Donor Mike Cecchi’s Kindness, Generosity Touched Many Lives
On July 10, 2015, Michael Cecchi, a hardcore Chicago Cubs fan, fulfilled one of his dreams when he walked onto Wrigley Field and threw the ceremonial first pitch for the annual Crosstown Classic showdown between the Cubs and Chicago White Sox. Tragically, Mike passed away three years later, but through the gift of donation he fulfilled a very different type of wish — the desire to help save lives through organ and tissue donation.
Mike passed away on Nov. 2, 2018, from severe head trauma resulting from a tragic fall. He was a registered organ and tissue donor, and his generous decision to donate saved three people’s lives. Jeanne Cecchi, Mike’s wife of 32 years, wholeheartedly supported and honored his decision to offer hope and life to others in need.
“I knew Mike was registered to be an organ and tissue donor,” said Jeanne. “I am a registered donor too, and we always told our boys that if anything was to ever happen to us we wouldn’t want to be hooked up to machines to live. We’d want to help other people.”
When families agree to donation or honor their loved one’s desire to donate, their and their loved ones’ hospital stays are prolonged. Although this can sometimes be unexpected and difficult, it can also provide families with more time by their loved ones’ sides.
“None of us knew how long the donation process was, which was hard,” said Jeanne. “But it allowed time for a lot of people to go to the hospital and say goodbye, so that was a positive, and I was by his side the entire time and never left.”
A Beloved Husband And Friend
Mike met Jeanne at Joliet Central High School in Joliet, Ill., when they were both seniors. Six and a half years later they married at the age of 23. And every 10 years after they married, Jeanne and Mike went on a cruise to celebrate each milestone anniversary.
Throughout his lifetime, Mike worked first as a sheet metal worker, then went into banking and most recently worked as a salesman. Through his sales job, the opportunity to throw the first pitch at Wrigley Field came about, and Mike, a lifelong Cubs fan, was determined to clinch it.
“The incentive was offered to all the sales reps at work,” Jeanne said. “And Mike’s exact words to me were, ‘Oh I’m going to get that.’”
Mike was a devoted husband and a dedicated father to his sons Eric and Andrew. He was also extremely involved in the community, serving as a baseball coach for 16 years and a football coach for three.
Mike loved his community, and it loved him back.
“Everyone knew him for his smile,” Jeanne said. “He was just a loving person who had many friends.”
One of his dearest and longtime friends was Dan Schultz. Dan met Mike in high school about 30 years ago.
“No one was ever a stranger to Mike Cecchi,” said Dan. “He was outgoing, and anyone he met became his friend. He was always trying to help people out. If you called him, he would always say, ‘How can I help?’ Everyone liked being around Mike. He brought excitement to anything and everywhere.”
Honoring And Celebrating A Life
To celebrate the one-year anniversary of Mike’s passing, his family and friends honored his lifesaving legacy in different ways.
Dan’s wife Sue Shultz and her family, who own Cemeno’s Pizza in Joliet, drove and supported an in-store initiative to help increase awareness about the need for organ and tissue donors. During November, stickers with a printed message encouraging people to register as organ and tissue donors were affixed to pizza boxes sold at Cemeno’s.
“They sell a ton of pizzas every week,” Dan said. “So, we thought this would help get the word out. It would be great to do it every November. We just don’t want to forget him.”
Mike’s friends and family are also planning a second golf outing in his honor. The first outing took place in May 2018 at Inwood Golf Course in Joliet. Nearly 180 people participated in the outing, and the event committee donated nearly $7,000 of the proceeds to Gift of Hope to continue supporting the organization’s mission to save and enhance lives through organ and tissue donation.
“Everyone loved Mike,” Dan said. “We got really great items for the silent auction, and we sold out of tickets. It actually started raining before the outing ended and I like to think Mike wanted us to stop golfing and go celebrate.”
Another way Mike’s loved ones honored him was to install a bench in his name in front of Cemeno’s Pizza, a place where Mike and his family and friends frequented and where they shared many memorable moments. On Saturday, Nov. 2, his family and friends gathered at a memorial bench dedication to celebrate his life and his lifesaving generosity.
Life After Loss
Throughout the years and their lives together, Mike was the same loving person, according to Jeanne.
“I’m doing OK, but I miss him every day,” she said. “I miss the little things, the everyday things.”
Jeanne hopes to one day meet the people who received Mike’s lifesaving gifts, although she understands it’s possible that they may have reservations about that because they received a gift from a family who lost a loved one.
“I wrote a letter to all of the people who benefited from his donation,” said Jeanne. “I know they know that we lost somebody, but I’d still like to meet them someday. We know it’s up to them.”
Jeanne and Mike shared their lives with one another, and they shared the belief that it’s important to give and to help other people, even when you’re gone.
“Why wouldn’t you want to help another person?” Jeanne asked. “You can’t take it with you.”
According to Jeanne, Mike was constantly smiling, and he always wanted others to smile, too. Thanks to Mike’s generosity and kind nature, those who received his gifts and their loved ones are living, healing and smiling.