[BONUS] Michael Kutcher on “2 Hearts” Film & the Gift of Organ Donation

Episode 07

On this bonus episode of For the Love, we’re talking about a heartwarming new movie (based on a true story!) called “2 Hearts” with organ donor recipient and advocate Michael Kutcher. He’s a walking miracle and shares his journey of receiving a heart transplant 29 years ago, and the profound ways the gift of organ donation not only gave him life—it impacted generations, as Michael is a proud father today. Michael and Jen talk about the beautiful parallels between Michael’s story and the “2 Hearts” movie, a true story of two couples who were never supposed to meet, but through love and generosity, they end up making waves in the world.

Episode Transcript

Jen: Hey, everybody. Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the show. 

Today’s fun. We have a bonus episode of For the Love. I just recently saw a movie that was just so dear. It was such a really important underlying message that I thought I’d pop into your podcast feed and tell you about it.

The movie’s called 2 Hearts. You might’ve heard me talk about it already. It’s just come out in theaters. What I like about [it is] it’s a true story, and it’s hope, and it’s community, and it’s love. It’s feelings. You’re going to feel feelings, but I mean that in the best possible way. 

I’ll tell you briefly about it. 2 Hearts centers around two couples. So, in the first couple, Chris is a college freshman and he falls for his classmate, Sam, and she helps him kind of find this purpose that he’s looking for.

Then we travel back in time and we meet a super suave man named Jorge, who falls for a flight attendant named Leslie. Here’s the thing: these two couples are never supposed to meet, but fate intervened because Chris and Jorge—in the movie and in real life—will be forever linked through organ donation.

From the time he was a young boy, Jorge suffered from a lung disease. He could hardly breathe, and then in 2008, Chris, the nineteen year old college student, lost his life to a brain aneurysm, but he was an organ donor. And his organs went to five different people, and his lungs went to Jorge after he had been on the organ donation list for years.

At age sixty-four, Jorge finally really took his first good breath. For the next twelve years, Jorge worked to honor Chris’s gift, and he became an absolute champion for organ donation. He and his wife, Leslie, gave gifts for organ donation research and created this incredible hospitality house at the Mayo Clinic hospital in Jacksonville, Florida for patients specifically who are recovering from organ donation or cancer treatments. They named it The Gabriel House in honor of Chris, who Jorge called his own personal angel Gabriel. 

This movie is a powerful testimony for a lot of things, but specifically here for the gift that organ donation could be. And so, I actually have a guest today who will be speaking into the very life giving power of organ donation. I can’t wait for you to meet him.

From the moment he entered the world, Michael Kutcher has overcome just unbelievable challenges. He was born in Cedar Rapids as the unexpected twin of someone you probably already know—a little fella named Ashton Kutcher

So, Michael Kutcher entered the world much smaller than his twin Ashton at less than five pounds, hardly responsive, struggled to take his first breath. Michael pulled through his first days and weeks, although not without lasting effects. By three, he was battling a lot of significant issues. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy before he entered Kindergarten, and then he had a life-saving heart transplant as a teenager, which he and I are going to talk about at length today. 

Like Jorge, Michael has now worked to create not just a future for himself, but an advocate for others. He is an incredible advocate and public speaker for Reaching for the Stars and the cerebral palsy community. He has shared his story on Capitol Hill, the CDC, The National Institute of Health. When he’s not advocating, Michael lives in Denver, where he has built a new successful career as an assistant vice-president for the Transamerica Corporation. I loved, loved hearing him talk today. 

So again, look at this beautiful life that organ donation has given to the world. Michael obviously loves the 2 Hearts movie as much as I do. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about his story and how it parallels with what we watched on screen. He is delightful. He is charming. The impact his life has had on the world since his organ donation twenty-nine years ago is immeasurable. What a testament to the power of this gift. I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Michael Kutcher

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Okay, Michael, I am delighted to welcome you to the For the Love Podcast. I do want my listeners to know that just before we started recording, you asked me directly what is my favorite nineties country song. I just want that credit in your account. Right now.

Michael: Well, first of all, Jen, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be on your show. If you indicate in your blog, which I read that you’re a big nineties country fan, you’ve got to be ready. You’ve got to be ready to pull out that favorite song.

Jen: Yes, yes. Listen, you get all the credit for that. I pulled out a Trisha Yearwood, you pull a Toby Keith. It works. We know our genre.

