Brunswick County woman reflects on near death experience with COVID-19

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SUNSET BEACH, NC (WWAY) — One woman in the Cape Fear knows all too well what it means to be diagnosed with COVID-19.

Linda Blanchette, 76, is thankful to be alive after a difficult battle with the virus.

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“The chaplain had called my husband and asked to give me last rites,” Blanchette said. “That’s how close I was to not being here.”

The Brunswick County Resident has been undergoing cancer treatments for three years and when she felt short of breath in June, she assumed it was because of stronger treatments.

She quickly found out she had contracted coronavirus and was admitted to Novant Health on June 11, spending 35 days in the hospital.

“I was able to battle through with lots of prayers, great doctors and nurses over there. Constant care, but what I remember is them constantly talking to me, addressing me by name and I think that helped because I wanted to respond even though I couldn’t,” Blanchette said.

She avoided a ventilator, but was put on a machine to help with her breathing.

“The pressure from the air was unbelievable, but needed,” she said.

While Blanchette had a hard time, she says her husband Ray went through it right along with her. Even though she couldn’t speak most of the time, he still called.

“They would put the phone to my ear so I could hear him or they would come in and whisper, ‘he called he said to tell you he loved you,'” Blanchette said.

35 days was a little too long for him to go without seeing his wife of 56 years.

“One day I’m laying in the bed and I look over at the door, the door opened and there stands my husband. He snuck in! He said, “I just had to see you, I just had to see you!” she said. “They caught him, but it was after he got up there.”

Now that she’s home, they don’t have to go without seeing one another but there are lingering side effects.

Blanchette still deals with shortness of breath; numbness and weakness in her hands, which doctors aren’t sure are related to COVID, but say it could be a possibility; and about two and a half months after coming home, she started losing her hair.

“My cancer treatment does not cause hair loss and in researching we found out something called medical shock hair loss.” she said. “So if it happens to people, I just want them to be aware. Don’t be afraid of it, it’s part of the process.”

She urges everyone to take precautions.

“You have to know that anybody can get this. Any age can get this and the severity, you don’t know what it’s going to be,” Blanchette said.

She says her 85-year-old sister also contracted the virus, only spending five days in the hospital as a precaution with no lingering side effects. Her healthy, 48-year-old son also suffered with the virus. He dealt with his symptoms at home, with the help of his father.

Frustrated when she sees people without masks, she says it may be their right to not wear one, but it is her right to be upset.

“If you think it’s a struggle, try trying to breathe in the hospital with a face mask on with forced air,” Blanchette said. “It’s just not worth it.”

Additionally, she hopes people are willing to take the vaccine when it is available.

“Don’t be afraid of the vaccine, you should be more afraid of getting COVID,” she said.

Most of all, she wishes everyone a happy and safe holiday season.

“If we’re all smart enough to do it right this year, next year we won’t have to do it this way,” Blanchette said.

Blanchette also extends a special thank you to blood donors. While in the hospital, she had three blood transfusions to help her fight off the virus.