North Dakota

Driver delivers kidney despite being stuck in ND blizzard

Just before Christmas, a snowstorm shut down roads across the state of North Dakota. But one stranded driver was determined to keep going.

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

Lucas Baker: “I’m stuck in the street. I’m doing a kidney transplant at Sanford Medical and I’m stuck in the detour down the street right now. I’m trying to see what help I can get out here.”

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

Baker: “The organ has about 12 hours, but we’ve already done about seven hours.”

“Wait, wait, wait”

Jerry Bernal of Williston, North Dakota, was waiting for the delivery after driving through bad roads himself.

“It was like 50 mph wind, blowing snow. I couldn’t see anything, it was so cloudy,” Bernal said. “I sat in the hospital the whole time, just sat, waited, waited, waited. And then they said, ‘Oh, something happened to 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 fit December 22, but the roads were so bad the organ was flown to Minneapolis. Then Baker took over.

“The ride from Minneapolis to Fargo really wasn’t bad. But between Fargo and Bismarck…” Baker said.

He made it to Jamestown before I-94 closed, so he took back roads north and then west. Then he got stuck in a drift and called 911.

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

Heroic Efforts

Mercedez Holzworth was the deputy sheriff that day. She helped dig out Baker’s SUV before a tow truck could get it back on the road.

“I knew further west from Lucas that the snowdrifts were very high and blocked the entire lane, so I wasn’t even sure if he was going to make it,” Holzworth said.

But do it, he did. Even the director of Sanford Bismarck’s transplant program thinks Baker is a hero.

“The amazing thing is number one: the driver risked their life to get here and number two: the dedication,” said Dr. Nadim Koleilat Risking your life to save another is not easy.”

Baker humbly dismissed the praise.

“Obviously we have a choice not to drive in these conditions, but I know that in these circumstances, if I drive from Minneapolis to Bismarck, I’m pretty much at the end of the road as far as the chance of someone getting this organ.” . So actually no question. I jumped out of bed and drove. That’s just the way it is,” Baker said.

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

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

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Posted in Bismarck, Organ Donation, Rural Health, Transplantation

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