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Cincinnati Enquirer:  A harrowing dash over ice streets and blowing snow brings donated lungs to waiting child

Cincinnati Enquirer / Cameron Knight / February 11, 2021

Firefighter Jason Baumann was grilling a chicken dinner for his coworkers when he got a text.

There were three doctors and a cooler containing a set of lungs that needed to get to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center fast.

"I thought it was a misspelling," Baumann said. "I didn't know what he was talking about."

A plane carrying the transplant team and the organ was supposed to land at Lunken Airport, but the raging snowstorm forced the plane to divert and land at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Luckily, the CVG Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Department had a four-wheel drive pickup truck and a man who knew the way. Baumann jumped in the truck and asked the doctors how long they had to get there.

Two hours. That was the window.

It was around 5 p.m. Traffic was gridlocked. Cincinnati police had already alerted the public that several roads in the city were completely impassable.

The 11-year veteran firefighter used to work for UC Mobilecare, so he was very familiar with all the hospitals in Cincinnati.

"I told him, I don't know if we can do it, but we'll try. It was horrible conditions," Baumann said.

With no radio, he stayed on the phone with his colleagues at the station. They had to plan route: Interstate 75 or 71.

"75 had wider shoulders," Baumann said. "It was the only deciding factor."

With his lights flashing and sirens blazing, Baumann drove around the gridlocked traffic, plowing through the snow drifts on the shoulder.

Four different times, drivers got scared or nervous and blocked his path. It took some hand waving and honk-honking, but they eventually let him pass.

"We only had one chance to do this," Baumann said. "If I would have spun out ... it would have been over. The family would have lost the organ."

Back the station, his colleagues were trying to get a Cincinnati police escort for Baumann. At one point, a Cincinnati dispatcher called his cell phone directly to make it happen.

Baumann made it all the way to Good Samaritan Hospital before the escort could meet up with him.

Specialist Joe Stevens, a 33-year veteran with the Cincinnati Police Department, drove against traffic on Victory Parkway to reach Baumann and led him to the hospital.

 

Finally, Baumann reached the main entrance of Children's Hospital. The doctors got out with the lungs and that was it.

He made the trip in 65 minutes.

"It was definitely a relief. We made it there safe," Baumann said. "We made it there in time."

With his job done, he turned off the lights and the sirens and drove back to work. It took an hour and 45 minutes.

"I told them what happened. They told me what they were doing back here," Baumann said. "After that we ate dinner. Grilled chicken breast and asparagus. They put me a plate in the microwave."

Just another shift.

Cincinnati police said they have been told that the transplant recipient is doing well. Children's Hospital officials said in a statement they cannot discuss any details of patient care, but thanked those who braved Wednesday storm.

"Cincinnati Children’s is grateful and thankful to the Cincinnati Police Department, CVG Fire Department and the pilots who helped out amid difficult conditions," the hospital said in a statement.