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Utah ICU nurse returns home after surviving double lung transplant

Posted at 4:47 PM, Apr 23, 2021

For the first time since December, a Utah intensive care unit nurse is back home in Utah.

Jill Holker has been recovering from a double lung transplant in Florida — her lungs were damaged after she contracted COVID-19.

READ: Utah ICU nurse survives double lung transplant brought on by COVID-19

Holker has been on the front lines caring for COVID-19 patients since the very beginning of the pandemic. Living a very healthy lifestyle, Holker never believed she would become a patient herself.

“It was super weird to be slowly being knocked down,” said Holker.

On Halloween, Holker was running when she realized she couldn’t breathe.

"You hear the cases and you see the people and it’s like, 'That’s not me,'" she said.

It became her reality.

After being hospitalized at the Intermountain Healthcare Hospital in Utah Valley -- with her own coworkers caring for her -- Holker’s conditions did not improve.

X-ray scans revealed severely damaged lungs, and the decision was made that Holker needed to be moved to the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray where more resources were available.

“Her lungs were too far gone from COVID, so the team fought for her to get a lung transplant,” said Holly Pike, a coworker and friend to Holker.

The top place for a lung transplant is in Florida, where Holker was transferred in December.

While at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital, Holker waited nearly two months before a donor became available.

“Mentally, it’s so hard to prep yourself,” she said.

The pain she experienced was overwhelming, but she made it through.

READ: Utah could achieve COVID-19 herd immunity by the end of summer

Four months following her departure, Holker flew into Spanish Fork to the welcoming arms of her three kids, friends, and other family members.

“They’re all bigger! I don’t know how that happened,” she joked.

Tavilee Hansen, the oldest daughter in the family, said she had to become an adult almost instantly when her mother got sick.

“We all have a different outlook on life now,” said Hansen.

Words seemed inadequate to describe the reunion between the siblings and their mother, but Holker said she’s grateful her COVID-19 case turned out the way it did despite how much her life has changed.

“I’m one that believes things happen for a reason, so I’m going to see what it brings,” she said.

Holker wants to return to work in the hospital, but the timeline on that and her full recovery is unknown.