Michael: “Should’ve Been a Cowboy!”

Jen: I really loved learning about you and reading about you so much, Michael, and having done so, I now realize that I am talking, probably, to one of the most resilient people on the planet. 

For my listeners who are meeting you today for the first time, would you talk a little bit about your story, especially leading up to receiving a heart transplant, and then everything that transpired afterwards? Will you just kind of high-level your story for us?

Michael: Sure, sure. I think my story, in that regard and in terms of the surgery in my teenage years, prior to that, my life was faced with some challenges. I was born with cerebral palsy, a motor disability, and I grew up with some challenges around that. 

But I think the highlights of my struggles, if you want to call them struggles, was when I was entering my teenage years. I was thirteen years old, just your typical eighth grade student going through life, trying to figure out who he was, and everything that comes along with being thirteen. And I suddenly got ill. It was an illness much like the flu. We thought that it was something that I would get over, and the time would pass. 

But over about a week, I wasn’t getting better, so we went to the hospital and had some tests run, and I was told that from an x-ray they could tell that my heart was four times the size of a normal heart.

Jen: Wow, gosh.

Michael: Yeah. So that led to more tests, more specialists, visiting with cardiologists, and I was essentially diagnosed with a viral myocarditis, which essentially means a virus is attacking your heart and inflaming it. I was told that I needed a heart transplant. That was the start of the journey really. And at that point I was told I had two to three weeks to live.

Jen: Wow. Oh, wow.

Michael: About two to three weeks from the first diagnosis, I just ran cardiac arrest. Once that occurred, I was placed on a ventricle pump. You can only be on the ventricle pump for forty-eight hours. Once I was put on the pump, it took about twenty-four hours after being on the transplant list to find a donor for me.

The surgery was about eight hours. Of course, you have all the logistics involved. You’ve got to go in and recover the organ and transport it to Iowa, where I was, at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. It’s about an eight hour surgery, but what’s remarkable is once you recover and you’re out of surgery, they have you up and walking in two or three days.

Jen: Crazy.

Michael: It’s very crazy. Through that time period, I was able to have full recovery. And here I sit twenty-nine years post-transplant and enjoying every minute of it. Your views change when you go through something like that.

Jen: I’m sure.

Michael: Your appreciation changes, and you get to accomplish things that you never thought that you’d be able to accomplish.

Jen: Sincerely, you’re just like a walking miracle. 

I’d like to hear—and you’re kind of alluding to this—you parse it out a little bit more, if you would, because I’d like to talk about how the gift of organ donation. Obviously it didn’t just change your health—clearly it gave you life—but the way you look at life and your role in the world, you just mentioned that it changes you fundamentally. It changes your perspective. It changes the long look at your life. Can you talk about sort of what that built inside of you for the long haul?

Michael: Yeah. I think it builds a mentality of the way that you view things in shorter time frames. You have dreams and ambitions to maybe do things five years out, but your mentality changes to think of, What can I get done this year? What can I get done this month, or today?

Now that I’ve gotten twenty-nine, thirty years out, I feel more comfortable looking at longer term goals and aspirations, but it really makes you kind of hone in and focus on what’s important to you, and who’s important to you in your life. When I was thirteen, I have a twin brother, and I have an oldest sister. And at thirteen years old, my brother and I, we were just at each other’s throats.

Jen: Sure.

Michael: We were typical thirteen-year-old siblings.

Jen: Sure.

Michael: I’ll never forget the day in the recovery room when they came in my recovery suite and I saw them for the first time in two weeks. It wasn’t the name calling, and it wasn’t yelling and the screaming. It was emotional, where you’re looking at your siblings and all you can say is, “I love you. You matter to me. And I’m sorry for what may have occurred, but moving forward, this is what’s important to me.”

It gives you perspective on everything: the individuals in your life, the goals you have, the importance of things. I feel, my belief, we live in a society of always wanting the next best thing and always wanting the materialistic things. You know what? I’m just glad I woke up.

Jen: Yeah.

Michael: I’m just glad I got one more day.

Jen: Yeah.

Michael: And what’s interesting about the pandemic we’re all going through is I think that a lot of people are feeling this type of perspective, and I think it’s a good perspective to have on life.

Jen: Yeah. Me too.

Michael: And how you treat other people, what people mean in your lives. And also I’m hoping that it gives a greater appreciation of, How can I give back to others?

