MOORE TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WLVT) - Even after 15 days of physical and mental aggravation from COVID-19, Mayra Alba-Chartier said she wanted to get back to work as soon as she could. With 20 years of experience as a respiratory care practitioner, she said she was ready to help others fight a pandemic that has killed more than 3,000 Pennsylvanians so far.
She said she started experiencing symptoms on April 1, three days after her husband tested positive for COVID-19.
"It first started with a backache, and then, sporadically started escalating into sinus-like tightness on my nose, itchy throat," she explained. "I started with tremendous pain in my bones. I felt like my bones were crushing."
Fever and shortness of breath followed shortly after. She developed what she called a "miracle cocktail" of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and Tylenol, along with using an Albuterol inhaler and nebulizer every three hours.
Alba-Chartier also operates a home business called Salt Cove Wellness, which specializes in halotherapy, also known as salt therapy. Though it's not FDA-approved, Alba-Chartier claims breathing in pure, pharmaceutical-grade Himalayan salt helps alleviate various conditions -- and helped her fight COVID-19.
"I started loosening up. I had a post-nasal drip. Secretion was coming out, and I noticed that it really opened up, and it helped me to breathe a lot easier," she said.
Alba-Chartier admitted there were several days before that when she felt her health was in crisis. At one point, she went to an emergency room in Warren County, New Jersey.
"They did X-rays. It was scary, but I had that fighting spirit -- that this is not going to get me," she said. "I was doing so well on everything and, all of a sudden, this surprised me out of nowhere."
As she fought the virus, she filmed her progress -- even when she was hurting. She posted updates online to share lessons she learned from the pandemic.
"It's not by race. It's not by gender. It's not by social status," she said. "I am a person that my immune system is always in check. I take care of myself. I was taking precaution, and yet it hit me. So, I wanted people to know that it's real."
As her lungs struggled, Alba-Chartier considered making her own breathing tube, if all else failed.
"There was a lot of moments of crying on my part when I was going through it," she recalled. "It was scary. It was scary to the point that I had a moment -- it was a bleak moment that I thought I wasn't going to make it."
She said it’s a virus that attacks the body and the mind, but that her faith in God and her mental strength got her through the toughest times.
"You need to be resilient," she said, "because this is a very hard battle."
As she fully recovered from COVID-19, she went to the doctor to get medically cleared to work again. While Salt Cove Wellness remains closed for now, she went back to her roots in respiratory care. Two weeks ago, she started working at Good Shepherd Specialty Hospital at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Muhlenberg in Bethlehem, helping patients with the virus.
"When I encounter people and I say, 'You can do this,' it’s a way of coaching," she said. "I'm here to help you. I understand exactly what's going on. I'm one of you."
Alba-Chartier said she feels safe going back to work and wants to do even more to help in the fight against the pandemic. She’s donating her plasma, and she’ll get tested for antibodies in two weeks.
She also created a Facebook support group for COVID-19 survivors. She said beating the virus meant dealing with trauma.
"It's gonna take a while to get back to somewhat normalcy, some kind of normalcy," Alba-Chartier said. "Psychologically also, it takes a little toll on you. It can be a little depressing."
She said it was an emotional roller coaster, and she knows other survivors and healthcare workers feel it, too. When Salt Cove Wellness reopens, she's offering free halotherapy sessions for survivors. For healthcare workers, it’s donation only.
It won’t make her much money at all, while she deals with a loan she took out from the Small Business Administration.
"It's kind of going to sound weird, but it's not my priority," she said. "I want to make sure that people that went through what I went through feel supported."
Salt Cove Wellness officially opened a year ago on May 5, 2019. Alba-Chartier said she’ll take her time to reopen when it’s safe to -- and when she does, a ribbon-cutting is in the works to celebrate.