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

Posted at 5:50 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 00:29:28-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A nurse who worked in the intensive care unit at Utah Valley Hospital with Intermountain Healthcare is recovering from a double lung transplant brought on by COVID-19.

Jill Holker and Holly Pike have worked in the ICU unit together for five years.

Since March of 2020, the two nurses have been caring primarily for COVID-19 patients.

They just didn’t expect Holker to become one of them.

“We’d seen really bad things happen with our COVID patients in the past, but when it comes to a loved one, a coworker and COVID all mixed together, it was a lot to take in all at once,” said Pike.

Read: Utahns can now receive vaccine in any county; more age groups eligible

Pike said Holker lived a healthy lifestyle, running several miles a day.

Until one day she couldn’t run, in fact, she couldn’t even make it up the stairs without losing her breath.

After testing positive for COVID-19, Holker monitored her breathing until she realized it was time to go to the hospital.

Holker had started feeling sick around Halloween, but by the first week of November, Holker was admitted to the ICU unit she had worked in.

“You never in a million years, would think this would happen to her and it does,” said Pike.

The x-rays for Holker’s lungs continued to look bad as Pike and her colleagues monitored her.

Even after transferring Holker to the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, doctors determined she would need a double lung transplant.

Read: U of U nursing students get hands-on experience fighting COVID-19 at Urban Indian Center

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

The top place for that is in Florida, said Pike, where Holker was transferred to in December.

While at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital, Holker waited nearly two months before the perfect donor brought her a new breath of life.

Last week, Holker walked out of the hospital for the first time since November, breathing with her new pair of lungs.

The medical team in Florida is one of the many miracles, Pike said, that have come on Holker’s journey.

Read: Doctors concerned over Utahns delaying medical care during pandemic

“She’s still on the road, but she’s getting through it,” said Pike.

Holker will remain in Florida, though out of the hospital, for the next three months while she strengthens her lungs.

There’s a GoFundMe set up for Holker and her three kids, who plan to join their mother in Florida soon.