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North Pole man misses heart transplant due to Seattle ice storm

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Haley Holland
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Haley and Patrick Holland

Patrick Holland is back at home this week after missing his own heart transplant because no planes could land in the worst ice storm in Seattle in a decade.

56-year-old Patrick Holland has been suffering from congestive heart failure for much of his life.

“I had my first heart attack at 29 years.”

He says heart disease runs in his family.

“My dad died from it at an early age. His brother, my uncle, died at 48. It's been taking the lives of my family for a long time. And you know, all my brothers and sisters have heart problems. A couple of 'em had triple bypasses, you know, so it's definitely hereditary.”

Three years ago, doctors told Holland he needed a transplant. His heart is twice the size it should be.

“My biggest thing is I go into what's called Ventricular Tachycardia, where my heart just doesn't want to beat anymore. It wants to vibrate because I've had so much damage done to it by the heart attacks and cardiac arrest.”

It took months to become eligible for a transplant, a time spent repeatedly flying to Seattle for dozens of tests at University of Washington Medical Center.

“They checked my lungs, my kidneys, my gallbladder, my digestive tract man. They put gauges in my neck to check the pressure to my heart. They checked my arteries in my legs. They ultrasounds and brain scans looking for tumors, looking for cancer. You even see a psychologist and see if you're mentally prepared for this. My mind was like man, I hope I get through all this testing before I die.”

Because of his disease, Holland gave up the job he loved as a Personal Assistant to seniors with disabilities. His wife has been writing about their experience since 2019, saying it helps her cope.

Holland’s family had considered a temporary move to Washington, but Patrick is healthy enough to travel the four-hour direct flight to Seattle. And who knows how long he would be on the transplant list before a heart became available for him?

“It was just incredible that I got a call two and a half weeks after being active.”

The transplant coordinator called on Thursday, December 22 and said they had a heart that was a perfect match for Patrick. But he would need to get to the University of Washington Heart Institute within a day. He and his brother booked an evening flight to Seattle and arrived at the airport in the midst of a holiday travel crush, complicated by stormy weather.

 “I immediately just jumped to the front line and I apologized to everybody. I said, ma'am, I'm looking to get a heart transplant and my plane board's in 30 minutes. And she said, oh my gosh, get over here. And she immediately pulled me to the side, started looking, and she said, oh no, your, your flight has been canceled. And I was just, everything left my body.”

Seattle was having one of the worst ice storms in a decade, and freezing rain briefly closed all three runways at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.Holland says Alaska Airlines agents managed to get them on an early morning flight to Seattle.

“I was comfortable and excited and happy. Most of the fear had gone away.”

It looked like he would get his new heart.

“I felt the landing gear go down, when my brother was sleeping next to me and I heard the pilot say, ‘welcome to Anchorage.’ I looked at my brother and I laughed and I said, ‘he must be really tired.’ Because at this point it was like 3:30 - 4 o'clock in the morning, and I just figured now we've been in the air four hours. It does not take four hours to get to Anchorage.”

The ice storm in Seattle had forced the plane back to Anchorage, and Holland missed the window to receive the heart transplant.

“ My gosh. Oh my, you know, everything. I'm just so just broken. I, I lost that heart, man. I was so emotional, like I've never, I've never been. I mean, it was like … I just lost, I felt life just leaving my body. I was so, I so spent on so much emotion, up and down roller coaster.”

Two weeks later he’s is packing to leave his wife and four children in North Pole and move to Seattle to await another suitable heart.

“Because I don't wanna ever miss another chance. It’s just not gonna happen.”

He tells everyone who wishes him well, to always be thankful for what they have, and to register as an organ donor.