Ordinary Angels: The True Story of Sharon Stevens, Explained

In Jon Gunn’s ‘Ordinary Angels,’ the narrative unfolds around Sharon Stevens and the tight-knit community of Louisville, Kentucky, united by a shared mission to aid a family facing a harrowing crisis. The tale centers on 2-year-old Michelle Schmitt, grappling with liver complications and in need of a transplant. Having lost her mother years earlier, Michelle’s family is confronted with profound financial and emotional strain. Sharon becomes the driving force, orchestrating a collective effort within the community to support the young girl in her courageous medical battle.

How Did The Entire Louisville Community Help Michelle Schmitt?

Surprising as it may be, ‘Ordinary Angels’ is grounded in actual events that transpired in Louisville, Kentucky, during the year 1994. The film adeptly encapsulates the genuine spirit of a community bound together by the leadership of a hairdresser and a single mother, Sharon. Talking about it, director Jon Gunn said, “As I was looking at the true story and looking at the real people, I felt like there was a responsibility and an obligation to tell their story in a way that honored their life. So my vision was to share – with honesty and integrity – the truth and the challenges and the pain of that true story in a way that was optimistic and uplifting.”

Michelle Schmitt//Image Credit: Newcomer Funeral Home

The screenplay of the film, crafted by Kelly Fremon Craig and Meg Tilly, takes substantial inspiration from Sharon Stevens’ book titled ‘Ordinary Angels,’ published in September 2023. This literary work delves into Sharon’s personal experiences, recounting the collaborative efforts of various individuals who united to assist a young girl in need. The narrative unfolds in the early 1990s when Sharon, a hairstylist and single mother residing in Louisville, stumbled upon the Schmitt family’s story when she was flipping through the newspaper.

In 1992, Ed Schmitt’s 29-year-old wife, Theresa Schmitt, succumbed to complications from Wegener’s disease or Granulomatosis with polyangiitis, a rare autoimmune disorder affecting the blood vessels. The couple had two daughters, Ashley and Michelle, both 5 at the time, born with Biliary Atresia. It is a congenital condition characterized by the absence or malformation of the bile ducts in the liver. Ashley, the older sister, had already undergone a liver transplant in 1991, a challenging ordeal for someone so young. Michelle, the younger sister, was now in need of a similar life-saving procedure.

Sharon Stevens//Image Credit: FOx56News/YouTube

The family, already grappling with the emotional strain of health crises, faced additional burdens due to financial constraints and the lack of insurance. Ed and Barbara Schmitt, Michelle’s grandmother, were taking on the responsibility of raising the two girls. Sharon initially reached out to a minister at Southeast Christian Church, expressing her desire to assist the Schmitt family. Joining the church’s ongoing efforts to support the family financially, Sharon’s involvement took an extraordinary turn in January 1994, drawing significant attention.

On January 16, 1994, a significant snowstorm struck Kentucky, leaving the entire state blanketed in snow. The heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures created challenging conditions for residents, disrupting normal life, especially transportation. After receiving the call from Barbara Schmitt, Sharon wasted no time and utilized the radio as a powerful tool to mobilize support. Through a heartfelt plea broadcasted over the airwaves, she sought assistance from the community to make the critical journey possible.

A woman named Teresa Amshoff responded to the plea and came up with an ingenious solution. She suggested that a helicopter could be brought down to the Southeast Christian Church parking lot, which was just a few miles from the Schmitt house, and Michelle could then be taken to the airport. However, the logistical challenge of a snow-covered parking lot needed to be swiftly addressed for the plan to materialize. Witnessing the urgency of the situation, around 200 Louisville residents generously volunteered their time and effort to shovel the snow, clearing a path for the helicopter.

It was from there that Michelle was taken to the Standiford Field (now called the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport), where she took a private jet to reach the Children’s Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. While ‘Ordinary Angels’ draws inspiration from real events, it does incorporate creative liberties to enhance the storytelling. The inclusion of fictional characters, such as Rose, contributes to the overall narrative. Additionally, certain aspects of Sharon’s character, such as her fictional struggles with alcohol dependency and strained relationships, serve as creative embellishments.

Sharon’s real-life experiences, including witnessing her parents’ heavy drinking and her mother’s death from a liver disease, influenced her decision not to let alcohol control her own life. At the age of 31, Michelle Schmitt passed away due to a stomach aneurysm. It is noted that Michelle was aware that a film was being made around her life. Her sister, Ashley, said, “With Michelle passing away a couple of years ago, this movie will keep her memory alive. People who didn’t know her story or the importance of organ donation will understand that now.”

Ashley added, “That’s not something everyone gets when a family member passes away and that’s something my family feels is special.” Besides narrating a compelling and deserving story, ‘Ordinary Angels’ explores the significance of community support and kindness. A pivotal aspect of the film is its emphasis on the importance of organ donation, highlighting the profound impact it can have on saving lives. Grounded in the true events that inspired it, ‘Ordinary Angels’ serves as a powerful testament to the resilience of communities and the strong impact that individuals can make when they come together for a common cause.

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