NEW HYDE PARK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — For Joanne Gracalone, a brush with death has become a life changing event.

“I guess I was pretty dead but I came back,” Gracalone said.

On Dec. 20, the 24-year-old nurse from Levittown collapsed between two cars in a parking lot after a blood clot traveled to her lungs, stopping her heart several times.

1010 WINS’ Al Jones reports

Dr. Michael Graver, who was part of the medical team that saved Gracalone, said the Adelphi University graduate had to be repeatedly resuscitated using chest compressions and drugs.

“On arrival, she was virtually without vital signs,” Dr. Graver said.

The medical team didn’t think Gracalone would make it — she had severe organ failure, internal bleeding, and lung and heart failure. There were also concerns of brain damage.

Doctors immediately began operating on Gracalone, removing clots from the lungs and arteries but after the surgery her breast bone could not be closed because of internal swelling.

Gracalone had to be brought into the intensive care unit with her chest open and dressings covering her heart. Two days later, doctors were able to close her chest.

After a week and half, Gracalone returned home on Jan. 3.

Gracalone’s recovery prompted her medical team to call her their “Christmas Miracle.”

Now, she has been offered a fellowship at Long Island Jewish Medical Center to join the cardiothoracic unit – the place that saved her life.

She hopes to “help people and tell them, ‘I almost died and you’re going to get out of this.’”

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