When federal aviation officials ordered all commercial flights nationwide grounded after terrorists struck New York and Washington Sept. 11, one family in Texas feared their infant daughter would die as a result.
Six-month-old Kareena lay dying in a Houston hospital, awaiting the commercial flight that was supposed to bring her a new liver that would save her life. She had been born without a functioning liver and was critically ill. (The family asked that their last name not be revealed.)
Hundreds of miles away at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, Dr. Ravi Chari listened to radio reports about the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as he removed a donor's liver in preparation for Kareena's transplant.
Despite the horrific news and the subsequent flight ban, Chari was determined to complete the operation and save the infant, even if no planes were being allowed to fly.
"We can't let them win," he told his staff. If surgeons couldn't somehow get the liver to Kareena, he said, the terrorists "will have killed someone else."
Doctors at Texas Children's Hospital had ranked the child as "status one" — meaning she had 24 to 48 hours to live without a transplant — and they agreed that something special had to be done despite the Federal Aviation Administration's security concerns.
"It was very important for us to get the liver here," Dr. John Goss told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "Kareena's size and blood type made it very difficult to get a donor organ."
Cargo Plane and Crew
Alerted of the situation, representatives from Tennessee Donor Services, a Nashville-based agency that arranges organ donations, sprang into action. Officials called the FAA, which approved special military transport of the liver.
Even before Chari had finished removing the organ, a Tennessee Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane packed with nine volunteers was organized for the mission.
With FAA approval, Vanderbilt's LifeFlight medical helicopter rushed the ice-packed liver to the Guard's hangar, and the plane set off on the two-hour trip to Houston.
One of the volunteers described the flight as surreal: There were no other planes in the sky as they raced to deliver their cargo.
When the plane arrived at Houston's William P. Hobby Airport Tuesday afternoon, the liver was transported by ambulance to its final destination. Four hours later, Goss had stitched Kareena's new liver into place.
Kareena is doing well now and has a good chance at living a normal life, Goss said.
Kareena's mother says she is thankful the donor's family decided to share their child's liver during what must have been the grimmest hours of their lives — and the nation's history.