ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis man is now alive thanks to an organ transplant team that persevered through incredible odds. That team had the task of transporting a pair of lungs. Little did they know, the weather would get in their way.
“It really felt like minutes to spare. It was very high stakes,” said Dr. Katherine Caldwell.
Caldwell is a resident physician at Barnes-Jewish. She got the call on Jan. 28 to fly up to Chicago to procure a life-saving pair of lungs for one of their dying patients. Caldwell and her team had only six to eight hours to get the lungs back to Barnes. Not only was it a race against the clock – winter weather stood in the way.
“Basically, as we arrive to the airport was when our pilot realized the weather was too bad and we could not fly our small charter plane out of Chicago,” Caldwell said. “I said, ‘Well, are bigger planes flying?’ So, we decided we were going to try to rush over to Midway Airport and see if we could find a flight that would get us to St. Louis and enough time.”
Caldwell’s team then asked Southwest Airlines to do the impossible — get them on the only flight that was leaving that morning.
“I walked up to the counter and told the ticket agent that I’m a doctor, this is a set of human lungs I’m carrying for an organ transplant, and you guys have a flight that leaves at 6:20. I need to be on it,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said she and her team then sprinted through Midway with their scrubs on and with their precious cargo in tow.
“I just kept thinking how valuable what we’re doing is and that I’m not gonna let this not happen,” Caldwell admitted.
Southwest Airlines spokesperson Dan Landson sent a statement saying: “We are happy to play a small role in the overall story and wish the patient a speedy recovery.”
“It was very stressful,” said lung transplant coordinator Beth Albertin.
She said Barnes-Jewish Hospital has one of the best lung transplant programs in the country. She was proud to report the lungs were delivered with minutes to spare.
“This just goes to show that we do whatever it takes to get the job done. I truly think this night really showcased that,” said Albertin.
Alex Benton is with Mid-America Transplant, an organization that organizes transplants for Missouri and several other states in the midwest area. Benton also helped deliver the lungs and hopes more people become donors.
“The donor and the donor’s family are the main heroes here, but there are so many heroes in the story. I’m just grateful that happened the way it did. I do this every day. It’s just part of my job, and I just did what I had to do,” Benton said.
Barnes-Jewish Hospital staff said the recipient of those lungs is now out of the hospital and is doing well.