‘Ordinary Angels’ Ending Explained & True Story: Is Real-Life Michelle Schmitt Dead Or Alive?


Directed by Jon Gunn, Ordinary Angels brings to light how the feeling of togetherness and a sense of collective responsibility in a community contributed to saving the life of Michelle Schmitt. Sharon Stevens was nothing short of an angel when she entered the lives of the Schmitt family. The unexpected help from the stranger was exactly what Ed needed during the time of crisis. Michelle was critically ill and in need of a liver transplant. The piling hospital bills became almost impossible for Ed to get past. He was in need of money, and he was running out of time. Ed tried to stay strong, but life always found new ways to test him.

Jon Gunn’s 2023 film is based on a true story, as is declared at the very beginning of Ordinary Angels film. While the film takes certain creative liberty, through the story of Michelle Schmitt’s liver transplant, it attempts to inspire and encourage its audience to consider organ donation.

Spoiler Alert

Why was helping Michelle important for Sharon?

Sharon Stevens is portrayed in Ordinary Angels as an alcoholic. The lack of a purpose in life and being a disappointment to the people she loved resulted in her addictive behavior. Her mother was an alcoholic, and as much as she hoped to be better than her, she failed. Sharon’s business partner and best friend, Rose, led an intervention and forcefully dropped Sharon at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Sharon refused to admit that she had a problem, and instead of addressing her issues, she decided to dedicate all her time to a purpose. When she came across an article on Michelle Schmitt, she immediately knew that she was meant to help the little girl. Sharon decided to show up at Theresa Schmitt’s funeral, and even though it seemed like a silly idea, she could not stop herself from giving it a go. Ed’s wife, Theresa, passed away at a young age due to a condition known as Wegener’s disease. Sharon could not fathom the trauma that Ed was going through upon losing his wife and simultaneously having to take care of his sick daughter. Sharon wanted to see with her own eyes what the situation was, but she had yet to figure out a way to help the family.

Michelle fell in love with Sharon’s sparkly clothes, and it became their talking point. Her clothes symbolically suggested the colors and shine she would bring into the lives of the Schmitts. After meeting Michelle and Ashley, Sharon decided to independently raise funds for the cause. She conducted a haircut marathon and managed to make over three thousand dollars in a day. Sharon handed over the entire amount to Ed, who was quite surprised by the stranger from the funeral knocking at his door. He was hesitant about taking help from her, but his mother believed she was the answer to their prayers. Ed continued to doubt Sharon’s motive, but the rest of the family welcomed her with open arms. Ed had reasons to be closed off. All this while, he had been handling every little crisis, and he was not used to sharing his financial burden with someone else, especially a stranger. He remembered Sharon was hungover at the funeral, giving him all the more reason to doubt her intentions. With time, Sharon proved Ed wrong. She kept on surprising him by doing the impossible, but soon she had to face the fact that a part of the reason she was helping the family was to cope with her addiction.

How did Sharon manage to clear off the hospital dues?

It did not take much time for Sharon to figure out that Ed was in severe credit card debt. Ed refused to discuss his finances with Sharon, but she was a persistent woman who always got her way through. She took over the responsibility of sorting the bills from least to most important and tried to find ways to make his situation a little better. She believed a lot of his problems would disappear if he decided to sell his house, but that was the one thing Ed refused to do. The house was built by his father, and it held the memories of his wife. He was not ready to let go of it, and Sharon respected his stance. She helped Ed make his presentation for the roofing job that he planned to apply for. Sharon was a smart businesswoman, and she had a way with words; she managed to convince Ed’s employer that he was worth taking a shot at.

Sharon continued to raise funds and spread awareness about Michelle’s condition so much that she became inattentive to her hairdressing business. Sharon tried ways to cut costs, but it was not enough to pay the hospital bills. Either Ed had to sell his house, which he refused, or Sharon had to use her magical charms to convince the hospital board to consider the family’s hardship and reduce the bills. The board initially refused to consider her proposal, but Sharon struck an emotional chord, and it resulted in them deciding to pardon the entirety of the hospital bills so far. Ed could not believe that Sharon pulled off the impossible. He was grateful for her support, and he came to realize how her coming into their lives was truly a miracle.

What caused the distance between Sharon and the Schmitt family?

