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Fairbury man becomes Nebraska's first COVID-19 positive double lung transplant recipient

Posted at 6:50 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 19:50:32-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Jake Immink, a cattle rancher from Fairbury, never thought getting up to walk would be a struggle. He was a healthy 31-year-old until he and his family got COVID-19.

His family recovered but he's been in the hospital since November.

“When she looked at my CT scan and said these are the worst lungs I've seen,” Immink said. “That scared me a lot, knowing how many CT scans they had seen.”

He's spent 120 days on a ventilator.

“He was on 100% oxygen,” said Dr. Bill Johnson, a pulmonologist at Nebraska Pulmonary Specialties. “We had him paralyzed, prone-positioned that you hear about...he was on nitrous oxide. He was as sick as you can be and still be able to stay alive.”

He was a fighter, but his recovery plateaued.

“We were looking at going to a nursing home on a ventilator,” said Dr. Johnson. “At the age of 31, that type of prognosis is not what you want to think about at that age.”

After months of being on a ventilator, at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, he was transferred to Nebraska Medicine for a lung transplant. But he had a lot of work to do before the transplant, including losing weight.

“He was walking with 6-8 people around him at all times while on the ventilator on 100% oxygen with low oxygen saturations...because he was not willing to give up,” said Dr. Heather Strah, a transplant pulmonologist at Nebraska Medicine.

That was January — by March he was ready and had been matched with an organ donor.

Only 40 double lung transplants have been done in the nation since the pandemic; Immick is Nebraska's first.

“I feel great!” Immick said. “Every single day post-surgery I feel better than I did since Oct. 28, I guess, the day before I got symptoms. I can breathe normal...I can breathe deep.”

Immick has a long road ahead of him but doctors expect him to be able to return to normal life on his Fairbury cattle ranch.

“I just want to get back to life,” Immick said. “I can't do a lot of things for this first year. But being out on the ranch, that will be exciting again. I can't ride a horse for the first year but there’s four wheelers and stuff I can use.”

If all goes well, he may be able to leave the hospital next week — returning just for rehab.

Immink said if the donor's family is willing, he would love to meet them some day to thank them in person. He also hopes to get a tattoo of the donor’s name.

You can register to become an organ donor online.