Donor families honored by Governor Scott Walker

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MADISON - The late Deborah Ambrose-McDonald may have passed away, but her gifts touch others every day.

Not only does she bring a smile to the face of her husband Rory McDonald, but her organs have helped four other people. Ambrose-McDonald had walked out of Mama Lou's Shrimp and BBQ Smokehouse, 315 State St., in May of 2016 when she was struck and killed by a bicyclist on the sidewalk.

On Friday, Ambrose-McDonald and 84 other organ donors were honored at the Governor's Executive Residence for the 25th Annual Gift of Life Medal Ceremony. It was the largest gathering for the event to date.

Deborah Ambrose-McDonald's husband and biggest fan Rory McDonald accepted her medal. As McDonald doesn't have family in the area, he was accompanied by Overflowing Cup Pastor Dave Fogderud, his wife Diana Fogderud and reporter Hillary Gavan.

McDonald said the event was a great honor for his wife, who was known for her generosity. Wearing sunglasses to conceal his tears, McDonald is still grieving his wife's unexpected passing two days short of their 25th anniversary. The two met while McDonald was touring with a musical group in Florida and the two had remained inseparable ever since.

On Friday, McDonald had the opportunity to chat with other people showing pictures of their loved ones who had been organ donors. McDonald, like other family members in attendance, received a big hug from Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker and First Lady Tonette Walker hosted nearly 300 family members to the event. After refreshments and tours of the garden area outside the residence, family members gathered for a ceremony and family photos with the Governor and First Lady.

Walker said more than 800 lives were saved because of the organ donors. The medals, he said, honored the heroism of those who donated as well as their families.

Jesse Pagels, a lung transplant recipient, shared how he never fully appreciated breath until he was losing his. Having lungs has given Pagels the opportunity to be there for his family.

Cora Spencer, the sister of a donor, encouraged families to keep going despite their loss and spoke about the close relationships she developed with organ recipients.

Walker said Wisconsin is among the nation's most generous states when it comes to organ donations and he encouraged others to become organ donors.

The Gift of Life Medal Ceremony is coordinated annually by Wisconsin's two federally-designated Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs), the University of Wisconsin Tissues and Organ Donation in Madison, and the Wisconsin Donor Network in Milwaukee.

More than two million Wisconsinites chose to register as an organ donor. To learn more about organ donation or register to become an organ donor, visit the local Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or check out

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