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Surgeon, transplant team go the distance inside and outside the hospital

IU Health Methodist Hospital

Surgeon, transplant team go the distance inside and outside the hospital

He performed the first lung transplant related to complications from COVID-19. When he’s not laser focused on operating room procedures, this surgeon is taking part in adventure races.

By IU Heath Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

When Kevin Lloyd was in ICU a year ago, he complimented Dr. Chad Denlinger on his Smart watch. It was a minor exchange that turned into something memorable for Lloyd.

At the time, Lloyd, 61, was the first IU Health patient to receive a lung transplant resulting from complications of COVID-19. Dr. Denlinger is Chief of Thoracic Surgery at IU Health Methodist Hospital and Indiana University and Surgical Director of the Lung Transplant Program at IU Health.

“Dr. Denlinger and Dr. Kashif Saleem tag teamed for my surgery,” said Lloyd. Dr. Saleem is also a thoracic surgeon. The two doctors have something else in common – they joined other members of IU Health’s transplant team last year for a four-hour adventure race. Other team members included clinical transplant coordinators Ken Lemler and Brenda Kowinski, and physician assistant Sarah Caudill.

That one simple exchange about a Smart watch opened up a whole conversation between Lloyd and Dr. Denlinger.

“He may not have even known how much it meant to me. It was at a time in my life where I was scared and I wanted to talk about something other than my health,” said Lloyd. “Immediately Dr. Denlinger started sharing stories of his adventure racing and how he uses the watch for competitions. “

Lloyd was transplanted on Feb. 14, 2021. Married 40 years to his wife, Debbie, he is the father to two adult children. That surgery has given him a new lease on life – including becoming a grandparent for the first time to a baby girl.

“Until my transplant became an option, we were talking about end of life. I can’t say enough about IU Health and the transplant team. You can look up every ‘great’ word in the dictionary and that describes Dr. Denlinger. His bedside manner is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Lloyd. “I told him when I was in ICU that I’d like to give him a hug but I thought I’d never let go.”

The past year has been filled with highs and lows for Lloyd. He remains off work as an aircraft maintenance manager, to protect his health. He recently returned to IU Health for heart surgery and every day works to build up his strength and endurance.

For Dr. Denlinger, adventure racing is a way to build his own strength and endurance. It’s also a way to maintain work-life balance. He joined IU School of Medicine as Professor of Surgery in 2020 after practicing for 22 years in South Carolina. Dr. Denlinger grew up in Ohio and graduated from the Ohio State School of Medicine in 2000. He then completed his general surgical residency at the University of Virginia and thoracic surgical fellowship at Washington University.

On the month of Lloyd’s one-year transplant anniversary, Dr. Denlinger completed a three-day Sea-to-Sea Race, the largest expedition race in America. For 72 hours, this non-stop race took him from Florida’s West Coast to East Coast. In survivor-type fashion, contestants were dropped off at a secret location where and raced on foot, mountain bike, and canoe.

“The entire course is self-navigated where racers are given maps that include locations of checkpoints hidden somewhere in the middle of a forest or swamp,” said Dr. Denlinger, who has competed in 20 events. “Racers and teams are ranked according to the number of checkpoints they are able to find. GPS devices are forbidden. Bikes are allowed to have odometers but measuring distance while trekking or paddling requires knowing your pace and a stopwatch.

“Physical activity is important because our personal health depends heavily upon how well we take care of ourselves through personal choices regarding nutrition, exercise, weight-maintenance and tobacco,” he said.

As a surgeon he says he enjoys meeting patients with all types of conditions and talking with them about their treatment options.

And when he’s on his adventure courses he says: “Everyone in these races is fairly competitive, but we are also great friends working together to fend off the sleep monsters and rail against the sadistic creatures that set up the course.”

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