An Alaska man with congestive heart failure says he missed out on a chance to get a new heart for Christmas when last week’s winter storm battered much of the US, leading to thousands of flight cancellations.
Patrick Holland, 56, had only been on the transplant list for a few weeks when he said he got a call from the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, on Thursday telling him that a donor match had been found, and he was going to get a heart.
Holland raced to the airport with his brother to catch a flight from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Seattle only to learn it was canceled. Airline workers were able to secure him a spot on another plane after learning of his situation, but due to winter weather, that flight got rerouted to Anchorage, and his following flights got canceled as well.
“I looked at my brother and said, ‘I know I’ve lost it, I know I have,’” Holland said.
Moments later, he learned the heart would go to someone else. “I figured, hey someone else is going to get a Christmas miracle,” Holland said.
Harsh winter weather conditions heavily impacted the Pacific Northwest in recent days. The ice caused runways at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to close, and nearly half of flights going into and out of the airport were canceled on Friday according to FlightAware.
And driving to Seattle wasn’t really an option.
Fairbanks is about 2,145 miles from Seattle. While a flight there typically takes about three-and-a-half hours, driving can take about 39 hours – if it’s driven nonstop in optimal weather and road conditions. There are also two border checkpoints in between.
Holland said he experienced a “massive heart attack at 29,” as well as a series of heart-related complications since then. Being on the transplant list allows Holland a chance at getting a new organ.
“Each phase takes a lot from you,” he said, adding that it’s impacted the way he interacts with his children.
Holland said while just a few months ago he would be able to chase his children for a little bit, these days it’s not as easy.
“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,” Holland said.
Waiting for an organ transplant isn’t the same thing as “taking a number and waiting your turn,” according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
“The waitlist is better described as a giant pool of patients,” the site said. “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.”
Organs require specific methods of preservation to remain viable. For hearts and lungs, the maximum organ preservation time can be around four to six hours, while kidneys can range from 24 to 36 hours, the organization said.
On Wednesday, Holland was at his store in Fairbanks, and greeting customers as they came in, asking them if they are “living the dream.”
Holland says his dream is to be able to keep up with his seven children, spanning ages from 36 to 3 years old. He also is looking forward to spending time with his wife of 17 years, Haley, who runs a Facebook page dedicated to her husband’s journey.
The most recent post on the site highlights the transplant journey.
“We aim to be more prepared for the second call,” the post said. “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.”
And Holland is echoing that message, saying he plans to find a place to temporarily relocate to in Seattle soon so he will be ready once his name is called.
For now, what’s keeping him moving forward is his family, community and faith.
“It’s been scary, it’s been exciting, it’s been sad,” Holland said, adding that he remains hopeful because “I know in the end where I’m going to be no matter what.”