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Daughter Saves Mother’s Life With An Organ Transplant — Twice: “It Was A Miracle!”

Without hesitation, Eileen Harlin donated part of her liver to save her mother — and later stepped up to give a kidney


On Mother’s Day of 2022, Eileen Harlin drove from her home in Windsor, Pennsylvania to her parents’ house in Frederick, Maryland. She had big news and couldn’t think of a better day to share it with her mom, Julia.

“I know you’ll be mad at me, Mom, but for the past few months, I’ve been getting tested. We’ve scheduled surgery.”

Julia, in shock, sat silently, tears rolling down her face. Diagnosed with nonalcoholic cirrhosis in 2021, the mom of five had been waiting for months for a donor liver, but even as she grew sicker and weaker, she made it clear that she did not want any of her children to donate. She didn’t want them to go through the stress of testing and risk of surgery, and she didn’t want to worry about them.

But watching their mother suffering was too much to bear. Although each of her children wanted to help, Eileen felt she was the best candidate. Her brother and three sisters all have children — Julia has 12 grandchildren. Eileen, however, is single and has no kids. So, putting her lifetime fear of needles aside, she got tested and was overjoyed to learn she was a match.

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Julia with some of her 12 grandchildren
Julia with some of her 12 grandchildrenEileen Harlin

“Are you sure?” Eileen’s father, Donald, asked, his eyes filled with tears.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Eileen assured him.

I don’t believe this, Julia thought, her heart flooding with love and gratitude.

Eileen and her mom now have an even closer bond
Eileen and her mom now have an even closer bond after the two transplantsEileen Harlin

Gift of love

Three months later, mother and daughter underwent the surgery. The whole family rejoiced when the transplant was a success. Eileen took a few months off from her job as an office manager to recover, but her liver regenerated, and her life went back to normal. Julia was doing well, too.

Then, one day in 2023, at a routine checkup, the nurse asked Julia if she had a kidney doctor. It seemed unbelievable after all she had been through, but tests showed that Julia’s kidneys were now failing, a complication, she learned, that can occur in people with advanced liver disease. Julia was told she needed a kidney transplant ASAP.

Breaking the news to her family about what would have been two transplants was as hard as hearing it herself. There were lots of tears, but then, without hesitation, Eileen told her mom, “I’m going to give you one of my kidneys.”

A year after giving her mom a part of her liver, Eileen (right) gave her a kidney for a total of two transplants.
A year after giving her mom a part of her liver, Eileen (right) gave her a kidneyEileen Harlin

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Amazed and grateful

“No way!” Julia said. “You have already done this for me before.”

Two transplants? Doctors were hesitant. Living donors are rare enough, but Eileen would be only the 14th person in the U.S. to be a dual donor to the same recipient on different dates, and the first at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

But as her beloved mother deteriorated, Eileen pressed the doctors. I can’t let Mom die. I just can’t lose her yet.

Seeing her determination, the transplant director discussed the situation with the hospital’s ethics committee, and given Eileen’s stellar health record, the doctors decided to move forward with the second transplant.

Still, even though she had proved to be a match for a liver, Eileen needed to undergo more tests, which confirmed she would again be a good donor. The transplant was scheduled for December 19, 2023.

Just before she was wheeled off to the OR from the prep room, Eileen grabbed her mother’s hands, and they told each other, “I love you.”

The operation was a success. Following the procedure, Julia’s kidney function recovered immediately, the doctor told the family. And she and Eileen both went home in just a couple of days.

Julia, holding Eileen when she was an infant
Julia, holding Eileen when she was an infantEileen Harlin

Mother and daughter always had a close relationship, but this bonding experience over the two transplants brought them even closer.

Today, Julia, 72, feels grateful to be alive, and she looks forward to watching all her grandkids grow up, graduate and live their own lives. “I’m not leaving this place until I have a great-grandchild!” she says, her voice filled with determination.

Julia (center) with her sister and sisters-in-law: Two Transplants later
Julia (center) with her sister and sisters-in-lawEileen Harlin

Her family is glad to hear that.

“She’s the glue that holds everybody together,” Eileen, 39, says. “We would be a wreck without her.”

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