Front line nurse saved from COVID-19, receives double lung transplant from UF Health Shands

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 5:49 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - It doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, male, or female-- the COVID-19 virus has claimed the lives of people from all walks of life, and that was almost the case for one front-line nurse.

Jill Holker was wheeled into UF Health Shands hospital, dying from COVID-19 but after major surgery, and months of rehab and recovery, Friday she finally was sent home.

The hallways of the UF Health Heart and Vascular hospital were lined with nurses, surgeons, and other staff members waiting to congratulate Holker on her release.

The lobby was quiet, as they excitedly waiting for Holker to take her final steps out the door, and when she finally appeared they couldn’t hold back their cheers.

The Utah nurse was diagnosed with COVD-19 back in Nov., and within a week she had to be admitted to the ICU.

It got so bad that she had to be transferred across the country to UF Health Shands, where she would ultimately receive a double lung transplant.

She is one of only 12 COVID patients to receive the surgery at UF Health Shands, and spent 45 days fighting the virus before she was assigned a pair of donor lungs.

Related story: UF Health one of few hospitals to complete COVID-19 related double lung transplants

“Without the transplant, she would have not been able to live. She was that sick,” Medical Director of the UF Lung Transplant Program, Andres Pelaez said.

Friday afternoon, Holker received a send-off that brought her to tears.

Charge Nurse on Unit 87, Jessica Casey, looked after Holker during her time at the hospital and helped organize her farewell gathering.

“She is so loved, so loved. She’s so sweet She goes above and beyond, even in her worst times, she was so kind and caring and she was going through so much, she’s just grace, all in one,” Casey said.

For this active marathoner, she said she’s received a second chance at life.

“I had no underlying health conditions at all. I ran, I worked out, I worked full time, I didn’t take any medications, and it hit me to the point where they called my daughter to tell her to think about withdrawing care,” Holker said.

And the first thing she’ll do is, “Take a deep breath. It’s a whole new life,” she said.

She said she’ll also be making time for a meal at her favorite Mexican restaurant when she gets back home to Utah.

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