THE terminally-ill former owner of Gawler Caravan Park has missed out on a potentially life-saving double lung transplant because of a mix-up over his flight booking, his family says.
Garry Woods, 66, of Gawler, was diagnosed with the suffocating lung condition pulmonary fibrosis four years ago and, after other treatments failed, has been on the waiting list for lung donations for around 26 months.
Last Thursday morning, Mr Woods received the call from Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital that it had two donor lungs waiting for him, and he was booked on the next Qantas flight out of Adelaide due to depart at 9.15am.
After rushing to Adelaide Hospital with wife Barb Jamieson and son Mark, Mr Woods arrived at the Qantas check-in counter just after 8.30am – Mark noted the time on his parking ticket – only to encounter confusion over the booking from the staff member at the desk.
The co-ordinators of Mr Woods’ transplant had organised open tickets for their recipients with Qantas – including dangerous goods clearance for their oxygen bottles – which they can activate at any time, for any flight.
However, the booking wasn’t visible on the airline’s database, and by the time staff could figure out what was wrong, the flight had finished boarding.
“(The staff member) said the flight’s closed, and I said you need to re-open the flight, check him on, and get him onto the plane, basically,” Mark said.
“It is life or death, it’s a transplant – and she knew that beforehand, anyway.
“She said, ‘no, that’s not going to happen, we can’t reopen a flight, all I can do is put you on the next possible flight, but you need to call the hospital’.”
After calling St Vincent’s Hospital to see if a medevac flight was available, to no avail, Mr Woods and his family realised that the only remaining option was for him to take the next Qantas flight to Sydney, three hours later.
During this time, the hospital decided it couldn’t wait any longer for the lungs to deteriorate, and made the heartbreaking decision to give them to someone else.
“From a family perspective, that is one positive that came out of it – that the lungs didn’t get wasted, and they could give someone else a chance at life; someone who needed it just as much as dad did,” Mark said.
Mr Woods has remained at St Vincent’s Hospital since the incident.
It was the third time he’s missed out on a lung transplant, after he also missed a narrow window of opportunity in two previous attempts.
Mark said the family was devastated Mr Woods has missed yet another life-saving opportunity, and urged everyone to consider being an organ donor, given the complex process that prospective recipients have to go through to receive donations.
“There’s not enough donations to go around – there are people that pass away waiting for donations,” he said.
“You’ve got a few things in your way when being a recipient; so that’s why, when (hospitals) do get a donor, they generally use as much as they possibly can.”
A Qantas spokesman said the company is investigating the incident.
“This is obviously a very distressing situation for Mr Woods and his family,” he said.
“Qantas has spoken with the hospital and attempted to speak to their travel agent to understand why there was no booking in the system for the time Mr Woods was meant to fly.
“We’ll be speaking with the family (yesterday) to provide a Qantas contact they can use so we can be notified about their need for travel as soon as possible, so that there is no confusion in future.”