This pilot’s work is truly life-saving: flying organs for organ transplants

Fuels |  2 min. read

“The call” can come anytime.

One Sunday night, it came for Todd Ratzlaff just after he and his family had finished dinner.

Ratzlaff is a pilot in Trafalgar, Indiana.  Nothing so out of the ordinary in that.  But what IS out of the ordinary about his work, is that he flies hearts, lungs, livers – human organs for transplants (as well as medical teams).  The Indianapolis Star takes up his story:

“That Sunday…he and fellow pilot Roger Law needed to depart at 12:30 a.m. to pick up a heart and lung in Evansville.”

“Indiana Donor Network’s pilots often receive calls just two hours ahead of departure, which gives Ratzlaff 15 minutes to get ready, 45 minutes to drive to Indy, and an hour to prepare the Cessna CJ3 for flight.”

Even with all the advances in medical technology, the time a heart or lung, or liver can survive while it goes from donor to recipient – that time is still extremely limited, in some cases as little as four to six hours.

So, “when duty calls”…Ratzlaff has abandoned a cart full of groceries, snuck out of a movie theater mid-film and left amidst many family gatherings since starting his job…

“…’I have babysitters on standby.  I have a change of clothes in a locker in here with the shower in case I’m mowing the lawn,’ Ratzlaff said.”

In this case, Ratzlaff and Law are flying a medical team from Indianapolis to Evansville, where they will receive the heart and lungs from a donor – and then fly the organs and team back to Indianapolis, where two patients are waiting for transplants.  All while the clock is ticking.

“…the Cessna CJ3 was ready on the runway at Evansville Regional when the medical team finally reappeared with a cooler labeled ‘Human Organ/Tissue for Transplant’…

“At half past 6 a.m., ambulance lights flicked on and the heart and lung moved into the distance, on the final stretch of the journey to two hopeful recipients at IU Health.”

Life-saving transplants like these require pilots ready to fly on a moment’s notice, doctors and nurses on stand-by as well, and families making the difficult decision to donate a loved one’s organs.

But there is one more essential piece to many of these medical miracles.  Whether it’s a plane, a helicopter, or just an ambulance – what makes them go, and makes everything else possible, are the jet fuel, aviation gas, diesel and gasoline that powers them.

The same fuels that make everyday life possible for most of us, also make extraordinary things possible for some of us.  Like in this case, a chance at life for patients awaiting organ transplants.