COVID-19 survivor receives double lung transplant at UF Health

A COVID-19 survivor has received a double-lung transplant at UF Health. It’s one of only a handful of hospitals in the country doing the procedure.

As an ICU nurse herself and a marathoner, Jill Hansen Holker knew something was wrong back in October when she could no longer run.

"My oxygen levels just kept dropping to the point where my daughter made me go to the ER," said Holker.

The unthinkable had happened. She had COVID-19, and despite no underlying health issues, she had it so bad that she was put on a ventilator.

"They were shocked, just shocked yeah. Because you never think that you’re going to take care of one of your own," said Holker.

After weeks of no improvement, she was transferred to another hospital and then finally to UF Health, where ultimately doctors reached the last resort. Holker needed a double lung transplant.

"There’s a small number of patients that they will do better with a single lung. But most of the patients benefit from a double lung," said UF Health Chief of Thoracic Surgery Dr. Tiago Machuca.

UF Health has become known for its double lung transplants for COVID patients. They have done 12 so far and have three more people undergoing evaluation right now. The nearly ten-hour surgery involves about eight to ten doctors.

It typically takes two months of preparation for the patient and more than a month for recovery, but not for Holker.

"She was in our hospital, doing flights of stairs while recovering from a double lung transplant. She was so determined. She was so strong mentally and physically that she left the hospital in less than a month," said Dr. Machuca.

She hopes to get back home to Utah and back to her normal life with a fresh set of lungs.

"It’s a long process that I had to go through and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody."

But at least she came out of it alive.

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