Jen: Yeah. It’s like the gift of a crisis. We would never choose the crisis, but truly walk out with that sort of perspective shift in hand. Look at you, it’s been twenty-nine years and you still have it. It changed your life. 

To this movie—I know that you love the movie 2 Hearts. I do too. I think there’s some real obvious connections here, but what do you like about this movie? What for you specifically rings true in the story that you feel like they got this right? This is worth paying attention to, this is worth watching, this is worth hearing?

Michael: 2 Hearts is a beautiful story. Yeah. I’m kind of a sucker for romantics, romantic films. So, it caught me right away. But it definitely takes you for a twist. And setting out, I knew that this story involved a story around the organ donation, but I didn’t realize that the story would depict how you would have two lives intertwined by the gift, the generosity, of one family.

And you asked me where the story got it right—the story got it right for multiple reasons, not only factually, but kind of the process and how organ donation might work from a recipient or a donor perspective. 

But what really touched me and resonated with me was the emotional aspects of the process. Of course, I’m on the recipient side, so I could relate a little bit more with Jorge and his wife, Leslie, and what they were going through. But the amount of appreciation that Jorge and Leslie have and what they’ve been able to give to more and more people through their generosity—that was real. I think the movie did a good depiction of that.

I think it’s also a reminder of what the gift of life can not only do for the individual, but for others around the individual. The gift doesn’t just stop when you receive your transplant. If it does, you’re in the wrong frame of mind, because if you look at the gifts that I’ve had my life, the number one gift that I’ve received since my transplant is my sixteen-year-old boy. That would have never happened. He wouldn’t be with us today if it wasn’t for the generosity of my donor. My donor gave two lives.

Jen: It’ll keep going if your son has a son. It’s generations impacted.

Michael: It is. It is. The ability for me to give back to others, the ability for Jorge and Leslie to have done what they’ve done with Gabriel’s House and give back to others, it’s amazing.

Jen: As we kind of wrap it up here, Michael, let’s say that somebody is listening right now, and they’re not an organ donor, but they might be on the fence about signing up to be one.

Michael: Yeah.

Jen: What would you tell them and where can they go to most learn more and then ultimately to sign up to be a donor?

Michael: Yeah. There’s multiple areas that they can go to. I think the easiest is just registerme.org through Donate Life, and they can go out there and they can sign up to be an organ donor. I think that a lot of people realize that you can go to your local DMV as well. So, there’s multiple areas that you can search out to get on the registry list. 

But I think the most important part of your question is why. What if you have someone on the fence? I just want to express the impact that you can have on someone’s life—on a multitude of lives—by giving the gift of life. It doesn’t need to be preceding your death, either. There’s living organ transplants, whether it’s a kidney, a tissue transplant, there’s a lot of things that you can do. It’s important to the thousands of people waiting on the list, and the goodwill that they can share with your generosity.

Jen: Well, I am so thankful for you. I’m just honored to have you on the show today, so glad to hear about your story. Really proud of you for the advocacy work that you’ve chosen to use your life for, and that your story, again, it’s not even just that it has impacted you and your individual personal family, but all the people that you have since had a major, profound effect on in your life and in your work. And what a huge gift.

Listeners, we’ll have all of this linked. Everything Michael and I talked about, to the movie, to the websites, all a one stop shop for you, so you can find out more information about all of it. Thank you for coming on the show today.

I will send you a wonderful playlist of nineties Country for your enjoyment.

Michael: Awesome.

Jen: And an enormous thank you. Great to meet you, Michael.

Michael: Great to meet you as well, Jen. Thank you for having me on.

Jen: Everybody, hope you enjoyed that. 

Hey, while I’ve got you here, I want you to know that November is National Donor Sabbath. So that’s a time when faith leaders, donor families, and transplant recipients share about the huge need for more organ, eye, and tissue donors, and how these gifts have a huge impact on families in the most beautiful ways. 2 Hearts is partnering with Donate Life America, because, as you can see, this story is a testament to the life changing gifts that organ donation can bring to someone else. 

Like I said, if you go to jenhatmaker.com under the podcast tab, we will have all of this link. More about 2 Hearts the movie, more about organ donation, where you can learn about it, where you can sign up for it, and some of Michael‘s really powerful work too. So it’ll be a one-stop shop for you. 

He was just a delightful person. Thanks for being here this week. Hope you enjoyed the bonus episode and see you again next time, guys.

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