‘I Started To Panic’: Father Of Seven Misses Chance At Heart Transplant Because Of Canceled Flight

Patrick Holland, a 57-year-old resident of Fairbanks, Alaska, missed a heart transplant despite the best efforts of airport staff as severe winter weather led to multiple flight cancelations.

The father of seven, including a three-year-old, learned that he was eligible for a new heart at the University of Washington Heart Institute in Seattle after spending only two and a half weeks on a transplant list. Given an eight-hour window to travel to Seattle, he purchased a ticket with Alaska Airlines only to learn that the flight had been canceled due to winter weather.

He remarked during an interview with CNN that staff with the company “jumped through hoops” to place him on a flight. He managed to board one plane which was diverted halfway through the journey as ice blocked runways in Seattle, according to a report from the New York Post.

“I started to panic, and my phone said ‘Anchorage,’ and my worst fears were overwhelming me,” Holland commented. “I don’t imagine they can wait that long because the longer it waits the longer the tissue decomposes.”

Holland, whose oldest child is 36 and who has been married to his wife for 17 years, commended Alaska Airlines staff for being extraordinarily accommodating; he was placed on more flights after returning to Anchorage, only to watch them get canceled. The heart transplant coordinator then called to inform him that the heart would go to someone else.

“I think I cried more that day than I have in my life, and exerted every emotion that I’ve never had,” he said in another interview with King 5. “To get out of that funk, I immediately said, ‘Thank God, there’s going to be a family that is saving someone’s dad, saving someone’s brother, saving someone’s, someone’s uncle,’ you know.”

Holland now plans to find temporary housing in Seattle so that he can more quickly access a new heart should an opportunity arise.

The cancelations affecting Holland’s flights occurred as severe winter weather, including subzero temperatures and heavy snowfalls, impacted travel throughout the holiday weekend. As many as 54 million passengers were expected to depart from airports between December 18 and January 3, marking a 20% increase from last year, according to data from Hopper.

Southwest Airlines far surpassed other major carriers by canceling 2,909 flights on Monday, accounting for 71% of the company’s volume, according to data from FlightAware. The company also canceled 2,536 flights on Tuesday and 2,510 flights Wednesday, representing 63% and 61% of its flights, respectively.

Southwest attributed the canceled flights to the poor weather conditions. “We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent,” the company said in a statement. “These operational conditions forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and magnitude that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at capacity.”

Airlines are not required to reimburse passengers for delayed or canceled flights unless passengers are bumped from an oversold flight. The Department of Transportation said that officials will “examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.”

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