Barbara sipped coffee and watched the snow outside her window piled up. The city of Louisville, Kentucky, was paralyzed, with drifts up to two feet deep, but she and her two granddaughters didn’t mind. They were going to spend the day warm indoors.
Ashley, age six, chatted excitedly. Her three-year-old sister Michelle was subdued. Michelle was awaiting a new liver. Micelle had recently been showing danger signs that made an immediate liver transplant critical.
At nine in the morning, the phone rang. Here was the news they needed. A hospital in Omaha had located the right liver donor, it was a match for Michelle, and they needed her there within 12 hours.
The greatest gift Michelle would ever receive was awaiting her, but they were snowbound, 600 miles away. “We’re snowed in,” Barbara told the medical coordinator on the line. “The airport is 17 miles away, trucks are jackknifing off the roads, and there’s no way we’re going to get there.”
“Don’t give up,” the woman on the line told Barbara. “You have 12 hours to reach Omaha, so start thinking!”
So Barbara got to work. She started by calling Sharon, a hairdresser. Sharon had already lined up a Lear jet and two pilots to fly them to Omaha when the transplant time came. How to get from their house to the jet was the big question, but Sharon was determined. “Start packing. I don’t know how, but you’re going to make it.”
Next, Sharon put out a call through the local radio station. Messages were continuous broadcasted, inviting listeners to call in with ideas and suggestions. Teresa heard the story and suggested that the church parking lot adjoining her house, only 1 mile from Barbara’s house, would make a perfect helicopter landing pad. As minutes ticked away, Teresa and her family rushed from door to door, pleading for help to clear the lot. Neighbors, already exhausted from shoveling their own driveways, came without hesitation. Within half an hour, 50 volunteers were working in sub-zero winds to clear the area of snow.
Kim Phelps of Skycare, an airlift service, offered to dispatch a helicopter to take Michelle to the airport. The church lot was confirmed as a workable launch pad, and Kim got busy arranging rides to the church for the medical team.
In the meantime, Barbara called Lear jet pilot Jason Smith to be sure he could make it to the airport. Like everyone else, he and his co-pilot were snowbound, but he promised that they would be there. A policeman was able to drive them to the jet just in time.
Finally, with dusk looming, a neighbor drove a four-wheel vehicle to transport Michelle and her family to the church. When they pulled into the meticulously cleared parking lot, there were 150 people, leaning on shovels, surrounded by mountainous piles of snow. As fire trucks arrived to provide makeshift landing lights for the helicopter, the crowd mushroomed to 300, applauding and waving as they flew off into the snowy night.
Michelle’s transplant was a success. It was the success not only of a skilled medical team, a child with the fight to survive and a family that wouldn’t give up – but the success of a whole village that found something much better to do than to stay warm inside and watch the snow on that day.