Assisting the Schmitt family helped Sharon forgive herself, and for the first time, she felt confident enough to walk up to her son and discuss the work she was doing. She was devastated when her son pointed out that she was doing it not for the little girl but for herself. Sharon failed to become the perfect mother she had envisioned, and Michelle was her way of righting the wrong. Her addiction resulted in the distance between her and her son, but she never took rehabilitation or getting sober into consideration. Instead of saving herself, she directed her energy into saving Michelle, which in itself was a noble cause, but it came at the cost of her not taking responsibility for her own life. She assumed that by saving Michelle, she would be saving herself, but she could not have been more wrong.

Even though Ed was against Sharon raising any more funds, she sought help from a television network to make more people in the area become aware of Michelle’s condition. As grateful as Ed was to Sharon, he hoped to create some boundaries, and not exposing his daughter to the world was one of them. Ed’s reaction left Sharon feeling empty, and she ended up resorting to alcohol to cope. Ashley and Michelle were with Sharon when Ed stepped out. When he returned, a scared Ashley jumped into his arms and expressed how afraid she and her sister were upon seeing Sharon behave weirdly. Ed realized that Sharon had gotten drunk, and he refused to accept her negligence. It was then that Sharon realized how broken she had always been and that it was time to fix her life. She joined the AA meeting and finally admitted that she was an addict who needed help. Sharon and the Schmitt family did not remain in touch during this time. Sharon focused on becoming a better person, and she realized where she had gone wrong as a parent and tried to develop a more meaningful relationship with her son.

How Was Michelle’s Life Saved?

Michelle’s health was deteriorating with time, and an immediate liver transplant was the need of the hour. It was the 1994 cold wave, and the streets of Louisville were covered in snow when Ed received a call from Michelle’s doctor. Ed had only six hours in hand to take Michelle to the hospital in Omaha, and he contacted Sharon for help. Sharon had prearranged planes to help Michelle cover the distance in time, but the weather conditions left her worried. Ed knew that he had to make it work somehow because this was the only chance Michelle had. Sharon connected with Rose to figure out the best possible route to make it to the airport. Even though the weather only got worse, Sharon was relieved to find out that the pilot was up for the challenge. The route to the airport that Ed decided to take was suddenly closed down due to the heavy snowfall. With all roads blocked, Sharon realized she had to come up with an alternate plan.

During Ordinary Angels‘ ending, Sharon connected with the TV show host to make an emergency announcement, requesting anyone among the viewers with access to a helicopter to contact Sharon and help save Michelle’s life. Just when Ed had lost all hope and made the call to his doctor, saying he would not make it in time, Rose’s family drove up to him and informed him about the helicopter arrangement that Sharon had managed to come up with. Ed was surprised by the love that the people of Louisville showed to him and his daughter. For the safe landing of the helicopter, people got to the church to shovel off the snow and pile their jackets and scarves one on top of the other for visibility. Michelle’s case was an example of humanity and how people together can make the impossible possible. At the end of Ordinary Angels, Michelle and Ed got on the helicopter, and we learned that the liver implant operation was a success. Sharon proved how an individual can make a huge impact. The film highlights the importance of society coming together and doing its part in saving a little girl’s life. Ordinary Angels also upholds the importance of organ donation in saving lives.

Are the events shown in the film true?

At the end of the emotional rollercoaster ride, we find out that Michelle’s liver transplant was a success. As previously mentioned, Ordinary Angels takes certain creative liberty in retelling the story of Michelle, though most of the major events are not altered to a great extent. Michelle was only three when she had to go through the operation. The girls had recently lost their mother, and the family was living through trying times. Sharon was a hairdresser living in Kentucky, and Michelle’s story struck a chord in her heart. She had lost her mother to liver cancer, and she was determined to find a way to save the life of the little girl. Sharon was not an alcoholic, as was shown in the film. The addiction angle was to add depth to the character, which further contributed to the narrative.

Even with all the changes, Ordinary Angels upholds the love and support shown by the community to Michelle. It is indeed true that the people of Louisville brought their shovels along to clear the snow and create a runway at the church for the landing of the helicopter, though it occurred during the day. Saving Michelle was no longer just a father’s dream; it had become the collective responsibility of society, and every individual contributed to ensuring that Michelle could go through the operation. Ed and Sharon continued to be friends, and she ended up attending Michelle’s wedding as well. Unfortunately, Michelle Schmitt died at the age of 31 in May 2021 due to a stomach aneurysm, but her story continues to be an example of the importance of organ donation and how a compassionate society can change the course of one’s life. 

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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