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Help from above? Woman comes back from the brink

Shania Alder, left, is all smiles after coming back from a near-death experience in December. She's sitting next to her mother, Vicki Alder and across from her niece and her sister, Andrea Pollock. Nathan Bowe/Tribune

A Lake Park family says it's a Christmas miracle.

It started Nov. 30, when Shania Alder, 21, slipped into an unexplained seizure that led into a coma and liver failure. She had never had seizures or any serious health problems before.

"I had a 20 percent chance of making it the first day I was in there (Essentia Hospital in Fargo) and the second day I had a 5 percent chance of making it," Shania said.

Shania and her sister, Andrea Pollock, 37, live in Lake Park next door to their mother, Vicki Alder, 60.

Everything seemed normal that day. Her mother had talked to Shania several times in the morning and early afternoon. Her sister was in Moorhead, but an unusual sick feeling caused Andrea to drop her plans and head straight home to Lake Park. Five minutes after she got there, about 3:45 p.m., Shania's seizures started.

"At first, she was not convulsing, just stretched out funny," said Andrea. "I kept threatening to call 911 if she didn't stop it."

She didn't stop it. When the emergency responders got there, she had vomited uncontrollably and was in a fetal position on the couch.

"Right when the cop got there, she started convulsing," Andrea said.

"We couldn't do anything," her mother said. "We waited for the EMS to get there with medication to stop the seizure."

Lake Park ALERT (a group of volunteer EMTs and First Responders) was the first medical team to arrive, followed by St. Mary's EMS, which took Shania by ambulance to Essentia St. Mary's Hospital in Detroit Lakes.

Her mother, who was visiting someone at Essentia Hospital in Fargo, got the news (after 38 missed calls) and rushed to Detroit Lakes. She might as well have stayed where she was—her daughter ended up there a few hours later.

"By the time I got to the (Detroit Lakes) hospital, my pH level was very low, my body was acidic," Shania said.

"Everything was low," her sister added.

Doctors weren't able to determine what triggered the seizures, but they apparently led to a series of increasingly dangerous medical conditions that nearly killed her.

Seizures are among the things that can cause a form of metabolic acidosis, which starts in the kidneys and occurs when they can't eliminate enough acid or when they get rid of too much base, throwing the body's pH level seriously out of whack.

But the family doesn't know for sure what happened. No diagnosis was ever made, Andrea said, but whatever it was was deadly serious—Shania's liver and kidneys started to fail.

"They decided they needed to send her to Fargo," her sister said. "The doctors made it very clear it wasn't good."

"Her liver had failed, and her kidneys shut down to help the liver," her sister said.

"In the beginning, she was losing blood," her mother added. "So many doctors had different opinions..."

By the second day, Shania was failing so fast and her prognosis was so grim that "we as a family decided that people could come to say goodbye to her that night, and they would probably turn off the (respirator) machine," her sister said.

"She had, like, 28 classmates come by in two days, lots and lots of family members and friends, it was unbelievable," her mom said. Out of the blue, Shania took a turn for the better.

In her extremely weakened condition, doctors were afraid dialysis would send her heart into cardiac arrest, but they had to risk it. "She was on four blood pressure meds, the strongest they could give her, to protect her heart," her sister said.

"They did dialysis for 24 hours a day, it never stopped," her mother added.

There was 51 pounds of fluid on her, her sister said.

"Everything was just swollen, huge," Shania said. "I looked at my feet and I couldn't see my ankles."

She was in the hospital for 27 days, in bed for 10 of those days, and there were several close friends and, of course, family that stayed with her constantly.

She was in a coma for days, and she remembers some of it.

People talked to her even though she was not conscious, and her sister told her she'd take her to get her hair done when she got better. "I was so excited, I wanted to go with her," Shania said with a grin.

Her mom believes Shania received a lot of help from above. "It was a miracle,"" she said. "She had a lot of prayer chains going in states all over the country, lots of churches, oh my gosh," she said.

"It was a Christmas miracle, with a twist of a love story," her sister added. Shania's former college boyfriend stayed with her for hours while she was in a coma, and is no longer an ex-boyfriend—they are back together.

Shania is now working on getting her strength back. "She had excellent care, but she's very weak from being in there so long," her mom said. And there are now braces on her once-perfect teeth. She hopes the damage from the respirator can be repaired, or she may lose her front teeth.

But in spite of it all, Shania is downright bubbly.

"My nephews (ages 2 and 3) are so glad I'm back—they follow me everywhere and want me to do everything with them," she said with a laugh.