NEW HYDE PARK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A woman who survived COVID-19 but nearly died from breathing complications got a chance to thank the doctors who saved her Tuesday.

The road to recovery from the coronavirus has been a frightening roller coaster for Shirelle White.

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In April, the 55-year-old from Valley Stream was put on a ventilator twice, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reports.

In May, her progress was celebrated as she was released from rehab. She had beaten the virus but then was faced with a tough new normal.

“It still was very difficult for me to breathe and even talk. It was like a big struggle for me,” White said.

“She was short of breath, but in addition, she could not project her voice at all, was very hoarse,” said Dr. Arthur Trust, a pulmonologist with Northwell Health.


White’s breathing difficulties were diagnosed as a complication of COVID-19. Her trachea was dangerously closing from scar tissue, narrowed to the size of a straw.

Doctors at Northwell Health say it’s from the pressure put on the windpipe when patients are on ventilators or facedown in the prone position.

“If somebody requires prolonged intubation and, even worse, requires prone positioning, all this becomes quite problematic, to say the least,” said Dr. David Zeltsman, the chief of thoracic surgery at LIJ Medical Center.

Surgeons performed a complicated and life-saving operation to remove the scar tissue in August.

She said she felt immediate relief with her airway open.

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“I was able to breathe 100% better than what I was before surgery and I was so happy for that,” White said.

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She’s now sounding the alarm about yet another way COVID-19 can blindside victims.

“After everything I’ve been through, I know it’s nothing like the flu, and yes, you should be afraid of it,” White said.

There will be months and months of recovery still ahead for White, who had to retire from her job and still lives with an oxygen tank.

The Valley Stream mom, though, is grateful to doctors.

On Tuesday, she celebrated her son’s 38th birthday, a day she thought she wouldn’t live to see.

“Happy birthday and Mommy’s glad to be here to celebrate… to celebrate with you,” White said, getting emotional.

And to celebrate life.

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