Heart Recipient Shares Lessons On Life's Unexpected Gifts

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If Skip Boldt sanitizes his hands after shaking yours, he is not being rude, just cautious. On July 21 he survived heart transplant surgery, and he just came back to his family and Payson a couple weeks ago.

"I'll be vulnerable the rest of my life," Boldt said. "How many times does your hand go to your face? That's how you get sick. When your immune system is broken down, infection runs through your system quickly. I don't want to

offend anyone. Things may look clean, but they're not. You don't know who touched it last."

The man who received a heart transplant just before Boldt had his surgery died of an infection. It scared Boldt into taking cleanliness to the "next level," to the point that it was tough for him to reach out, even to his wife.

"To be honest with you, the first two weeks (after the surgery) I think I only touched my wife two or three times. I was very tentative with her, I was scared of the germ factor."

He described himself as going downhill in the last few weeks before the surgery. "The last eight months was a roller coaster ride. There were times I wasn't certain I was going to come home or not. I tried to be very optimistic, but at the same time I had to be realistic and take proper precautions."

"Unfortunately, I sound like ‘It's all about me' and I have to be that way out of respect for the life I have been given. If I don't get better, I can't help anyone else."

And helping others is something Boldt wants to do, whether it is by trying to lift the spirits of people in his transplant support group or by getting the message out that donors are needed.

Prior to the surgery, Boldt said he worked long hours as a plumber to get ahead and not live week to week.

But working doesn't come without a price -- it's time to relax with your wife, play time with your kids.

"I never thought that this would happen," said Boldt, who was diagnosed HCM, or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, five years ago and stopped working last February. "Good thing that I was able to save some money, and actually the support of the community has been just tremendous."

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Skip Boldt's 15-year-old daughter, Heather (left), helped organize a fund-raiser with her Girl Scout troop and leaders in March at Julia Randall Elementary School. The fund-raising event filled the cafeteria at the school with friends, family and people wanting to help defray the cost of the heart transplant.

There are tears in his eyes when he describes the fund-raisers and the cards and letters. He said he is so amazed people took the time out of their own busy lives to write a quick note.

"Things are so costly. A mom and dad have to work to make enough money, so there are not enough hours in the day. So for people to take the time out to write or call when they could be spending time with their own families shows that there is a lot of love and caring in this community. I was overwhelmed by it.

"Do I have hobbies I am itching to get back to? Well I used to golf and will do so again, but that is a really funny question," Boldt said.

"My hobby is getting better and being with my family. I've been given a gift and it may sound corny, but that's my hobby. It's the truth."

He is looking forward eventually to being able to shoot hoops with his son.

For now, Boldt walks and does rehabilitation therapy.

He is due to go to San Diego just before Thanksgiving for a biopsy, to make sure his body isn't rejecting his new heart.

A side effect of the medications he must take have made him prone to being diabetic. In the last month or so, he said he has only needed to take one insulin shot.

"That is me taking care of me, as far as what I'm eating."

"I eat just about anything, but I eat in moderation," Boldt said. "I'm learning what is good for me to eat and what is not."

He had pizza last Saturday and he paid the price, with an elevation of his blood sugar level.

He thinks he won't need to monitor his blood sugar after another month passes, and he has been working toward that goal since the day after his surgery.

He views getting better as his responsibility.

Nonprofit network wants to expand transplant opportunities

Americans can increase their chances of getting a transplant by joining LifeSharers.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, 90,135 candidates were on the national transplant waiting list as of Friday, Oct. 28. Currently only about 30 percent of Americans are registered donors.

In 2003, Dr. Robert Metzger, then UNOS' president-elect, testified before Congress that more than half of the people on the list would die before they received a transplant.

"Anyone who wants to improve their odds of getting a transplant if they ever need one should join LifeSharers," says David J. Undis, the organization's executive director.

LifeSharers is a nonprofit network of organ donors. Members agree to donate their organs when they die. They also agree to offer their organs first to other LifeSharers members, if any member who needs them is a suitable match, before offering them to nonmembers. They do this through a form of directed donation that is legal in all 50 states and under federal law.

"If you join LifeSharers today, you'll get preferred access to the organs of over 3,300 members," adds Undis, "and as our membership expands your chances of getting a transplant will keep getting better. We offer a very good trade. By donating your organs after you can't use them any more, you could literally save your life."

More information can be found at www.lifesharers.org.

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