A man was about to undergo a heart transplant. A string of canceled flights during a winter storm meant the heart had to go to someone else


An Alaskan man with congestive heart failure says he missed a chance to get a new heart for Christmas when last week’s winter storm battered much of the United States, killing thousands flight cancellations.

Patrick Holland, 56, had only been on the transplant list for a few weeks when he said he received a call Thursday from the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, telling him that a matched donor had been found, and he was gonna have a heart.

Holland ran to the airport with his brother to catch a flight from Fairbanks, Alaska to Seattle only to learn it had been canceled. Airline employees were able to secure him a seat on another plane after learning of his situation, but due to wintry weather, that flight was diverted to Anchorage and his subsequent flights were also cancelled.

« I looked at my brother and said, ‘I know I lost him, I know I lost him,' » Holland said.

Moments later, he learned that the heart would go to someone else. “I thought to myself, hey, someone else is going to have a Christmas miracle,” Holland said.

Severe winter weather conditions have hit the Pacific Northwest hard in recent days. The ice caused the runways at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to close, and nearly half of flights to and from the airport were canceled on Friday according to FlightAware.

And driving to Seattle wasn’t really an option.

Fairbanks is approximately 2,145 miles from Seattle. While a flight there typically lasts around three and a half hours, the drive can take around 39 hours – if driven non-stop in optimal weather and road conditions. There are also two border checkpoints between the two.

Holland said he suffered a « massive heart attack at age 29 », as well as a series of heart complications since then. Being on the transplant list gives Holland a chance to get a new organ.

“Each phase asks a lot of you,” he said, adding that it had an impact on how he interacted with his children.

Holland said that just a few months ago he could chase his kids a bit, these days it’s not that easy.

“Now I can’t chase them for more than 30 seconds, then my heart starts beating like it’s coming out of my chest. And then if I keep going, I’m going to be shocked by my defibrillator,” Holland said.

Waiting for an organ transplant is not the same as “taking a number and waiting your turn,” according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

« The waiting list is best described as a giant pool of patients, » the site says. “When a deceased organ donor is identified, the UNOS computer system generates a ranked list of transplant candidates suitable to receive each organ. UNOS connects people awaiting life-saving transplants with compatible donor organs. »

Organs require specific preservation methods to remain viable. For hearts and lungs, the maximum shelf life for organs can be about four to six hours, while kidneys can range from 24 to 36 hours, the organization said.

Holland was in his Fairbanks store on Wednesday, greeting customers as they arrived, asking if they were « living the dream. »

Holland says his dream is to be able to follow his seven children, aged 36 to 3 years old. He also looks forward to spending time with his 17-year-old wife, Haley, who runs a Facebook page dedicated to her husband’s trip.

The most recent post on the site sheds light on the journey of the transplant.

“We aim to be better prepared for the second call,” the post said. “The first arrived in two and a half weeks. The next one could arrive at any time, or it could take weeks or months.

And Holland echoes that message, saying he plans to find a place to temporarily move to Seattle soon so he’ll be ready once his name is called.

For now, what keeps him going is his family, his community and his faith.

« It was scary, it was exciting, it was sad, » Holland said, adding that he remains hopeful because « I know in the end where I will be no matter what. »

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