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One of Kentucky’s Most Iconic Moments Celebrating 30th Anniversary

Ed Schmitt and his daughters Ashley and Michelle who both suffered from a liver condition. Photo Submitted by Shelley Snyder

Louisville’s Snow Baby received lifesaving transplant during historic 1994 snowstorm. 

 By Shelley Snyder  

Donate Life Kentucky 

 

On January 17, 1994, a historic and deadly snowstorm hit Kentucky at the same time a liver transplant became available in Nebraska for a dying three-year-old Louisvillian named Michelle Schmitt. With the family unable to travel to Nebraska while Kentucky was at a standstill, community members stepped up and created one of the state’s most heartwarming and iconic moments. Now, this story is being released into a nationwide film adaptation, “Ordinary Angels,” starring Hilary Swank and Alan Ritchson. 

 Michelle Schmitt’s father, Ed Schmitt, was raising two girls under five years old who both suffered from a deadly liver condition and would require lifesaving organ transplants. Ed Schmitt, who had recently lost his 29-year-old wife to a respiratory illness, was caring for his daughters as a single father. A large part of this emotional stress was a huge financial burden with the growing number of medical bills. That’s when Sharon Stevens Evans, a single mother and hairdresser in Louisville, inspired the city to raise funds as she worked to lower the family’s medical bills, also finding companies willing to donate their corporate jets and pilots whenever the call came in that a liver was available. 

 While the city of Louisville was shut down under 19 inches of snow, a family in Kansas decided to say “yes” to organ donation and save lives when their son suddenly passed away. One of those lives was Michelle Schmitt. Ed Schmitt got the call that a liver was available for his daughter Michelle. The surgery could only be done in Omaha, Nebraska, so the family needed a way to fly out of the snowed-in state within a matter of hours. Sharon Stevens Evans stepped in and brought Louisville residents together once again to make it happen. While a single runway was cleared at the airport, hundreds showed up to shovel the parking lot of Southeast Christian Church so a helicopter could get the family to the corporate jet waiting to fly Michelle and her family to Omaha for her lifesaving liver transplant. 

 Stevens Evans wrote the book, “Ordinary Angels,” which inspired the film. It highlights the heroic deeds of strangers in Louisville who came together to help save the young girl’s life, including the donor family who lost their son. Swank plays the role of Stevens Evans, and the role of Ed Schmitt is played by Alan Ritchson. “Ordinary Angels” will hit theaters nationwide on Friday, February 23. 

 “When all this happened thirty years ago,” said Sharon Stevens Evans, “I had no idea so many people would come together to save one little girl’s life. I never imagined I’d have a book and we’d be seeing this story in theaters. Now, I just hope people are inspired to set aside their differences and work together in peace to make this world a better place.” 

 “Anyone can become an organ donor,” Stevens Evans added. “We all can step up to help someone else. I’m just an ordinary person. If I could do it, anyone can.” 

 On January 17, 1994, Louisville was covered with 19 inches of snow, causing the city to shut down for nearly a week. Along with record-breaking snowfall, the storm also broke an all-time low-temperature record at the time, which was -22 degrees Fahrenheit. 

 “Everyone who was around in January 1994 has a personal story of the snowstorm, because it shut down the city of Louisville for weeks and impacted our state as a whole,” says Shelley Snyder, Executive Director for Donate Life Kentucky. “Now, so many more people will remember that time for another reason—the heroic actions of strangers coming together to help save a little girl and the lifesaving work that can be achieved when someone says ‘yes’ to organ donation.” 

 Michelle Schmitt received her gift of life that fateful day and celebrated 26 more holidays with her beloved family. She promoted the mission of organ donation and eventually met the family of the donor who saved her life. In 2011, Michelle Schmitt received the gift of a kidney transplant from her best friend, Crystal Olafson. Michelle Schmitt passed away in May of 2021 when “Ordinary Angels” began filming. Her sister Ashley Schmitt, who has already received the gift of life twice with a liver and kidney transplant says her sister would have found the film inspiring. 

 “She would have loved knowing that this movie could help save someone’s life by bringing attention to the mission of organ donation,” said Ashley Schmitt. “As a transplant recipient myself, I know firsthand the impacts that can happen when total strangers step up to help whether it’s to shovel a runway or by something even simpler, registering to be an organ donor. I know Michelle would be honored by this movie and the awareness her story will help raise.” 

 For more information on Donate Life KY, visit https://donatelifeky.org 

Ashley and Michelle Schmitt after Michelle’s liver transplant. Photo Submitted by Shelley Snyder

Ashley and Michelle Schmitt each received liver and kidney transplants. Photo Submitted by Shelley Snyder

 

 

 

 

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