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By Crystal Staffney
I want to share with you, my beloved sister Keisha Latrese Staffney’s, story. It is important to me, to our family, and all who knew Keisha. However, her story will have far more impact on more lives than we or Keisha herself could have fathomed.
Picture the year 1997. At the ripe age of five years old, Keisha was diagnosed with Type One Juvenile Diabetes. Our mother was heartbroken. But that didn’t stop her from instantly grabbing her cape and transforming into superwoman. Mama worked tirelessly to manage Keisha’s diabetes and lovingly integrated its management into our lives – making it feel normal. By the time I was 12, Mama had taught me how to check my sister’s blood sugar status and administer insulin. By the time Keisha was six, she could do it all for herself.
Step forward now to May 2016. Keisha was only 23, and a mother to her two precious daughters, 4-year-old Londyn & 2-year-old Lauryn. Her life was full and busy! Yet, kidney issues had been plaguing Keisha and visits to her Endocrinologist had been regular for the previous 6 months. The doctor struggled to determine the cause of her chronic headaches, high blood pressure, and inconsistent blood sugar readings. While the doctor was searching for answers, on May 3, Keisha suffered a severe heart attack and stroke in the same week. Then came
the devastating diagnosis of heart, cardiovascular, and kidney disease. We were all shell-shocked. After Keisha’s discharge from the hospital, she immediately began physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (RIM) and a new Endocrinologist was found.
Keisha had always been a fighter – nothing had changed. She faced each medical issue that attacked her and fought back twice as hard. She was a title-fight winner of many battles! To her credit, after a month and a half at RIM, Keisha regained enough strength to enjoy her welcome home party!
The sad reality for Keisha at this point was dealing with multiple conditions, which required a long list of medications. Keisha was prescribed a staggering 17 pills a day. As strange as it was to watch her swallow a handful of pills, her heart and kidney health did improve (although it was not consistent) for almost three years. Despite her health being up and down, Keisha certainly made the most of every day she was afforded, in true Keisha spirit! Those years flew by and all too soon she faced a new challenge as her heart health declined again and coronary artery disease was added to her growing list of conditions.
It’s now March 2019. A blockage has been detected in Keisha’s heart. Her Cardiologist recommended an outpatient procedure to address the issue. Within hours of the procedure Keisha experiences complications. Her status was instantly upgraded to inpatient as she fought for her life. She suffered multiple heart attacks, numerous strokes (caused by blood clots in the back of her skull), and two seizures: all in a six-week period. We never imagined such an extreme eventuality could arise from an outpatient procedure. We had not been forewarned. No one was prepared.
We watched helplessly as Keisha’s almost lifeless body was rushed into emergency surgery. Each time her life was tested; Keisha fought and by the grace of God she thankfully pulled through! Her discharge from hospital took time – her recovery took longer. The challenge was met by Keisha head-on with her loving family at her side.
On February 18, 2020, Keisha was rushed to hospital. She had been experiencing serious diabetic-related issues, including extremely high blood sugar levels. Coincidently, the day after her hospital admission, she experienced an allergic reaction to one of the heart medications she’d been taking since 2016. The reaction was severe and sudden, causing her airways to close, and her tongue and face to swell. Keisha was placed on a ventilator. The following day, emergency surgery was performed. After the procedure the doctors
informed us, that one side of Keisha’s vocal cords were now paralyzed, without providing a clear explanation. While we had clearly been taken off-guard by these events, the situation was accentuated when the doctors also told us, that Keisha needed a tracheostomy. After receiving both sets of devastating news, we were no longer confident. We feared the tracheostomy could also have an unsuccessful outcome. There was nothing else to do – we needed a second opinion. Immediately, we decided to move Keisha to another hospital, and there she remained intubated for a further three weeks. Her cuff leak test (used to measure airway volume) results were consistently poor. The new doctors recommended the tracheostomy be performed. It was, leaving Keisha with another new condition to adjust to.
As a family, we had faced many uncertain and heart-breaking moments up until that point. As painful as the experience had been, it was nothing compared to not being allowed into the hospital to see Keisha, when the COVID-19 outbreak hit. All I can exclaim is, “thank God for FaceTime!” Because it felt like our savior, for with it we maintained connection with Keisha. She could not talk, but with FaceTime that was not an issue. It afforded us long visits that allowed her to feel as though, she was interacting with us at home, for as long as we wanted to. Most days and nights, we’d fall asleep together before ending the call. Those calls were our comfort, and a lifeline for Keisha, they gave her the strength to focus on her recovery amidst the pandemic.
A month or so later, Keisha’s doctors advised she needed to be transferred to a nursing home for trachea care and therapy. It was imperative therapy start immediately. The COVID-19 restrictions limited our options; we accepted the best placement offered to us. The 48 hours that followed were a nightmare. The nursing home staff failed to reinstate Keisha’s blood sugar levels when they dropped dangerously low.
A lack of service provision, access to fresh food, and appropriate liquids for diabetics, caused Keisha’s overall health to deteriorate quickly. Despite her emergency transfer back to hospital only two days later, she’d developed bronchitis. The situation was dangerous.
I desperately wanted Keisha to return to the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (RIM). I felt sure she would be taken care of; she would be safe there. However, COVID-19 restrictions didn’t allow the transfer of patients without testing and full quarantine while waiting for the results. Unfortunately, RIM was not equipped to provide accommodation for patients to quarantine. With heavy hearts, we, as a family, found Keisha a new nursing home based on the options provided by the hospital.
It was incredibly difficult for us to accept the situation. I tried a second time to have Keisha accepted to RIM. After her assessment, however, it was determined that RIM’s rehabilitative program would be far too intensive for Keisha in her current state. Less than four days later, our beloved Keisha passed away.
I am so intensely proud of Keisha’s fight! She endured almost 90 emergency visits and or admissions into the hospital in a four-year period. Despite extraordinary obstacles, she held on for as long as she could; for herself, for her daughters, for her family. We all miss her dearly, but we know with complete faith she is with God now and resting peacefully.
Keisha had a gorgeously large personality that filled us all with love and joy! Everyone who knew her, loved her. She was the life of every party – even when wearing her Life-Vest and accessorizing insulin pump – she looked as fine as wine. Despite, what could have obviously held her back, she was determined to live life to the fullest, just like everyone else around her. Keisha was dedicated to her daughters Londyn & Lauryn, whom she adoringly referred to as “my queens”. Our family now strives to fill the immense void left by Keisha’s departure and to honor her memory. We will always take care of all that Keisha held dear.
At the core of Keisha’s story, we find her heart, and from her heart, a new fight was born. A fight, to create awareness for heart and cardiovascular disease, to provide essential support programs, and to take preventative action! I have heard the call to fight and on behalf of my sister, I will answer the call, and in her honor the “From Keisha’s Heart to Yours”, a nonprofit organization has been created.
Welcome to our family. Keisha’s heart now beats with yours!