CORDOVA, Ala. (WIAT) — The halls of Bankhead Middle School are a little brighter these days after the return of a beloved teacher. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amber Gilliland got sick, but she had no idea she was about to embark on the fight of her life.

They call her the school hero. Amber Gilliland, also known as Mrs. G, is a seventh-grade math teacher at Bankhead Middle School in Cordova. She missed a year-and-a-half of school while battling a long, hard fight with COVID-19. But this year, she is back in the classroom doing what she loves.

She’s been teaching for nine years, but these days it looks a little different. She now uses a microphone to help her students hear her.

A year ago, she never thought she’d be standing in a classroom teaching again.

“I’m happy to be here,” Gilliland said. “I’m very happy to be here.”

She was diagnosed with double COVID pneumonia on January 1, 2021. It was the start to a long road ahead.

“I thought when I went in, they were going to give me some oxygen, and I’d be with my family in a week or two,” Gilliland said. “I had no idea what I was about to go through.”

A week later, on Jan. 7, she was being transferred to Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham and admitted into the hospital there.

“The nurse came in and said ‘You’re about to be put on a vent. If you need to call or say anything to anybody, you need to do that now,'” Gilliland said. “I just prayed as they were putting me under to put a hedge of protection around me and my family because I didn’t know if I’d ever see them again.”

The next four months were a blur.

“I was in a medically induced coma for two months,” Gilliland said. “I ended up developing a MRSA infection inside my lung. My lungs collapsed. I threw two blood clots. I went hypothermic for a little while, and they couldn’t keep me warm. They called my family in to say goodbye,”

She was in the fight of life. For several weeks, she said her health was very touch and go.

“I wasn’t fully awake, but I was thinking in my head, and I was chanting to myself ‘You can do this, you can do this, you’re a fighter,” Gilliland said. “Don’t quit, don’t quit, you can do this.”

She spent four months and six days in the hospital, but she never gave up fighting.

“Anything that could go wrong, did,” Gilliland said. “And everything that had to go right, did.”

When she woke up from the medically induced coma, she was paralyzed but determined to come out on the other side.

“It was never an option for me to give up,” Gilliland said. “I knew I had my family. I knew I had 72 students here at Bankhead. I knew I had two boys at home.”

Bankhead Middle School Assistant Principal Amber Parsons said Gilliland made it clear she wanted to get back to work.

“She was absolutely adamant that she was going to be back in the classroom as soon as possible,” Parsons said.

After a lung surgery, two finger amputations and relearning to walk, Gilliland is now back in the classroom doing what she loves.

“It’s amazing for our students to see someone who could use every reason in the world to just be at home but chooses to come to work and continue to pour into our children’s lives,” Parsons said.

Gilliland said she was overwhelmed by the love and support from her community, her family and her school family.

“When I was in the hospital, they fed my family,” Gilliland said. “The kids brought snacks for my doctors and nurses. I can’t say enough about how this community has supported me. It’s very special.”

Gilliland is still in recovery and figuring out her new normal. She has emphysema and a paralyzed vocal flap. The teacher is still working to bend and straighten her legs and is getting used to functioning without her pointer and middle finger on her left hand. But, as you can see, she is a fighter.

Walker County Schools returned to class for the fall semester Aug. 9, and Gilliland is proud to be able to walk the halls and teach her class once again.