Double donor

After her sister is killed by a drunk driver, Judith becomes a double donor

Woman smiling outdoors with sunglasses and a shirt that says, "Donate Life."

Judith Phillips’ first experience with the importance of organ donation came at one of the worst times in her life—when her sister was hit by a drunk driver and had burns on more than 98% of her body.

During the 52 days she was at University Hospital in Madison, Judith’s sister received skin grafts from deceased donors, but Judith learned just how few people chose to become organ and tissue donors. Ultimately, Judith’s sister passed away from her injuries.

Years later, Judith decided to research the idea of becoming an organ donor herself—but she would do it while she was still living. She came back to the hospital where her sister was treated, and underwent tests to become a living kidney donor at the UW Health Transplant Center. She gave the gift of life on Oct. 28, 2021, and immediately started thinking about living liver donation, too.

The following April, she attended UW Health’s Living Donor Ceremony and ran into David Foley, MD, the transplant surgeon who had performed her kidney donation surgery. When he heard she was interested in liver donation, he introduced her to a donation coordinator on the spot, who started her on the path to becoming a double living donor.

“Because I had already donated a kidney,” Judith said, “they had me undergo extra testing to be sure a second donation wouldn’t stress my body.”

It didn’t take long for a recipient to be found, and on Nov. 16, 2023, Judith gave her second gift of life through part of her liver. To her surprise, the surgery wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be.

“After my kidney donation, I refused all pain medications, so that recovery was really rough,” she said. “Then, 10 weeks after the liver surgery, I was back in the hospital with fluid buildup around my lungs. My doctors took such good care of me. They don’t mess around with living donors—they are very concerned that their donors have an absolutely wonderful experience. By the time I donated part of my liver, I was ready for anything.”

Over the last couple of years, Judith has become a vocal proponent of living organ donation. She points out that the Donor Shield program—which is now available for liver as well as kidney donors—covers all the costs of the donation, and even reimburses living donors for lost wages.

“More people could do this,” she said. “Two people are wandering around out there with healthy, working organs that they didn’t have before. If I can educate someone else, that’s another donation that saves another person.”