Driver delivers kidney despite being stuck in ND blizzard

Local law enforcement helped Lucas Baker get back on the road and save a life in Bismarck

Driver delivers kidney despite being stuck in ND blizzard

Right before Christmas, a blizzard shut down roads all across the state of North Dakota. But one stranded driver was determined to continue on.

Operator: “9-1-1. What is your emergency?”

Lucas Baker: “I’m stuck in the road. I’m transplanting a kidney to Sanford Medical and I’m stuck in the road on the detour right now. I’m trying to see what I can get for assistance out here.”

Those were the words LifeSource driver Lucas Baker uttered as he raced against the clock to deliver a kidney to Sanford Bismarck.

Baker: “The organ has like 12 hours, but we’re already like seven hours into it.”

‘Waiting, waiting, waiting’

Waiting for the delivery, after having driven through bad roads himself, was Jerry Bernal of Williston, North Dakota.

“It was like 50 miles per hour wind, blowing snow. I couldn’t see, it was so cloudy,” said Bernal. “I was sitting at the hospital the whole time just sitting, waiting, waiting, waiting. And then they said, ‘Oh, something happened with your kidney.’”

Bernal had stage 5 kidney failure and knew he needed a transplant for about eight months. A kidney in Rapid City, South Dakota, matched on Dec. 22, but roads were so bad that the organ was flown to Minneapolis. That’s when Baker took over.

“The drive from Minneapolis to Fargo really wasn’t too bad. Between Fargo and Bismarck, though …” said Baker.

He made it to Jamestown before I-94 was closed, so he took backroads north, and eventually west. That’s when he got stuck in a drift and called 911.

“I couldn’t even get my door open, basically. The wind was blowing so hard,” said Baker.

Heroic efforts

Mercedez Holzworth was the deputy sheriff that day. She helped shovel out Baker’s SUV before a tow truck was able to get him back on the road.

“I knew further west from where Lucas was at, the snow drifts were very high and blocking the entire roadway, so I wasn’t even sure if he was gonna make it,” said Holzworth.

But make it he did. Even the director of Sanford Bismarck’s transplant program considers Baker a hero.

“What’s amazing about that is number one: the driver risked his life to come here, and number two: the dedication,” said Nadim Koleilat, M.D. “He’s done a great thing for the patient, for us, I mean for humanity, because it’s not easy to risk your life to save another one.”

Baker humbly deflected the praise.

“Obviously we have a choice to not drive in those conditions, but I know in these circumstances when I’m going from Minneapolis to Bismarck, I’m kind of the end of the road as far as a chance of someone receiving that organ. So there’s really no question. I jumped out of bed and drove. That’s just how it is,” Baker said.

At the end of Baker’s long journey though was Jerry Bernal, who spoke directly to the folks who dug out Baker’s vehicle, and to the man who drove through some of the worst winter conditions imaginable to deliver a new kidney.

“I really deeply thank you all very much to give me my second chance of life. Because my family needs me,” said Bernal. “I just wish I could just hold y’all and I’d give y’all a big hug and tell y’all thank you for putting your life on the line. And the driver, he was amazing because, you didn’t have to do it, but I thank you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

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Posted In Bismarck, Organ Donation, Rural Health, Transplant