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'It was horrible': Health care worker's near-death experience calls her to encourage vaccines

Tara Jones will admit before her battle with COVID-19, she didn't think it would impact her life and she had no intention to get vaccinated. Now, that's all changed.

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — It took a near-death experience for a Gaston County woman who works for Atrium Health to realize COVID-19 is real and the vaccine is worth taking. Now, she's urging others to do their research and get vaccinated before learning the same lesson the hard way.

As of Tuesday, 47% of North Carolina's eligible population is fully vaccinated, a number top health leaders say is too low as case counts climb again and more people are being hospitalized and put on ventilators again.

Tara Jones was one of those people during last summer's peak, and it completely changed her opinions on the virus and the vaccine.

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It all happened in the blink of an eye.

“One day I was OK and the next day I wasn't," Jones said.

Jones is a practice manager at Atrium Health Gastroenterology and Hepatology – Cleveland. In July 2020, feelings of exhaustion led to trouble breathing and before she knew it she was in the hospital with COVID-19. Just days later, she was told she would be put on a ventilator and was given a moment’s notice to FaceTime her family and say goodbye.

VERIFY: Common COVID-19 vaccine questions

“I was able to tell them that I love them and how happy they made me. I didn't get to decide anything else. I didn't get to cuddle or kiss them,” Jones said.

After 24 days on the ventilator, an emergency tracheotomy and two follow-up surgeries, Jones said she's lucky to be alive.

“There were several times they did not think I was going to pull through,” she said.

Before fighting for her life in the hospital, for months, she doubted just how serious the virus is, and had no intentions to get the vaccine once they were readily available.

Now, that's all changed.

“Why would I risk that again? It was horrible,” Jones said. “Getting COVID was horrible, the vaccine is nothing compared to living that reality and going through the whole COVID experience."

She's urging more people to get the facts about the vaccine from trusted sources. As cases surge again, she's worried someone else will blink and have their life changed forever.

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“Getting the vaccine increases my chances of not dying, of not being put on the vent, of not having to tell my family goodbye. To still be able to be there to financially support my family. COVID can take all of that away in a matter of hours,” she warned.

Jones has her third and hopefully final procedure on her vocal cords this week. Of all the complications she's experienced, she said it's the anxiety and fear of being in that situation again that is the worst.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.