Helping others touched by the gift of life through organ donation and transplantation
By Sharon Rosen
April is National Donate Life Month, a time to encourage people to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and honor all those who have saved lives through the gift of organ donation. Approximately 115,000 people nationwide are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant – that’s enough people to fill the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis almost two times.
The patients behind these statistics are the driving force for Bethany Nolt’s passion for her job. She is an organ recovery coordinator for LifeSource, the organ procurement organization that serves Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Bethany’s commitment to her position runs deep in her family. Her husband Travis is also a LifeSource organ recovery coordinator and takes call on alternate days.
“We live organ donation 24/7 – not just in April, but every month of the year. Even though we put in long hours, we get up every day anxious to do it again. That’s because we are inspired by those who donate the gift of life, the recipients who gratefully receive the organs and the medical teams we partner with to recover organs for transplantation,” says Bethany.
Bethany and her husband are two of six LifeSource organ recovery coordinators serving the three-state area. They each take call for 24-hour shifts, 13 to 14 days a month. That means one of them is almost always on call to coordinate and travel for an organ recovery from a deceased donor.
“We’ve missed school activities and had to be away on holidays. Thanks to the support of our extended family, we are both able to maintain this demanding schedule. Our sons Landon and Carter are also very supportive,” she explains.
According to Bethany, her family and friends have often asked her what she and her husband do for work. “My son Landon, who is now 14, explained it best years ago. He said, ‘It is very sad that someone has died, but that person gets to do something very cool by helping someone else.’ I couldn’t state it better myself,’” she says.
Bethany and her husband have a critical role in the organ recovery and transplant process. Prior to recovering organs from an individual who has died, they coordinate the logistics for each participating surgical team. Bethany says, “This process can take place over one or more days. There could be one team recovering the heart and other teams coming to recover the liver, lungs, kidneys and tissue. One donor can provide lifesaving organs and tissue that can touch the lives of up to eight organ and over a dozen tissue recipients.”
Next, they travel to the hospital where the donor is located. Once there, they work alongside the surgical teams in the operating room, ensuring that organs are procured, preserved and properly stored for transport according to United Network of Organ Sharing guidelines.
Amidst the logistics, Bethany is always mindful of the families of the donors and recipients.
Each time she flies out for an organ recovery, Bethany marks the occasion by taking a skyline photo and posting it to her Facebook page with the hashtag #MakingMiraclesHappen.
“The skyline photos represent the overlapping atmospheres of the families involved. I am in awe of the donor families, who in their deepest moments of grief, have honored their loved one’s wishes by helping someone else,” she explains. “At the same time, the families of the patients who are receiving organs are hopeful, anxious, and very aware that these lifesaving gifts are made possible through someone else’s loss.”
Through her work, Bethany gets to follow the progress of recipients, watching their health improve and their lives transform.
“Often recipients are trying to live their best life to honor the donor whose legacy they carry on,” she explains. “Many become our best advocates for organ donation.”
Living donation – “Take a nap and wake up a hero”
Bethany is also deeply inspired by all those who choose to become living kidney and liver donors.
“Each time I work with a living donor who is part of a kidney exchange program, I tell them to take a nap and wake up a hero,” she says.
After sharing these words, Bethany was never sure whether she was making a difference. “Then a donor contacted me weeks after his surgery. It turns out that my comments helped him realize how his decision to donate was having such a positive impact on someone else’s life,” she says.
In her spare time …
When Bethany isn’t working or taking care of her family, she loves taking on any artistic project, including remodeling her home. She also finds ways to use her skills to help others.
“When I heard about the shortage of personal protective equipment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt helpless. I contacted the Centers for Disease Control to get requirements for masks. I made and donated 100 masks to the funeral homes that partner with LifeSource. I am already sewing my next batch,” she adds.
Years ago, after working as a surgical technician for Mayo Clinic, Bethany took some time off to be at home with her young sons. She started a cake baking business and at one time was making cakes for up to two weddings per weekend.
“With my current job, I still bake cakes – but it’s just for fun. I’m known for the cakes I’ve created to commemorate organ donation milestones,” she says.
Learn more about organ donation
After hearing about her work, many people ask Bethany how they can become an organ donor.
“That’s easy – you can take the first step from home by registering online at donatelifemidwest.org.” says Bethany. She adds that you can also register when getting your:
- Driver’s license or state identification card
- Hunting and fishing licenses
“I always encourage those who choose to become an organ donor to share their wishes with their family as well. While registering to become an organ is all that states require, many families of deceased donors are comforted when they already know their loved ones wishes,” she says.
Bethany has always been an active participant in Donate Life Month events held throughout the region. She explains that because of COVID-19, many organizations are having virtual celebrations.
To learn about LifeSources’ virtual celebration, visit their website at #SharingYourHeartChallenge.
“I love to read the stories and see the photos shared through this celebration. Every day, I am working at my dream job, inspired by all those touched by the gift of life,” Bethany says.
Sharon Rosen is a freelance writer based in Rochester.