Fairbury double-lung transplant survivor visits hospital, thanks doctors and nurses

LINCOLN — Jake Immink is back at the hospital… but this time he can take a deep breath.

That’s a major improvement from last November, when the 31-year-old rancher from rural Fairbury checked into Bryan Health in Lincoln with severe COVID-19. Now, he’s thanking the medical staff for getting him through.

“It’s wonderful to see everyone and thank them for saving my life in the beginning there, (when) I probably shouldn’t have made it through,” Immink said.

Immink developed end-stage lung disease. His prognosis was living maybe a year in a nursing home’s chronic ventilator unit. But after more than 70 days in the ICU, Dr. Bill Johnson helped him get accepted to become the state’s first COVID-related double-lung transplant patient. The procedure performed at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha was a success.

“It’s just a very rewarding experience to see him with a smile on his face and walking around looking like he’s normal again,” Johnson said.

Now Immink is more than three months removed from the transplant and is back at his farm near Fairbury. Save for a little sternum pain, he says he feels normal. For that, he credits Johnson.

“Without him, I probably wouldn’t be here today," Immink said. "I hadn’t really teared up talking to anyone  since the surgery or anything about it, but I did tear up talking to him.”

Reuniting with his patient who defied the odds was emotional for Johnson, too.

“I remember when they wheeled him out, I remember telling the nurses that maybe one day he’ll walk back in here," Johnson said. "(It was) just almost hope above hope and to see it actually happen is pretty awesome.”

Immink says he's encouraging everyone, especially rural Nebraskans, to get vaccinated so they can avoid the possibility of severe complications from COVID-19.