Snowed In

Snowed In

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Snowed In

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

If it takes a village to raise a child, then January 17, 1994, was the day it took a village to save a child.

Barbara Schmitt sipped coffee and watched the snow outside her window pile up. The city of Louisville, Kentucky, was paralyzed, with drifts up to two feet deep, but she and the two granddaughters she was helping to raise didn’t mind. They were going to spend the day warm indoors, playing and watching the blizzard. Ashley, age six, chatted excitedly. Her three-year-old sister Michelle was subdued. Michelle was one of the hundreds of American children awaiting a new liver.

Waiting and praying were a daily routine for Barbara Schmitt, but today the prayers were more intense. Michelle had been showing danger signs that made an immediate liver transplant critical, but the telephone was as silent as the snowy scene outside.

Then at nine in the morning, the phone rang. Here was the news Barbara needed. A hospital in Omaha had located the right liver donor, they were sure it was a match for Michelle, and they needed her there within 12 hours.

Barbara couldn’t tell what to do first—rejoice or despair. The greatest gift Michelle would ever receive was awaiting her, and here 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 told Barbara. “You have 12 hours to reach Omaha, so start thinking!”

Fortunately, the phone lines were still working, so Barbara got to work. She started by calling Sharon Stevens, a hairdresser who runs Hair Angels, a fund for children with special needs. Sharon had already lined up a Lear jet and two pilots to fly the Schmitts to Omaha when transplant time came. How to get from the Schmitts’ house to the jet was the big question, but Sharon was as determined as Barbara to make this work. “Start packing. I don’t know how, but you’re going to make it,”

Next, Sharon put out a call for help through the local radio station. WHAS broadcast continuous messages, inviting listeners to call in with ideas and suggestions. Teresa Amshoff heard the story and suggested that the church parking lot adjoining her house, only a mile from the Schmitts, would make a perfect helicopter landing pad. As precious minutes ticked away, the Amshoffs 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.

Someone called Kim Phelps of Skycare, an airlift service, and he 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 and neighbor were able to drive them to the jet just in time.

Finally, with dusk looming, WHAS sent 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 the Schmitts 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 on January 17 than to stay warm inside and watch the snow.

Susan G. Fey

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