On Monday, the FAA shared a great video recalling the monumental effort it took to safely land all of the planes in U.S. airspace following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
One of the unforeseen consequences of that effort was the grounding of a plane that had been scheduled to fly a lifesaving mission from Nashville to Houston. When the attacks began, Tennessee Donor Services was readying a flight to carry an 11-ounce liver, newly recovered at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, to Kareena, a 6-month old girl awaiting that precious cargo 800 miles away.
The organization's director, Jill Grandas, called the Nashville tower for help. Air traffic manager Sherry Jensen took the call and began working with Mark Herron, the tower's operations manager, to secure a plane to transport the delicate organ.
“She was able to make it real for us,” Jensen said of Jill Grandas. “It became a life for us, someone we could do something for that day.”
When the colonel called, Herron connected him with Grandas and, after a flurry of calls, a 38-ton C-130 was prepared for takeoff to transport the liver to Texas.
“I just put the right people together,” Herron said. “I was thinking about some poor child down there in Texas who could possibly die. It was life or death.”
Grandas expressed her appreciation for the agency’s quick response and perseverance: “They took nine crewmen from the Tennessee Air National Guard and this little baby liver in a little cooler and left for Houston. It was just so gratifying what we could accomplish and have so many folks not just say ‘No.’"
The transplant was successful, and Kareena's parents sent Herron a photo of her that he still keeps in his office in the Nashville tower.
Jensen remains proud of how her team banded together to maintain safety in the midst of chaos. “The bright spot for me is the belief in human nature,” she says. “Something terrible can happen, but there are still good human beings that will take action to make a difference.”