Seattle ice storm caused a North Pole man to miss his heart transplant

a man and woman pose, smiling, for a selfie
Haley and Patrick Holland. (Courtesy of Haley Holland)

Fifty-six-year-old Patrick Holland has been dealing with congestive heart failure for much of his life, but he says he’s too young to die.

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

Three years ago, doctors told Holland he needed a transplant. His heart is twice the size it should be. But he’s at home this week after missing his heart transplant because no planes could land after Seattle’s worst ice storm in a decade.

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,” he said. “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.

A transplant coordinator called Holland on Dec. 22 to say they had a heart that was a perfect match. 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,” he said. “I said, ‘Ma’am, I’m looking to get a heart transplant and my plane boards 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 flight has been canceled.’ And I was just — everything left my body.”

Freezing rain briefly closed all three runways at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but 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,” he said.

It looked like he would get his new heart.

“I felt the landing gear go down,” he said. “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 get the heart transplant.

“ I just lost,” he said. “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 packing to leave his wife and four children in North Pole and move to Seattle to wait for another suitable heart.

“I don’t wanna ever miss another chance,” he said. “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.

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