Obstacles in a Race Against Time: How a Transplant was Successful with the Help of Heroes

Published February 23, 2022 in Mid-America Transplant

Every day, Mid-America Transplant stewards the lifesaving gift of organs from donor heroes to grateful recipients. This is a time-sensitive and intricate process that requires precise logistical coordination with medical teams and the use of multiple modes of transportation across hundreds of miles.

When transporting the precious gift of lungs from Chicago to St. Louis recently, our mission became a race against time, with inclement weather creating a challenge completely beyond human control. While the result was a successful transplant, it might not have been possible without the heroic act of a Southwest Airlines captain and flight crew who made the difference by going above and beyond to help our team.

As Organ Recovery Coordinator at Mid-America Transplant, Alex Benton works with surgical teams from Transplant Centers to assist in the surgical recovery of organs. Once recovered, Benton secures the organ for transport following all clinical standards and national policies to ensure it arrives at its destination.

Benton assisted a St. Louis-based surgical team who was recovering a set of lungs in Chicago. Benton and the surgical team were en route to Midway airport when they were notified that their chartered aircraft was grounded due to inclement weather. Knowing time was of the essence, Benton and another member of the surgical team immediately began exploring other options. They found a direct flight on Southwest Airlines that was leaving in less than an hour.

Benton and an accompanying surgeon quickly purchased tickets and navigated the TSA screening process – only to arrive at the gate after boarding was completed and the airplane’s door had been closed. Benton was adamant that the lungs needed to be in St. Louis immediately. “You’re just in that moment and you know that you have a certain amount of time . . .,” she said. The gate agent informed Benton that only the captain could open the door. Benton asked the gate agent to make this call. Upon hearing the situation, the captain opened the door without hesitation so the medical team could board the plane.

Once in the air, the captain alerted St. Louis Lambert International Airport to the situation, and the airport cleared the runways so the plane could land as soon as possible.

Upon landing, the captain asked everyone to remain seated, saying, “The Mid-America Transplant team needs to exit first to do something magical.” The airport staff escorted them quickly through the airport to the waiting ambulance, which successfully delivered the lungs to the hospital in time to be transplanted. Thanks to the actions of everyone involved, a waiting patient received a second chance at life.

Stewards of a Lifesaving Gift

Our employees live our mission every day. This story is an example of how the amazing team at Mid-America Transplant doesn’t let challenges or obstacles stop them from doing everything they can to save a life. It’s also an example of how much collaboration is needed, from our staff to hospital teams to transportation, to make each lifesaving gift a reality.

The Southwest captain and crew, Lambert staff and others went above and beyond to make it possible for our team to transport this healthy set of lungs. Sometimes obstacles hinder or even prevent a transplant from being completed on time, but with the support of these heroes, this story has a happy ending with a successful transplant.

For families, this demonstrates what we mean when we say we are stewards of the lifesaving gift you and your loved ones provided. Our team will do everything in their power to bring donor families and transplant patients hope and healing, and to honor our donors’ legacies.