Long Island

A COVID-19 Survivor's Story After Ventilator Damage Causes Breathing Problem

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A COVID-19 survivor had an emotion reunion Tuesday with the team of New York medical professionals who saved her but it wasn't the only virus that she had to overcome.

When Sherelle White of Valley Stream beat COVID-19 in May, she thought she was going home from Mather Hospital on Long Island for good. Straining to speak louder than a whisper, the 55-year-old mother told reporters, "Once I came home, it still was very difficult to breathe." So her doctor sent her to a specialist.

Showing a photo of what White's windpipe looked like before a procedure that saved her life, Dr. David Zeltsman said, "Sherelle was breathing through a straw practically. As you can see it from the side, and this is before the surgery, it's not much airflow."

It's a complication from an extended period of time on a ventilator, according to doctors. White was hospitalized for COVID-19 on April 3, and one week later, she was intubated. She was on the ventilator until April 24, when also suffered from acute renal failure and was placed on dialysis three times a week.

On top of that, White has severe asthma. It was her pulmonologist, Dr. Arthur Trust, who diagnosed her with upper airway obstruction, according to the hospital.

After Dr. Trust referred White to Dr. Zeltsman, she was able to received a reconstruction surgery on Aug. 12, which allowed her to breathe better. The surgery involved a short section, approximately 3 centimeters, of White's windpipes being removed and the cut ends stitched back together. The results were immediate.

"Then I discovered I was able to breathe a hundred percent better than what I was before surgery," White said.

The life-saving surgery was a sort of a Christmas gift for her family, said White's partner Maggie Raabe.

"She has so much more freedom now and is able to be out and about," Raabe said. Together, they celebrated White's son's birthday.

White's journey is far from over. She still uses oxygen to help her breath and her voice doctor says it could take six months for her voice to heal. While White recovers, she has a message for those who aren't taking COVID seriously.

"After everything I've been through, I know it's nothing like the flu and yes, you should be afraid of it," she said.

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