34-year-old Mike enjoyed volleyball, golf and fishing, and he was a member of the Toledo Fire Department’s softball, bowling and soccer leagues. He also loved the Miami Dolphins. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Persian Gulf War on the SS Roosevelt. In addition to being a sports fanatic and a veteran, Mike’s family described him as dedicated, fun loving, caring and full of humor.
“I’m pretty sure he invented photobombing,” Mike’s wife, Jean, said. “He was always trying to get a laugh!”
Mike’s sister, Michelle, agreed.
“He was just the funniest, craziest, full-of-life person,” Michelle said. “I loved his high-pitched classic rock impression and that he would let me crash his parties. When I think of Mike, I think of the absolute best brother you could imagine!”
Mike exhibited loads of patience. He coached his son, Josh’s, soccer team, comprised of 4 to 6 year olds. He calmly helped Michelle, who was 13 years younger than him, learn how to drive. He let Josh and his daughter, Amber, use a marker to “connect the dots” on his back with his freckles. He taught his kids how to ride bikes without training wheels – he would run with them around the block holding on to the back of the bikes and would slowly let go when they were ready. That patience translated to Mike being a calm, dependable leader on the job.
“I remember being fairly new, and we had a 16-year-old, full arrest, and everyone was fumbling over everything. Nothing was going right,” Mike’s coworker, Meredith, said. “Iggy told everyone to just stop and take a breath so we could gather ourselves. It changed the whole dynamic of the run. Things went much smoother, and it had such an impact on me on the importance of us keeping our cool. It was an invaluable lesson.”
Mike’s actions also showcased how to be a good friend. He was always there for everyone, no questions asked.
“Iggy was a man who seemed to have a sixth sense about knowing when help was needed,” Mike’s neighbor, Tom, said. “It never failed that when you were struggling with something, there was Mike with a smile and hands open wide!”
He made others smile when he cooked up a feast. He loved to fish walleye, and he would “cook them to tasty perfection,” Jean said.
“I loved coming home from work and seeing him with a towel over his shoulder because that meant he was cooking dinner for us!” Jean said.
But everything stopped on June 4, 2005. Mike was in a motorcycle accident, and he passed away. The silver lining: Jean knew Mike wanted to be an organ donor.
“I was very thankful that he and I had talked about organ donation on several occasions, and I had no doubts about what his intentions were should anything like this ever happen,” Jean said. “He and I both believed that once you are gone from this earth, your body is no longer needed. And if it can save lives, then the choice to donate is quite simple.”
So he did. Mike’s gift of organ donation saved the lives of four people. That act helped Josh, who was almost 7 years old at that time, be “even more proud of his Daddy,” Jean said.
“It’s pretty cool – he saved lives his whole life, and he was able to keep saving lives after,” Josh, now 16, said.
Mike’s family was able to see what his gift of donation meant when they received an “extremely heartfelt, kind, gracious and respectful” letter from one of Mike’s kidney recipients. After some written correspondence, the two families decided to meet face to face – something Jean said was “wonderfully fulfilling” and felt like a family reunion. Jean and Josh also met Mike’s heart recipient. Jean said meeting him was bittersweet, but it was obvious how grateful the recipient and his family were. The recipient’s daughter had a tattoo of a heart with her dad’s name and date of transplant, and she asked if she could add Mike’s name, too. Jean said yes.
Jean is thankful that she knew Mike’s wishes about donation ahead of time, and she encourages everyone to have those discussions with their families.
“I know nobody wants to think about a day where this decision could become a reality,” Jean said. “But just by chatting with my husband while making dinner, I knew without a doubt what his wishes were, and he knew mine. It doesn’t have to be a heavy, sit-down, hash-it-all-out discussion.”
That discussion set off a life-saving domino effect, and Mike’s legacy burns bright.
“Organ donation is a tangible and heroic way for him to live on,” Jean said.