Coming Home – Methodist assists Lafollette man after post-COVID double lung transplant

A bout with COVID-19 turned into a long and harrowing journey that included a double lung transplant. Zach Lloyd held onto his faith and the hope of going home to his family in LaFollette.

When Zach Lloyd, 38, was recovering from a double lung transplant in a Nashville hospital, two things kept the LaFollette pastor motivated on the most difficult days. He clung to his faith in God and the hope that one day he might be able to go home.

A text message from an extended family member opened a door to the better life that awaited him. Mandi Hammac, RRT, a registered respiratory therapist at Methodist Medical Center Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation in Oak Ridge, and she is Lloyd’s third cousin.

“Knowing that Methodist Medical Center was the closest pulmonary rehab to LaFollette, I texted him and told him that I knew of a great pulmonary rehab center with a great respiratory therapist,” Hammac jokes.

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at Methodist Medical Center uses a multidisciplinary approach to help people with lung conditions through supervised exercise, education on respiratory care, oxygen therapy, smoking cessation programs, nutritional counseling and psychosocial support. Treating patients like family is something Hammac does every day at Methodist, and treating family with excellent care and professionalism was something she was glad to do for her cousin.

“I was also able to hear a lot of what he went through from his perspective,” Hammac says. “It was such a relief to see him and I was excited to see how much progress he was going to make.”

Devastating Illness

After contracting COVID-19 in October 2020, Lloyd stayed in three hospitals for a total of seven months. He has no memory of October, November or most of December.

“When I woke up, the first conversations I had with the doctors and nurses were about a double lung transplant,” he says. The lung transplant was performed in January 2021. Lloyd was weaned off the ventilator and began to breathe on his own. “The part I wasn’t fully prepared for was that I had lost so much body mass that I couldn’t move,” he says.

Physical therapists helped him relearn the basic skills of standing on his own two feet and walking. “When I left, I was going 10 minutes on the treadmill, but after five minutes, every five minutes, I had to take a break to regain my composure and my breath,” Lloyd says.

“We’ve had a considerable number of post-COVID patients who have developed problems with their lungs and heart because of COVID,” Hammac says. “It’s a scary thing to not be able to breathe.”

Rehab Road to Recovery

When Zach Lloyd returned to East Tennessee he was reunited with his cousin, Mandi Hammac, RRT, a registered respiratory therapist at Methodist Medical Center. She helped Lloyd regain strength and endurance through cardiopulmonary rehabilitation.

Back in Oak Ridge after an initial assessment at Methodist Medical Center Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, Hammac took Lloyd through a series of specially designed exercises to measure his ability. A personalized program was then developed to meet his needs.

“We slowly build endurance and we build confidence,” Hammac says. “It’s a gradual process over time.” Lloyd’s oxygen level and heart rate were monitored closely and measured between exercises. His hard work paid off.

“Since I’ve been here you can tell the improvement because I can go 30 minutes on the treadmill – I could go more – and the speed is double or more,” says Lloyd. “It’s really been amazing.”

The increased strength and endurance has translated into a restored quality of life for Lloyd.

“I can tell a big difference,” he says. “I don’t wear out as easily as I used to.”

Faith for the Fight and Family

Zach Lloyd is finally home with his wife Sara and their two children, Lily and Titus. Cardiopulmonary rehab at Methodist helps him make the most of his time with them.

His prayer today is that he and his family can take the many blessings they have received and pass them on, being an encouragement to others. “Have something that you can hold onto and cling to. Just fight for those things every day. It can be a struggle, but have hope that things are going to get better,” Lloyd says.

As Hammac continues to use her knowledge and expertise to guide patients through cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, she’s grateful for the recovery of her cousin, and grateful she’s been able to be a part of it.

 “I think I’ve got the greatest job in the world just because you get to experience things like this. It’s a very satisfying reason to come in to work,” Hammac says.

To learn more, talk with your doctor about a referral to Methodist’s cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program or call (865) 835-5234.

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