Married First Responders Who Make Miracles Happen
Beginning a career in the field of organ donation is life-changing for any individual lucky enough to participate. One job changed everything for two front-line workers, Bethany (Kolb) and Travis Nolt.
Bethany and Travis physically hold precious life in their hands as they board flights at 3 a.m. to transport deceased donor organs to desperate recipients waiting. Their work has taught them that tomorrow is not promised and to live each day to the fullest. That is exactly what they are doing: growing their love for each other and for humanity.
In honor of National Donor Day (also Valentine’s Day), we recently sat down to get the inside scoop on who Bethany and Travis are, their family and their passion for saving lives.
Q&A with Bethany and Travis Nolt
How does your role support the process of donation?
Travis: Our official title is that we are Certified Transplant Preservationists. It’s pretty much preserving organs and making sure they get to where they need to be. We coordinate and assist with the recovery surgery and the actual preservation and packaging of the organs.
Bethany: Our team has a combined 80 to 100 years of surgical experience, so we are really there to meet the surgical needs of preserving the organ to the best possibility for transplantation.
Travis: And, we are the bridge between the surgical team that comes in with the staff in the operating room (OR).
Bethany: Yup, we basically coordinate what happens when everyone gets in the OR.
So, how did you two meet?
Bethany: T, I’d love to hear if your version of the story is different than mine. When I started, we were in a meeting and Linette was our manager at the time. She was like, “Oh, she belongs to your team.” My first impression was that he was so odd. [laughing]
Travis: Yeah, she was in a meeting with me. I was paying zero attention and had no idea who this lady was. Linette mentioned, “Oh, that’s your new teammate.” And, I grabbed her chair on wheels and invited her over, “Welcome to the team!”
Bethany: And, I was like, “who is this strange boy with a very loud laugh?” [both laughing] This was a while before we both started dating. I thought he was weird for a while! I just embrace your weird.
What’s one of your favorite memories from dating?
Bethany: When we got together, our kids were like 6 and 9 years old at the time. I was getting a haircut and it was the first time I referred to Travis (we call him T) as my boyfriend. And Carter goes, “Wait a second. He’s your boyfriend? I thought he came by to see me. I thought you were just best friends.”
Travis: Mine is actually long before we dated. Three days after Bethany started, my mom’s long-term boyfriend had passed. One of the first times we were out I was telling her that he just passed. She said, “I just want you to know my boys and I are praying for you and your mom.” That was one of the first times I was like, “Huh, who’s this nice lady?” I thought she was a good coworker, and she turned out to be a really great person.
Bethany: A long time later I was asking him what took him so long to ask since I was single and there were so many fish in the sea. And he responded, “You are the sea.” Who wouldn’t give a guy like that a chance?!
When did you get married? What was your wedding day like?
Bethany to Travis: Here’s your quiz: When did we get married?
Travis: I knew I should have had it engraved. [laughs] September 2, 2017?
Bethany: Good job! You want to know what’s funny? We had it scheduled on that day, so that it was a holiday. And, so more of our coworkers would be “off.” We also got married closer to the cities, so it would be easier for our coworkers to get there. LifeSource was our family there, and they REALLY showed up in masses.
Travis: The people on call actually had a case packed in their car, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Bethany: Oh! They had supplies ready for a lung, liver and heart recovery, just in case. Every single one of our team members made it. John LeMay, who is a Family Support Coordinator, was the officiant. One of our other Surgical Recovery Coordinators (SRC) at the time read a poem. We got married at another one of the SRC’s homes. It was very organ donation related.
Travis: Our cake topper had two people with scrubs and a lung cooler.
Bethany: When I ordered it, the lady was like “Huh?” When I first started, I used to collect old broaches; I made flowers out of broaches for every donor. And, these broaches made up the bouquets. We walked down the aisle to the song I’m Going to Love You, Like I’m Going to Lose You. One thing we’ve learned in this job is that you don’t wait for one day to tell people you love them. You have to tell them every day. You have to love them like you’re going to lose them.
How would you describe the LifeSource team?
Bethany: A well-oiled machine would be a good way to put it.
Travis: Team work makes the dream work for sure, at least in our department.
Bethany: I’ve never worked somewhere where you had to have such an understanding of everyone’s roles to maybe do yours a little better. We just all support one another; we have a small group – 8 of us – that cover three states and fly out to the rest of the nation. We’re a part of something so much bigger than us.
Travis: That’s one of the reasons why I came to LifeSource because it was small and had that family feel. I think in the way we hire the people we bring: everyone is in good nature and wants to help everybody. The people are all dedicated and good natured. You have to be because this job takes a lot out of you; it takes your time and it’s almost like a lifestyle working in the field that we do.
Bethany: When I was at St. Mary’s, my last case was a donor and that’s what inspired me to come to LifeSource. And, now looking back, I realize I had a complete misconception of how organ donation worked. I thought by working in the OR, I understood it. I just assumed someone died that day and then came down. Once I understood all of the moving parts, you almost want to make every person who see understand how complex it is.
Have you talked about organ donation as a family? What is it like to be on-call and raise a family?
Bethany: Carter loves to put pins on our map for each new life-saving destination. These are the places we have both gone to recover organs and bring them back to one of our transplant centers. He would always ask: Which organ are we going for, and which state? Our boys were so young when we got together. They’ve only known that donation comes first.
One of us is on call pretty much every day. They know that if we miss a game or a concert, that’s just the way it’s got to be; they’ve never complained about it.
Travis: I coached baseball for a couple years and would need to leave in the middle of baseball games.
Bethany: And, I had to cover. It wasn’t pretty. [laughing]
This is the life we chose. I don’t think we would choose anything else. Our lives are really 24/7 organ donation. We do essentially get the same holidays off together, so we can spend more time with our family. We are rarely out at the same time. Sometimes, Travis is coming home and I’m about to head out on a case; we have a well-oiled plan where the kids are not home alone long (if at all).
It’s what we do: We don’t go far out of town. We make plans that can be canceled if needed.
What does donation mean to you?
Travis: It’s one of the few things or final acts that you can make in your life. No matter how else you’ve lived your life or how people perceived you, at the end of the day you can be someone’s hero.
Bethany: It’s a decision that you make in an instance. I wonder how many people get a driver’s license, get asked if they want to be an organ donor and they respond with “Of course, if you could help someone, why wouldn’t you?” And, that one small decision can change so many lives for years to come.
I want people to know how rare it is to actually become an organ donor. It takes a pretty special individual to check all those boxes. We are blessed to be part of making that happen. Our 9-year-old once said, “Someone dies every time you go to work, but you get to make something really cool happen.”
What inspires you to do this work?
Bethany: The recipients. We don’t know their names, their age, what they look like; but, we do know there are a lot of them out there. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough to fulfill all of them.
Travis: It goes with how I want to live my life. Like the saying, “Do as much as you can, do whoever you can. For as long as you possibly can.” It’s as simple as that.
Bethany: We are lucky to be the ones to sit and maintain respect of the donor while everyone else is busy in the OR. It really is a privilege. Everyone says, “you have the coolest job.” And, we’re like, “You have no idea.” It’s not because we get to fly places and work with amazing people. We get to see science change every day in the coolest possible ways: heart in a box, lung in a box, etc. We’re part of that and that is crazy cool. Who knows by the time our careers are done what we’ll be transplanting successfully and how many lives we’ll be changing.