Saving Kareena: Sept. 11 Attacks Nearly Stopped Infant's Transplant

PHOTO: Kareena, as an infant with Dr. John Goss, and Kareena as a healthy 10-year-old today.

It's the night of Sept. 10, 2001. A tiny and frail 6-month old Kareena lies dying of liver failure in a Houston hospital, with mom Kiran by her side. To live, Kareena needs a liver transplant within 12 to 48 hours.

Eight-hundred miles away in Nashville, Tenn. grieving parents lose their infant that same night. In a twist of fate, they decide to donate their baby's organs. Out of the darkness, a possible match for Kareena.

Anxiety and Worry

When asked about Sept. 10 and Sept. 11, 2001, Kiran answers somberly. "It was just a lot of anxiety and worry. Hoping and praying that we get to see what kind of girl she was going to become when she was older."

Would she get the chance to know what kind of young woman, even mother, her baby daughter would grow up to be? The fear played in her mind repeatedly, even in the early hours of Sept. 11, which seemed like any normal morning in Texas Children's Hospital, where she'd keep watch from a bed next to her daughter's.

"We woke up, did our routine, and were just waiting, waiting, waiting to hear some news, and then we did hear some news and there was a flurry of activity outside our room. We knew something was going on," Kiran says.

"And then they came in and told us that there was a possible donor...There was hope at least, and some kind of excitement, anxiety, that maybe it would be okay after all."

But they couldn't foresee the news breaking then that a commercial passenger plane had been hijacked and crashed intentionally into the World Trade Center.

"And then they came in and told us that there was a possible donor, " Kiran remembers, "And so it was 'wow, I can't believe that there's a possibility'- they were kind of uncertain because they still had to get more details. But there was hope at least, and so kind of excitement, anxiety that maybe it would be okay after all."

"And then of course Sept. 11 unfolded and it was a very, very difficult day," Kiran remembers. "Everyone thinks back to 9/11 and what we were hearing and seeing -- it was like the world was falling apart."

And there in the hospital, hundreds of miles from the crash sites, another life was in limbo: After the attacks, the government grounded all flights; how would the donor liver make its way from Nashville to Houston?

"I just couldn't believe it," Kiran says. "There's this chance of life for Kareena and then this incredible kind of backdrop to everything. I remember thinking, 'Well, it's just not meant to be.'"

Flights Grounded

But no one was ready to give up. On a typical day Tennessee Donor Services would have simply had a pilot charter a plane to fly the liver to Houston. With the flight ban in place, the situation became much more complex.

But Dr. Ravi Chari, the surgeon in Nashville who was removing the liver from the donor infant, didn't want to hear "no."

When interviewed in 2001 he stated simply, "If we didn't get this liver to this patient because of what the terrorists had done, the terrorists would in effect have killed someone else."

Dr. Chari had Donor Services contact the Nashville Airport traffic control to plead for any help in getting flight approval. But they, too, were under the same FAA restrictions. So Sherry Jensen, the manager at the Nashville Tower, had her team get on the phones and see what could be done.

Enter the National Guard.

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