Following alternating bouts with drug abuse and recovery, Eric Bowman’s relapse in March 2017 killed him, but brought new life to someone he never met.
After the Hunlock Creek man died of a heroin overdose, one of his kidneys was transplanted in a dying man in Texas.
The 70-year-old kidney recipient, who was languishing with end-stage renal failure, has returned to good health. He recently thanked Eric’s survivors in a letter for the “precious gift.” They plan to meet this summer.
“I’m just so thankful a part of him is still going — that he’s not forgotten about, that because of him there’s another gentleman who is able to go on,” Eric’s mother, Sonia, 54, said.
Around the country, a record number of fatal drug overdoses from opioids like heroin is leading to a surge in organ donations and transplants — perhaps the lone positive of the epidemic.
After Eric, 29, overdosed, he had almost zero brain activity and was placed on life support. When family members found his driver’s license, they discovered he was a organ donor — a cause they long supported.
Surgeons were able to take one of his kidneys and his liver, which went to another patient they have yet to identify.
Over the past year, the Gift of Life program served as an intermediary between Eric’s family and the kidney receipt, exchanging letters between them.
“I can’t thank you enough for the precious gift of Eric’s left kidney,” the recipient, only identified as Rick, wrote in a recent letter. “Your most generous gift has given me a new lease on life. I will treasure this gift and take good care of it. I hope it will give you great comfort to know that Eric will live on in me.”
As Sonia Bowman read from the letter during an interview, her husband Ray started to cry.
“I couldn’t read it out loud,” he said.
Just recently, the Bowmans and the man were able to exchange information to contact each other directly.
The Bowmans would like to tell the man about their son — a lover of animals and motorcycles.
Ray Bowman, 57, said he’s glad his son will live on in someone else, and hopes more people will think of being organ donors.
“I’m glad that it’s becoming a priority — as opposed to the organs not being used for anything. It’s a shame it had to come to this, but that’s the silver lining in it.”
After Eric’s eldest brother, Jason, died in 2002 in a car crash, he started drinking alcohol to cope.
Eric’s parents first heard about their son’s use of drugs in 2012 when his girlfriend told them he had been snorting prescription painkillers, prescribed for his herniated discs, to get high.
“She gave him a choice. Stop or she was leaving him,” Sonia recalled.
“The drugs became a priority,” Ray said.
“He wasn’t taking them the right way. It got to the point it wasn’t enough for him, so he started using other drugs,” Sonia said.
At one point, Bowman and friends lived in a used motor home they would park all over the Hunlock Creek area. But one day when their drug supply dried up, they sold the vehicle to buy more.
In early January 2015, an acquaintance told Eric’s parents their son was staying at a Wilkes-Barre motel and was willing to get help for drug addiction.
The person they encountered looked nothing like the Eric they remembered. His hair was long and disheveled and he’d grown a thick beard. They sent him to a drug rehabilitation facility in Florida.
After a successful stint in rehab, Eric remained in the Sunshine State and starting working construction. One day, he fell off a ladder and broke both arms. He needed pain medication again.
Eric eventually moved back to Pennsylvania in August 2016.
Family thought he was doing well, but he got arrested for stealing steaks at a local supermarket. Due to a bail violation, he ended up in jail for several weeks.
After getting out of jail, he was pretty much restricted to his parents’ house.
“We didn’t let him go out with anyone. He was basically stuck in the house,” Sonia Bowman said.
Then one night Eric decided to go visit his sister’s house in Nanticoke around 1 a.m. He snuck out of her house around 3 a.m. By 6 a.m., they got a call from Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. The outlook wasn’t good.
Eric’s parents don’t know the full story about what happened that night and doubt they ever will. It’s believed Eric and acquaintances were in the Shickshinny area when he overdosed. Rather than call 911 to dispatch the nearest ambulance, the people he was with drove him to Wilkes-Barre General, they said. He later was transferred to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Twp., where he died and where the organ donation was completed.
Eric’s parents think first responders might have been able to revive their son with naloxone, the opioid reversal drug, if they were called immediately.
The Bowmans say they were shocked at his death.
“We would have expected it before, but not when he did, because he was doing so well,” Sonia said.
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