawn from memory.
Active users of the forum began to make assumptions based on his clues, such as where sorghum was commonly consumed in 1990 or what neighborhoods had tar roads, and the users managed to help Luo find his native village. In 2013, there was a festive and emotional reunion, during which Luo’s mother gave him his favorite traditional noodle dish, and Luo walked around the house and talked about the fond memories of his childhood. He doesn’t blame “Grandma” and “Grandpa” for what happened and maintains a good relationship with both his adoptive and biological family to this day.
Bear Silber, a Reddit user and athlete who has finished multiple marathons, knew that his active lifestyle was in danger. He was experiencing strange symptoms such as weight gain, height decrease, and worsened posture. Despite his attempts to get a diagnosis, no doctor could crack the case. One fateful night, Silber was browsing Reddit when he stumbled upon a post by a man who looked similar to him. Upon viewing the comment thread, he knew that he had found his diagnosis. The man in the picture had a rare disease known as Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome is often caused by a tumor that produces an excess amount of cortisol. Silber further researched the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome and found that every single one matched with what he was going through.
Although Silber was convinced that Cushing’s was the cause of his suffering, the first doctor he saw wasn’t so sure. Despite a doctor disagreeing with Silber’s self-diagnosis, Silber stuck to his gut and met with an endocrinologist, who confirmed that he did indeed have Cushing’s. Silber was able to get surgery to remove the tumor, and he was then able to go through physical therapy to help him regain his former strength. It is challenging for doctors to accurately diagnose people with rare diseases such as Cushing’s, and in this case, Reddit was able to do for Bear Silber what doctors could not.
On a trip to the island of Crete in 2014, 55-year-old Sandi Allcock had a terrifying brush with death. While on a walk with her sister, Sandi was not paying attention and walked right off the edge of a cliff. The 300-meter (1,000 ft) drop would have resulted in certain death had an olive tree not halted her fall 107 meters (350 ft) down. She was in immense pain, and her arms were stuck in between two branches, giving her a limited range of movement. She could feel the tree teetering under her weight and knew that she only had a limited amount of time before she continued the plunge to her death. She was able to get her iPhone out of her pocket and call emergency services, attempting to explain her situation and the geography around her so that she could be rescued. However, there were no easily recognizable landmarks in the area, and Sandi became frustrated trying to describe her surroundings.
After 90 minutes stuck in the tree, Sandi was becoming panicked and dehydrated. Fortunately, she had the idea to post an image of the area on Facebook, in hopes that somebody would recognize it. The rescue team got her into contact with an English-speaking hotel receptionist who helped spread the word about her Facebook post. Miraculously, within minutes of the post going public, a scuba diver who had recently been in the area was able to recognize where she was and send the authorities to her rescue. After two miserable hours stuck in the tree, Sandi was taken down to the ground and brought to a hospital. She had 20 broken bones, including several spinal fractures, and the doctors said that she was lucky to be alive. After three weeks, she was allowed to return home, and it took her nearly a year to fully recover. “If I hadn’t had my phone with me that day, I have no doubt that I would have died on that ledge,” Sandi reflected. “People criticize tourists who upload too many holiday snaps on to Facebook—but this one saved my life.”
In 2013, an 18-year-old girl from New Jersey posted on Tumblr that she was about to kill herself. This post followed a series of posts relating to depression and suicide, but those posts were met with little concern, and at some points, her account was even harassed online. This girl, who will remain anonymous, seemed to have given up all hope, and shortly after posting her suicidal message, she swallowed an entire bottle of pills. Luckily, a guardian angel was looking over this demoralized Tumblr user in the form of 18-year-old Jackie Rosas, who lived in California. Jackie had been following the girl’s Tumblr for some time, and when she saw the post where the girl threatened to commit suicide, she immediately contacted the suicide hotline, who directed her to her local police.
The police conducted an extensive search in which they found the girl’s Twitter account, which led them to find her hometown in Union Township, New Jersey. After being contacted by the police in California, the Union Township police were able to find the girl in time to get her to the hospital, and she was eventually able to recover. Rosas lived roughly 4,300 kilometers (2,700 mi) away from the girl she saved, but due to the power of social media, Jackie was able to be the thread that kept the girl tethered to life, which is a very powerful thing.
In April 2014, a 59-year-old woman named May Goldberg walked out of her New York City apartment and did not return. May suffered from severe dementia, making this an even more dangerous situation. Her son, Josh Goldberg, searched all around the city and failed to find her. The NYPD, as well as a variety of other missing persons associations, joined in the search, to no avail. Desperate for a solution, Josh turned to Reddit and posted in r/nyc, asking if anybody had seen his mother. He described her physical characteristics in great detail as well as the clothes that he believed she was wearing.
Miraculously, after only a few hours, a fellow Redditor by the name of geryorama saw May wandering through the city streets. Geryorama had seen Josh’s post earlier and checked back to confirm that the woman that he saw was indeed May. Upon finding her, the heroic Redditor sent Josh a personal message that his mother had been found and brought May to a hotel lobby, where the receptionist contacted the police. Josh was thrilled that the power of the Internet helped rescue his mother, and geryorama was rewarded with over 16,000 upvotes and 23 months of Reddit Gold for his good deed.
In January 2010, the Caribbean nation of Haiti was rocked by a devastating earthquake. Dan Woolley, an aid worker, was in the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince when it began to collapse. Woolley quickly found himself trapped alone under the crushed remains of the hotel. He was bleeding from both his head and leg, but he remained calm and found a quick solution. “I had an app that had pre-downloaded all this information about treating wounds. So I looked up excessive bleeding and I looked up compound fracture,” Woolley recalled. The app, called “Pocket First Aid & CPR” by Jive Media, relied on information from credible sources such as the American Heart Association, giving Woolley confidence that he was getting quality instructions.
Following the instructions on his phone, Woolley used his shirt to bandage up his leg and then tied the belt around the shirt to keep it secure. It then occurred to him that the earthquake might have caused him to go into shock. The app warned him that he should not go to sleep if he is dealing with shock, so Woolley set the alarm on his phone to go off every 20 minutes to keep him awake. After more than 60 hours of this sleepless, painful state, a rescue team finally pulled Woolley from the rubble and into safety. Reflecting on the incident, Woolley said that his phone “was like a high-tech version of a Swiss Army knife that enabled me to treat my own injuries, track time, stay awake and stay alive.”
JJ Grover is a writer from the Chicago area. He also enjoys activities such as cooking, golfing, and photography.