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Man gets COVID double-lung transplant

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    OMAHA, Nebraska (WOWT) — It’s hard to tell, but at one point this fall, walking for Jake Immink might as well have been climbing a mountain.

In November, COVID-19 struck an entire family in southern Nebraska, and it nearly killed him. Four went to the hospital.

Immink spent 78 days in intensive care, and four months on a ventilator. His lungs were shot. Doctors gave him options: He had months — maybe a year — left.

“We were looking (at), do we put him in a nursing home and let it take its course? Or do we look to another option?” said Dr. Bill Johnson with Nebraska Pulmonary Specialties at Bryan West in Lincoln.

Because the Nebraska rancher is young — he’s 31 years old — doctors felt he was a strong candidate for a double-lung transplant.

Sitting in his hospital room at Nebraska Medicine on Thursday, Immink was finally able to catch his breath and getting stronger every day.

He didn’t immediately agree to the surgery.

“I didn’t want a big scary operation until he finally came out, and I think I asked, ‘What would be the best case and what would be most likely outcome?’ He said best-case was oxygen, but I didn’t want to carry that around — it’s not much of a life. That’s when I changed my tune to the transplant,” Immink said.

Doctors call this a double-lung transplant — a first in Nebraska. It’s a sliver of good news in a year full of the opposite.

“I cannot tell you how hard jake and the physical, occupational and respiratory therapists and nurses worked to make sure he was ready for the transplant,” said Dr. Heather Strah, a transplant pulmonologist at Nebraska Medicine.

It’s not “if” anymore but “when” Immink will go home.

He understands he won’t be able to ride horses for a while. He said that’s what four-wheelers are four.

Grateful for the medical teams who fought for him to stay alive, he also one day hopes to meet the family of his donor.

“Whatever they wish, I would gladly meet them,” he said. “I would love to know the donor’s name. I want to get it tattooed somewhere on my body.”

Living proof of how checking that box on your driver’s license for organ donation makes a difference, he also wants to say “thank you for your sacrifice.”

Immink’s transplant happened in March, and while he could leave the hospital maybe next week, he will need to stay in Omaha for three months of rehab.

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