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Organ transporter pushes through snowstorm to get kidney to recipient on Christmas Eve

Courtesy of Blake Rafferty

(NEW YORK) — Pushing through high winds, heavy snow and dangerous road conditions, an organ transporter was able to deliver a kidney on Christmas Eve before time ran out.

Lucas Baker, a transporter for Trinity Medical Solutions’ Midwest division, told ABC News that in his ten years of transporting organs, he’s gone the distance to get organs or medical personnel to patients. But he said his job on Dec. 23 was one of the toughest assignments he’s undertaken because of the blizzard and subzero temperatures that he faced during the 400-mile trek.

“My biggest fear was running out of gas. With the temps being subzero, you don’t last long in that,” Baker told ABC News.

Baker, who is based in Rochester, Minnesota, got the call on Dec. 23 for a kidney transport from Minneapolis to Bismarck, North Dakota. The kidney was being delivered in a container with surgical ice which typically keeps the organ safe and viable for about 18 hours, according to Baker.

For the first leg of the trip, Baker said road conditions were not bad and he was able to make it to Fargo, North Dakota, in about three and a half hours. Things changed soon as the blizzard and cold snap that struck the Midwest that day got worse.

“From Fargo to Jamestown…there were snow drifts about every 50 yards,” he recalled.

Baker said he had to change routes when he reached a roadblock outside of Jamestown and the road conditions got worse.

“I think I only traveled 25 miles in that hour and a half,” he said.

When he tried to get back on the main road, Baker said his car got stuck in a snowbank and he called for help.

Deputy Mercedez Holzworth of the Stutsman County, North Dakota, Sheriff’s Office, was already driving in the area to answer a call of a truck that was also stuck in a snowbank and arrived at Baker’s scene.

Holzworth told ABC News that the situation was personal since she has a sister who received several liver transplants so she knew what was at stake.

“I know there is an urgency to that and I had to make him a priority,” she told ABC News.

The deputy took out a manual shovel and began to dig out Baker’s vehicle before plow trucks arrived.

Baker said he was grateful for Holzworth’s efforts, especially since he saw her being blasted with strong wind gusts.

“I drive a Lincoln Navigator and even I couldn’t open the door easily because the winds were so strong,” he said. “Without her showing up I would have gotten out.”

Baker was able to get out of the snowbank and head to a gas station and refuel before finding another path on the main road. By the morning, the road was more clear and he said he was able to get to Sanford Hospital in Bismarck, where the patient Jerry Bernal, was being prepped for surgery.

“We probably only had three hours remaining,” Baker said of the kidney’s viability.

“Myself and my drivers, anytime we deliver a physical organ to a hospital or drop off a heart team or a lung team at a hospital you know that patient is getting that organ within minutes of stepping in the OR,” Baker added.

Baker’s Christmas Eve delivery turned out to be a success for Bernal who had been on the transplant list since October, in stage 5 kidney failure, according to ABC affiliate KSTP.

“I just keep on remembering what people tell me, ‘Have faith, have faith,'” Bernal told KSTP. “And it had to be God making a path for the driver that night. He could’ve easily called his boss and said, ‘Oh, I can’t get here.’ But I think God touched all of them and made a path to get the kidney here on time.”

Baker said seeing Bernal’s interview with KSTP was the first time he has ever been able to see the face of a patient who received an organ that he transporting, and he was humbled by Bernal’s words.

Still, Baker said he’s been used to doing everything he can to make sure his transports are successful and will continue to do so no matter what obstacle is in his path.

“I know it seems weird at this point it doesn’t crash your mind when you get those calls,” he said. “It’s become almost a daily routine for me.”

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