Flying over the holiday weekend proved to be a nightmare for lots of Americans. Southwest Airlines and Spirit canceled thousands of flights in the span of a few days, trapping travelers in airports and hotel rooms. The cancellations were caused by a major winter storm and staffing issues, making it nearly impossible for planes to get off the ground.
Patrick Holland, a father of seven who suffers from congestive heart failure, was planning to fly from Alaska to Washington to receive a heart transplant. He had only been on the transplant list for a few weeks when the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle called him last Thursday to tell him they found a match.
“It was terrifying news to hear that I was going to get a transplant, to be honest with you. I was terrified,” Holland said. “And then I was excited.”
He made it to the airport with his brother only to discover that the airline had canceled his flight. The airline workers were able to get him on another flight due to his situation, but the flight had to be rerouted to Anchorage due to the weather.
“I started to panic,” he said, “and my worst fears were overwhelming me. Because when you hear that, you’re like, there’s somebody donating a heart and I don’t imagine they can wait that long. Because the longer it waits, the longer the tissue decomposes.”
Holland said Alaska Airlines “jumped through hoops” to get him there, but multiple subsequent flights were also canceled. “I know I’ve lost it; I know I have,” he told his brother in the airport.
His worst fear turned out to be true. The hospital called a short while later to tell him that they were going to give the heart to somebody else.
Driving from Fairbanks, AL to Seattle wasn’t an option either. The drive takes around 39 hours even in optimal weather.
Holland experienced a massive heart attack at the age of 29, which left him with severe heart-related complications. “Each phase takes a lot from you,” he told reporters. “Now I can’t chase them around for more than 30 seconds, and then my heart starts pounding like it’s coming out of my chest. And then if I keep going, I’ll get shocked by my defibrillator.”
“The waitlist is better described as a giant pool of patients,” says the United Network for Organ Sharing. “When a deceased organ donor is identified, UNOS’ computer system generates a ranked list of transplant candidates who are suitable to receive each organ. UNOS matches individuals waiting for a lifesaving transplant with compatible donor organs.”
Even though Holland didn’t end up getting the heart that was promised to him, he tried to look on the bright side and focused on celebrating the holidays with his loved ones.
“There is a big part of me that feels like I let them down by not being in Seattle. I blame myself for that part,” he said, adding he didn’t expect to receive a call about a transplant so quickly. He believes the transplant heart wasn’t meant for him and says he is holding out hope that he will get another call.
“We aim to be more prepared for the second call,” he posted on Facebook. “The first one came in two-and-a-half weeks. The next one could come any time, or it could be weeks or months out.”
He is also thinking about finding a temporary home in Seattle, so he will be close by in case another organ becomes available.