Jeannie Mai Is 'Frail' & 'Underweight' Following Emergency Epiglottis Surgery
It’s a long road to recovery for Jeannie Mai, who told PEOPLE that she is "frail" and "underweight" following her emergency surgery for epiglottis earlier in the month.
The 41-year-old was forced to withdraw from Dancing With the Stars when she received the life-threatening diagnosis.
Since she has been discharged from the hospital, Mai had to go on a strict diet made up of liquids and could not eat any hot foods, which caused her to lose weight and feel "tired" because she’s "malnourished" now. While Mai was in the hospital, she was fed through a tube and had nurses regularly check in on her to make sure she was breathing.
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Now, Mai can eat solid foods again and "can't wait to get back into the gym to gain back my body and health to conquer my dreams again." However, she still "can’t have bread" but "can eat maybe like porridge or maybe a matzo ball."
It wasn’t just food that was an issue, though. "The hardest part of recovery was going to sleep because when I go to sleep, if you breathe wrong, you get into a coughing fit and it hurt like crazy and it would bleed," she shared. "So sleeping was difficult because you can’t really go into a slumber where you would snore — you couldn’t sleep very heavy."
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"The alarming thing is, I still couldn't breathe afterwards," The Real host recalled. "It was even worse because now — because of extreme surgery, where he had removed my tonsils and also completely cut open the abscess in my throat in order to funnel the liquid out — my throat is swollen."
"My sore throat turned out to be strep throat that quickly turned into a parapharyngeal abscess ... I was breathing like Darth Vader. It was a traumatic experience," she explained. Almost immediately after she was diagnosed — two doctors previously misdiagnosed the condition — Mai was rushed to the ER.
"I was devastated, mortified, upset, I was in tears and I actually fought the doctor to say, ‘Can I just at least compete in this week’s competition?’ because I worked so hard on my Charleston, which was our next dance together with partner Brandon Armstrong,'" she said.
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"I thought maybe I can do the surgery on a Tuesday, take a week to heal, watch the routines virtually and figure it out. But he said, 'Absolutely not.' Because any form of respiratory work — like walking fast, getting excited, laughing — causes the blood pressure to swell in your throat, because that's one of your main pipelines for breathing, and that alone could even erupt or swell them closed more," she continued.
Earlier in the month, Mai’s fiancé, Jeezy, said it had been difficult to get her to rest. "Right after the surgery, she was trying to figure out how to get back on that show," as Mai is "not a quitter," he told her The Real cohosts.
Things are looking up as Mai feels she is around "96 percent better" these days. Although she had to drop out of DWTS, the How Do I Look? host still supported her castmates when she attended the season 29 finale earlier this week.