In a heartbeat, someone's entire world can change forever. It's something most claim to understand, yet never seem prepared to face. But — thanks to a moment of forethought — one Oklahoma man was able to alter the future of many with his own.
THE ISSUE: On average, 22 people die each day while waiting for a transplant. Only 58 percent of Oklahomans are registered organ donors.
LOCAL IMPACT: The son of Shawnee couple Ed and Phyllis Bolt, Edward James (E.J.) Bolt III, recently changed the lives of several people across the country through his donated organs.
In a heartbeat, someone's entire world can change forever. It's something most claim to understand, yet never seem prepared to face.
But — thanks to a moment of forethought — one Oklahoma man was able to alter the future of many with his own.
In August, a young electrician from Mustang drove himself to the hospital in Lawton — throwing up and head aching. He didn't know it would be the last time he would suffer pain.
Within a few moments, an aneurysm had taken Edward James (E.J.) Bolt III from this world; he was just 36 years old — leaving behind his teen son, Rylan. But even after E.J.'s tragic death, he managed to change the world for some.
Shawnee couple Ed and Phyllis Bolt are mourning the loss of their son, but they are finding solace in the fact that before he died, he chose to become an organ donor; that choice is now changing — and potentially saving — the lives of several strangers in need of transplants.
Both longtime committed to-be-donors themselves, the couple said they are thankful to see the benefits of his decision.
“I can remember E.J. calling me to tell me he had renewed his drivers license and that he decided to be an organ donor. I was really glad to hear that, and told him so,” Ed said. “As his father, I really hoped I would never see that decision acted upon, but we can't control what life throws at us.”
The Bolts lit up as they shared stories of their son's life and offered a glimpse of his personality.
“He made it his mission to entertain everyone,” Ed said. “He was a constant jokester — the class clown.”
He said his namesake didn't know a stranger and showed no fear.
The couple said they never stopped being surprised by his antics.
Phyllis said E.J. joked so much it was difficult to know when he was serious.
“You just never knew with him,” she said.
E.J. wasn't just full of funny surprises, Ed said he was constantly revealing sides of himself they never saw before.
“He played the guitar and was learning to play the fiddle,” Phyllis said.
Ed added that E.J. — who liked to sing karaoke, but wouldn't perform it in public — recently shared videos of himself belting out Country & Western tunes on the karaoke app, Smule.
“I posted one on Facebook because it was really good,” Ed said, “then he asked me why I did that.”
In the end, E.J. allowed his performance to remain online.
After his son's death, Ed raced to secure copies of those videos — at first simply enjoyed, but now final mementos he treasures.
While Ed and Phyllis comfort themselves with photos and memories, they find peace knowing that parts of E.J. continue on as a godsend to others.
Toward the end of September the couple received a letter from Life Share — a group that coordinates organ donations. In it was a report of E.J.'s contributions:
• E.J.'s gift provided a new heart to a father in his fifties from Nebraska. He is continuing in his recovery.
• E.J.'s gift provided two people with the opportunity to enjoy life without the constraints of dialysis treatments. One of his kidneys was transplanted into a male in his thirties. Prior to the transplant he had been on dialysis for six years. He is in good condition and continues to recover. E.J.'s other kidney was transplanted into a young female child.
• E.J.'s gift provided a new liver to a female in her forties. She looks forward to returning to work following her recovery.
• Finally, E.J.'s gift provided new lungs to a male in his twenties in Florida. He is in great condition and he is recovering.
This case was a little unusual, Ed said.
“I was told that the lungs typically go separately to two people,” he said. “I guess this young man must have been in dire need of both of them.”
Phyllis said she is praying E.J.'s organ recipients live long and flourish; the couple understands the precious value behind those new beginnings.
“As bad as this was for us, it has been equally as good for all of these people and their families who got another chance at a long and heathy life,” Ed said.
He encourages everyone to consider checking the organ donor box while renewing their drivers license.
“The impact it can have on a large group of other people in need is amazing,” he said. “Life Share told us that if we include the tissue donations E.J. made, the number of people he will benefit could be more than fifty.”
The Bolts are now in the process of reaching out to the recipients of E.J.'s organs.
The couple said they are hoping that they will hear back and get the chance to actually meet them someday.
E.J. leaves behind three siblings — the youngest a brother, Travis, and two sisters named Jessica. One of them — referred to as Jessie — is his older sibling from his father Ed's previous marriage. Younger sister Jessica (and Travis) were born to Phyllis during a previous marriage.
• According to ok.gov, House Bill 1183 was passed during the 2001-2002 session, and prohibits anyone from overruling a donor’s decision to share his/her Gift of Life when the donor’s choice is documented on a drivers license, donor card or will:
It reads, “Any adult of sound mind may give all or any part of his body for any purpose specified in Section 2204 of this title, the gift to take effect upon death. The wishes of the deceased, as evidenced by the advance directive, driver license designation or a will shall take precedence over the wishes of the family.”
• Life Share's website states that wait times for transplants vary. Not everyone who needs a transplant will get one, it reads.
Because of the shortage of organs that are suitable for donation, only slightly more than 50 percent of people on the waiting list will receive an organ within five years, the website states.
• More than 118,000 Americans are currently waiting for lifesaving organ transplants; more than 800 of them are Oklahomans.
• 58 percent of Oklahomans have registered to be organ, eye and tissue donors.
• More than 8,000 Americans died in 2016 waiting for lifesaving organ transplants; 27 of them were Oklahomans.
• More than 33,600 Americans received a transplant in 2016; 325 of them were Oklahomans.
• There were 9,970 deceased organ donors in America in 2016; 180 of them were Oklahomans.
• More than 82,994 sight-restoring cornea transplants were performed in the United States in 2016; 325 of them were Oklahomans.
• Every 10 minutes another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list.
• Every day, 22 Americans die waiting for an organ transplant.
• More than 1,000,000 tissue transplants are performed in the United States each year.
• Each day in the United States 92 people receive a transplant.
The choice to be a donor or not to be a donor will appear on the signature pad during issuance of the license or identification card. Applicants must check the box next to the option to participate and be a donor. Applicants may change their answer each time a replacement or renewal card is issued.
If not registered on the drivers license or state ID card, register at LifeShareRegistry.org or call 800-826-LIFE (5433) and request a donor registration form.