It was the story of a 4-year-old boy suffering while waiting for an organ transplant that made a lasting impression on Michelle Fogarty.
She couldn't shake the thought. He had spent most of his short life in and out of hospitals, enduring medical treatments and waiting on a lifesaving organ.
After hearing the story from her aunt, a pharmacist, Michelle, 17, a senior at Providence High, felt compelled to help individuals like the child by creating an organ donation program. She called it "The Ultimate Gift."
She didn't create the program for a community service or senior exit project. "She has a big heart and feels things deeply," said Patrick Fogarty, Michelle's father. "I've always told her to participate in life and enjoy the ride."
Driven and organized
Today, 110,000 people in America are waiting for organs, and 18 people die every day waiting for a transplant, Michelle said.
"After that (research), I created the project to create organ donation awareness in the community and also promote donation registration." She began the multifaceted program in the summer of 2010, first organizing an awareness and registration campaign at Providence, which was a project in itself.
In a thick three-ring binder, Michelle neatly organized a road map of the event, keeping track of volunteer forms, donor registry applications, advertising fliers and emails. She recruited 26 student volunteers to staff the donor registration booth she set up during lunch.
"The most inspirational thing that kept me going was on the first day of the organ donation drive, we had nearly 200 come by the table," Michelle said. "I didn't know how successful it would be."
As part of "The Ultimate Gift," Michelle also created a bilingual organ donation card that she distributed to about 5,000 students in the Jordan Driving School, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' main driver education school.
She felt it was a unique opportunity: She could educate beginning drivers who would be issued their licenses soon and have the chance to register as organ donors at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Michelle then stressed the importance of donor registration by speaking at a regional meeting of driver's education teachers, who could then share her information with their students.
She also convinced the CMS superintendent to have a documentary, "Ray of Hope: Jason Ray," shown in all drivers' ed courses.
The film highlights Jason Ray, former mascot for UNC Chapel Hill, who died at age 21 after being struck by a car hours before an NCAA basketball tournament game in 2007. The film follows four recipients of Ray's organs. Donate Life N.C. donated 50 copies of the DVD to aid Michelle's efforts.
She said she tried to get the word out as often as she could, even distributing fliers promoting organ donation at the Providence Cup band competition.
Michelle's advisers noticed her hard work. Her Providence guidance counselor, Tracy Greenstreet, said, "I've been doing this a long time, and Michelle is one of the most gifted students I have ever had. She's so kind and just so humble."
Because of her commitment and success, Donate Life N.C. is using Michelle's organ donation campaign as a pilot program in other schools.
"I hope other high schools will be willing to do it," Michelle says. "It was time-consuming, but if you're really dedicated and really want to do it, it's definitely possible."
Donor registry grows
Following Michelle's organ donation drive, more than 35 percent of all Providence High teachers, students and staff are now donors. The drive added 337 individuals to the N.C. donor registry, Michelle said.
"It was definitely well worth it. I was glad everyone was so receptive to the idea," Michelle said, smiling.
"Every organ donor can save up to 50 lives. So after that campaign, we could potentially save 38,500 lives, which could fill Time Warner Cable (Arena) twice."
She hopes to continue the project in college and reach a larger audience.
"I've just been really passionate about this cause."