Snow plows clear way during December blizzard, save Kansas rancher’s life

The chest pains Chad Griffith had been having off and on for the past few weeks grew more intense as he and his wife were on their way home to their Scott County ranch from Christmas shopping in Garden City on Dec. 19, so he and his wife decided to go to the hospital in Scott City.

Griffith, 44, suffered a serious heart attack at the hospital, and doctors knew he needed life-saving surgery. But the closest hospital that could offer it was Hays Medical Center – and it was 120 miles away.

The snow storm hammering western and central Kansas had already shut down I-70 and grounded all flights – including planes or helicopters that could have flown Griffith to Hays.

Kansas Department of Transportation crews agreed to clear a path along K-96 west to U.S. 183, then north into Hays. Four snow plows each took a portion of the route, with the ambulance and family members following closely behind. Once Griffith’s condition had been stabilized, the caravan left Scott City at midnight. Visibility was so poor, the plows were unable to move much faster than 25 to 35 miles an hour.

In the 11 years he’s been a snow plow operator, “it’s the worst storm I’ve been through,” Jason Lawrence said in a video about the rescue effort posted today on YouTube.

“It was blowing so hard, you couldn’t see nothing,” Larry Kjellberg, who operated another plow, said in the video.

The 120-mile trip normally takes about two hours. But this trek took 5.5 hours, thanks to the blinding snowstorm.

Griffith was still alive when the ambulance reached Hays Medical Center. Doctors there discovered a 99 percent blockage in an aorta called “the widow maker.”

“When it’s blocked, you’re done,” Dr. Elizabeth Hineman of Scott City said in the KDOT video.

The doctors in Hays inserted a stent, and Griffith was home in time for Christmas. He’s back to work on his Scott County ranch, feeling better than he has in years.

“They went above and beyond because that blizzard was just raging,” Griffith said in a statement released by KDOT. “The doctors, the EMTs and the KDOT guys are just giant people to me. They all played a role in saving my life.”