More than a year after her near-fatal coma, Shelly Cawley is constantly reminded of the way she almost died – and how her newborn daughter saved her.
The 25-year-old’s new co-workers ask her about it almost every day, because many of them were there during her hospital stay.
The young mother of Concord, North Carolina, just started working as a nurse in the emergency department at Carolinas Healthcare System Northeast, the very same hospital where other nurses worked tirelessly to save her life.
“It’s pretty awesome. I cross paths with some of the people who saved me all the time,” she tells PEOPLE “I have people that come up to me because they know the story and they’re thrilled to see me because nobody thought I was going to live.”
Cawley was in her last semester at nursing school in September 2014 when she had an emergency C-section to deliver her daughter Rylan. Doctors had to put her under and after several hours, they were getting worried that she hadn’t woken up.
“The doctors had done all they could and it was clear, they absolutely thought they were losing her at this point,” Cawley’s husband Jeremy told PEOPLE.
But then a team of nurses stepped in, relying on the power of skin-to-skin contact between a mother and baby. They brought Rylan to her mom’s room, stripped them both and rested the newborn on her mother’s chest.
When the baby let out a wail, Cawley stirred, and ultimately came out of her coma. She spent more than a month recovering, and eventually made it back to finish nursing school.
Cawley started her new job last month and is constantly reminded of how far she’s come.
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“It hits me a lot. I see patients come in the emergency department, some of them critical and on the edge of life and death and I know that was me. You have to take a step back and pray for them and for their family and then live the best life you can,” she says.
For Cawley, that means doting on her 19-month-old daughter.
“She is doing great. I know every parent says this, but she’s the smartest kid! She is learning so much,” the proud mom shares. “There will be times when I look at her and I feel extra emotional and I’ll just say, ‘Mommy loves you. You saved Mommy’s life.’ “