‘I can breathe normal,’ Nebraska COVID-patient feels good after double lung transplant

OMAHA — Jake Immink is back on the move.

The 31-year-old rancher from south of Fairbury is more accustomed to using a horse to accomplish his daily goals than a walker, but given what he’s been through, he’s happy to be walking at all.

“I’ve been lucky to be alive since December 1," Immink said. "There were a couple times where doctors told my family I probably wouldn’t make it through the night. It’s exciting to be here today, exciting to feel normal.”

Jake has been hospitalized for five months. Severe COVID-19 turned into end-stage lung disease. His prognosis was spending the rest of his life on a ventilator, likely in a nursing home… unless he got new lungs.

“That type of prognosis is not what you want to think about at that age and that’s why I felt that it was time to talk about the concept of a transplant,” Pulmonologist Dr. Bill Johnson said.

Jake moved from Bryan West in Lincoln to Nebraska Medicine in Omaha. In order to qualify for a transplant, he needed to lose weight and get in better physical condition - a tough task with bad lungs.

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

He dropped the weight, and became the first COVID-related double-lung transplant patient in the state. A few weeks later, he’s graduated from the walker and feels great.

“Every single day post surgery, I feel better than I did since October 18th I guess," Immink said. "I can breathe normal, I can breathe deep. It’s just incredible.”

Jake hopes he’s able to leave the hospital soon. As that opportunity approaches, he’s been reflecting on the countless medical staff and others who have helped in his recovery, including one special family.

“I want to thank the donor and their family with giving me a gift of life again," Immink said. "I appreciate it so much and every donor that’s out there. Without the donor, I wouldn’t be here today.”

The family has a GoFundMe account set up to help with Jake's medical expenses.