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‘Ordinary Angels,’ Hilary Swank's new movie, is based on this true story about faith

Sharon Stevens, who inspired the movie, called it a "miracle unveiling on screen."
/ Source: TODAY

Hilary Swank said she was personally inspired by Sharon Stevens Evans, the real-life woman she portrays in her upcoming movie, “Ordinary Angels.”

“She’s larger than life. She is like a force of nature, Sharon, and she is flawed and she’s imperfect, like we all are,” Swank said during a visit to TODAY on Feb. 19. 

“And she’s going through her life and loses her faith and then gets an opportunity to find her truest purpose by helping this family, and this young girl,” Swank continued. “And then gets a chance to regain her faith.”

“Ordinary Angels,” which hits theaters Feb. 23, tells the story of a determined hairdresser who rallies her community in Louisville, Kentucky, to save the life of Michelle Schmitt, a toddler who needs an urgent liver transplant. 

“Reacher” actor Alan Ritchman co-stars as Michelle’s dad, Ed Schmitt. “Ordinary Angels” also features Nancy Travis (“The Kominsky Method”), Tamala Jones (“Castle”), Skywalker Hughes (“Joe Pickett”) and Amy Acker (“The Gifted”). 

Read on to learn more about the true story that inspired “Ordinary Angels.”

Is ‘Ordinary Angels’ based on a true story?

Yes, “Ordinary Angels” is based on the true story of a Kentucky hairdresser who helped a critically ill little girl get a life-saving liver transplant.

The real-life events that inspired the movie unfolded in the early 1990s in Louisville, Kentucky, and involved Ed Schmitt, a widower raising two young girls, Michelle and Ashley, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

Both girls had a congenital liver disease and needed liver transplants to survive. Ashley received her transplant in 1991. However, three years later, Michelle, 3 at the time, was still waiting for a liver to become available. Meanwhile, the family was drowning in medical debt. 

When Sharon Stevens Evans, a local hairdresser, read about the Schmitts’ plight in the newspaper, she launched fundraising efforts to help the family. She even raised money for Michelle to be flown by private plane from Louisville to a children’s hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, where she would receive her new liver whenever a donated organ became available, according to the Courier Journal.

Then, one morning in January 1994, the family received word that a donor liver was ready for Michelle — at the most difficult time imaginable. Louisville had just been slammed by a historic snowstorm, with roads closed and the route to the airport blocked. 

Michelle’s transplant couldn’t wait until the snow cleared; if she didn’t reach Omaha by that evening, the donated liver would no longer be viable.

Members of the family and community, including Sharon Stevens Evans and Michelle’s grandmother Barbara Schmitt, scrambled to arrange a helicopter to take Michelle to the airport. 

“Obviously with 17 inches of snow, the city was shut down so my grandma called Sharon to figure out what we should do,” Michelle’s older sister, Ashley, recalled to the Courier Journal.

“Sharon started calling radio stations to rally the community because the Southeast Christian Church parking lot needed to be cleared for a helicopter to land and pick up my dad and Michelle to get to the airport and onto a private plane to take them to Omaha,” Ashley continued.

Members of the community heard the rallying call and arrived at the church parking lot with shovels. They raced to clear a landing space for the helicopter, as seen in a photo from the Courier Journal’s 1994 article about the Schmitts’ story.

Michelle was then flown successfully to Omaha and received the transplant.

What happened to Michelle Schmitt?

Michelle Schmitt Cobble died at the age of 30 in 2021 after suffering a stomach aneurysm, local NBC affiliate WAVE 3 News reported at the time.

Ashley Schmitt told the outlet that Michelle graduated from Louisville’s Spalding University and had a job in the medical field working with children.

“She even worked with some of (our) pediatricians that we had throughout the years, which was full circle. She really enjoyed just helping others and giving back (to) the community,” Ashley Schmitt told WAVE 3.

Cobble was survived by her husband and father, as well as her big sister.

“The fact that we made it to our 30s, that we were able to get our driver’s license, go to prom, do the (things) that people kind of take for granted because they know they’re going to do them ... with us, we never even dreamed of reaching 16 years old,” Ashley Schmitt said.

Is Hilary Swank’s 'Ordinary Angels' character a real person? 

Yes, Hilary Swank’s character in “Ordinary Angels” is based on Sharon Stevens, who now goes by Sharon Stevens Evans, a hairdresser from Louisville, Kentucky. 

After learning about the Schmitt family’s struggles, Evans organized a community fundraiser to help with the family’s medical bills and ended up leading efforts to transport Michelle to the hospital during Louisville’s snowstorm in 1994. 

Evans wrote a memoir about her experiences, also called “Ordinary Angels,” in 2023. 

Hilary Swank and Sharon Stevens
Hilary Swank and Sharon Stevens Evans at the "Ordinary Angels" premiere.John Nacion / Variety via Getty Images

The real Stevens Evans has been involved in promoting the movie and has spoken positively of the way her story was told, telling ABC 36 News in January that she's “so honored” to be portrayed by Swank. 

“It is a miracle unveiling on screen,” she said. “It is a beautiful story (with) all the right people.”

What the Schmitt family has said about ‘Ordinary Angels’

Michelle Schmitt’s sister, Ashley Schmitt, has praised “Ordinary Angels” and posted about the film on social media. 

Ashley Schmitt and Jon Gunn
Ashley Schmitt posed with filmmaker Jon Gunn at the New York premiere of "Ordinary Angels" on Feb. 19.John Nacion / Variety via Getty Images

She mentioned the movie in a heartfelt Instagram post honoring what would have been her sister’s 33rd birthday in December.

“Happy 33rd Birthday Chelle. I miss you everyday and wish that you were still here,” she wrote. “Losing you was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to face. And I’d give anything to have you back."

"Your name and legacy will live on. Here in less than 3 months everyone will know who Michelle Schmitt was. I’m grateful your memory can be carried on in this way through the movie.”

She also shared her gratitude for the movie in a Jan. 1 Instagram post.

“We are definitely excited for everyone to see Ordinary Angels,” she wrote. “It’s much bigger than we ever thought it would be. Seeing it advertised in theaters and on TV, and seeing the movie posters up around town. It’s cool and surreal."

The girls’ father, Ed Schmitt, attended the Louisville premiere with his daughter.

Has 'Ordinary Angels' been released? Here's when it comes out

"Ordinary Angels" premieres Feb. 23 in theaters.

Is 'Ordinary Angels' a religious movie?

"Ordinary Angels" was made through a partnership between Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company, a faith-based production company.

Past movies made with this partnership include "Jesus Revolution," about a grassroots Christian movement in the '70s, and "I Can Only Imagine," about the making of MercyMe's chart-topper.

In her Jan. 1 Instagram post about the movie, Ashley Schmitt spoke about the importance of faith for her family.

“I hope it renews people’s faith in God, shows how communities can come together and help people and make a difference,” she wrote. “And I hope it raises organ donation awareness. Without those 3 things; faith, community, and organ donors, Michelle would not have lived for 30 years and I wouldn’t still be here today.”