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'It was an awful experience' | Charlotte woman battles COVID-19 for months

Despite being as careful as possible, she still got COVID-19. She warns more people need to get vaccinated to stay safe.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — COVID-19 metrics are continuing to head in the right direction as more people in North Carolina decide to get vaccinated. The latest data shows 8.7 million doses of the vaccine have been given in the state and 45% of the population is at least partially vaccinated.

But health experts warn there is still virus in the community and the Delta variant is more contagious and severe. With fewer people wearing masks and many returning to their normal activities, health experts say those who are unvaccinated are still at risk of getting sick.

RELATED: CDC: Delta variant expected to be dominant in US

Michelle Drohan feels lucky to have made it to her 38th birthday. After a months-long battle with COVID-19, she has a desperate plea for others.

Drohan had the thought many people do, she’s young and otherwise healthy. She figured if she got COVID-19, it’d just be like the flu.

“Never in a million years did I think if I got COVID would I be sitting here telling you this story,” Drohan said.

But something like the flu was not her experience.

“The sickness, the pain was unbearable, the body aches were unbearable, the fever. Not being able to breathe, having cannulas stuck up my nose for months,” she said.

She did everything right and took every possible precaution when she drove to New York in January to visit her dying grandfather. She doesn't regret the trip, but somehow, she still got the virus. Her symptoms were so severe, she was hospitalized hundreds of miles from home.

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“At one point in time I had a thought of my family planning my funeral," Drohan said. "It was an awful experience."

After nine days in the hospital in New York, she was flown back to Novant Health and eventually sent home on oxygen. Days later she woke up in excruciating pain and had to back to the hospital. Her doctors found blood clots in her legs and lungs.

Now, four months after getting sick, she says she’s finally off of oxygen, back to work at Novant Health and feeling like herself again.

But she has a warning for others.

“Nobody is invincible to this virus. Nobody. It doesn't matter who you are. If you believe in it, you don't believe in it,” Drohan said. “It’s out there and it affects everybody’s body differently."

As vaccination rates lag nationwide, she wishes more people would understand just how important that protection is.

“Please get vaccinated, please," she said. "You just don't know. You may not get it, but you could be the carrier to someone who could get it, somebody else’s loved one."

Novant Health's vaccination site in east Charlotte is open Monday through Friday and there are plenty of other places across Mecklenburg County to easily get a shot. It is free and anyone 12 and older is qualified.

The first $1 million cash drawing is on Wednesday.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.