By Joan Murray

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – When Glenda Preston started having chest pains in February, she thought it could be connected to her anemia.

But when the pain and shortness of breath got worse, she was afraid to go to the emergency room.

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“I was thinking if I go to the hospital, I might get COVID. I thought I should stay home and treat myself as long as possible,” she said.

Even though we are more than a year into the pandemic, and the crisis is more under control, fears linger, especially when it comes to getting emergency medical care in South Florida.

When the situation became dire, Preston said she had her husband take her to Broward Health Coral Springs Medical Center.

“They did a CT scan and found I had multiple blood clots in my lungs,” said Preston. “They told me if I had waited a day longer, I wouldn’t be here.”

Dr. Gay Lai, Chief of Emergency Medicine at the hospital, said he still sees patients putting off care, especially when it comes to heart attacks and stroke.

He said the fear of catching COVID is unfounded because of strict protocols in the emergency room.

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Dr. Lai said when it comes to something as serious as having a stroke, acting quickly is critical.

“We have medication that can help with a stroke but it has to be given within a matter of hours. The sooner the better,” he said.

Treatment delays are especially problematic at South Florida’s five Tenet hospitals which include Hialeah Hospital and Palmetto General Hospital.

“EMS has found from pre-COVID until now there has been a four percent decrease in COVID patients coming to the hospital by ambulance because of fear of illness. That translates to a 16 percent death in the field which we didn’t have before,” said Tenet emergency room Dr. Louis Isaacson.

Tenet CEO Jeff Welch said that’s despite the number of COVID patients dropping from 400 a year ago to under 100 patients now.

“There are separate hospital rooms for COVID patients and we allow visitors to rooms that are not COVID related. That’s at all of our Tenet hospitals,” said Welch.

Preston credits her doctor with saving her life. Her blood clots were treated effectively and she recovered. She has a message for anyone afraid of catching COVID.

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“My advice is to listen to your body when something is wrong.”