|Judith Blair and kidney recipient Dr. Michael Burgoon|
Judith Blair is a gift, although she would probably not agree. A modest woman living a quietly spiritual life in Tucson, Judith has changed her life and the lives of several individuals directly and dramatically. She has also had a profound effect on hundreds, maybe thousands of others by virtue of her belief system and the actions that result from it.
A divorced mother raising two sons, one of whom is a 6’10” former University of Arizona basketball player, she devoted herself to them, instilling in them the values that she herself espoused and practiced in her own daily life. She often accompanied her son Joseph to his practices and was a regular at the home games he played while at the University. It was during this time that she met Dr. Michael Burgoon, a Professor of Communications and a friend of her son’s, and learned that he was in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Burgoon had suffered for 21 years with lupus and kidney disease, and his health was rapidly deteriorating.
Judith offered to be Burgoon’s donor. His wife and another family friend had both previously volunteered to undergo the strenuous testing required to determine suitability for donation—and both discovered the beginning stages of life threatening illnesses of their own, for which they are now receiving treatment. Judith’s testing was completed, and doctors determined that her kidney was healthy and compatible for transplant. But Judith wasn’t satisfied to give just any kidney—she wanted to provide an extra-healthy kidney, and so began training to compete in this year’s Senior Olympics. Always healthy, active and fit, she now felt she had a triple mission: for God and her health, to encourage seniors to be fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to promote organ donation.
She proceeded to win gold medals at both the Tucson and the Phoenix Senior Olympics, not to mention the silvers and bronzes at which she scoffs. “I discovered that you don’t win the silver medal—you lose the gold,” she said once. And all this just a few months after the successful transplant. Since that time, she was also nominated for the AKF’s Virginia G. Piper Humanitarian Award, and has received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award from the Tucson Women’s Sport Foundation last March. But Judith Blair is more than just a competitor, and interested in more than just winning awards for her actions. She is determined to make a difference in the lives of people all over the world.
In April Judith went to visit son Joseph, now playing for an Italian basketball league, and was once again amazed to find herself in the right place at the right time. Joseph had been asked to help kick off a national organ donor awareness campaign by appearing on Italian national TV, and he asked Judith to accompany him. He then proceeded to introduce her to the crowd, not only as his mother, but also as a living unrelated kidney donor. What he hadn’t told Judith is that no one else at the event knew of her status beforehand, so her introduction was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
While warming up for her events at the Senior Olympics in Phoenix last February, she took the time to tell me that she felt blessed to have the support of the people involved in promoting organ donation. That is her true spirit, feeling blessed by others after having provided the Gift of Life to a man she barely knew.