“I wanted to do more.”

Photo of Michael Harmon and Evelyn Schultz with Text "I wanted to do more."

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“I wanted to do more.”

As Michael (Mike) Harmon, Gift of Hope Vice President of Organ Operations, and former Senior Operations Advisor Evelyn (Ev) Schultz reflect on their early years as organ recovery coordinators, they talk about how they were compelled to do this life-saving work.

Mike was working as a nurse when he witnessed a mother agreeing to organ donation after her son’s death. The donation saved the lives of five people. Mike knew he had to become a donation coordinator. “How do you get to do this?” Mike recalls asking himself. “I would’ve done the job for free.”

Early in their careers with Gift of Hope, then called the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois, it was common to log 72 hours straight working with families of organ donors. “We did it all from start to finish…to give them the legacy they were hoping for, for their loved one,” said Ev, who retired in 2023 after nearly three decades with the organization.

In those early years as organ recovery coordinators, they also assumed responsibility for aftercare, following up with grieving families to provide information on the outcomes of each donation and support.

Ev shares a memory of a teenage girl bringing her a photo of a Homecoming dress she had bought with her mother who died shortly after.  “I carried that photo with me for a long time,” she said. “I spent a lot of time corresponding with that family over the years, sharing Christmas cards.”

One of Mike’s most vivid memories is of a newborn donor. After the donation process, the baby’s parents asked Mike to not leave their son alone—and he didn’t. He held the baby for hours until he was able to be transferred to the medical examiner’s office. “I promised them,” he said.

“It really made who we are,” said Ev. “[This work] changes your fabric, your way of thinking and your appreciation for things. And you carry that forward for the rest of your life.”

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